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We all have seen the damage that a fractured parent-child relationship can cause. The long-term negative effects of physical or emotional deprivation can be disastrous for a child. But, in my experience dealing with singles and the singles crisis, it is also a problem to give our kids too much. Our children are more than loved, they are doted on, given everything they ever need and shielded from any kind of adversity and challenge. The problem is that our children are becoming adults with no resilience, no conflict resolution skills, no staying power and an exaggerated and inflated sense of self-importance.
Working with singles that are desperate to get married, I often try and see how they cope with life challenges outside of the dating world. My sad conclusion is so many people have very poor stress management skills, poor communication skills and close to zero conflict resolution skills.
The problem starts at a young age. Your mom repeatedly tells you that you are beautiful and smart. At school every child gets a trophy – we are afraid to let our children learn that not everyone can win every time. I recall when my son was 9 and he got an award at a chess championship for being the “15th most improved player.” Parents overly praise their kids for and tell them they are wonderful instead of focusing on effort, midot and good deeds.
Parents need to build their children’s character by giving them opportunities to contribute to their society and community. A child should be praised for visiting an elderly neighbor or picking up litter, not for being beautiful (whether he or she is actually beautiful or not). Not everyone is objectively as beautiful as their mom's think they are. In the real world, we are not all going to marry rich or get into Harvard but sadly parents allow their kids to believe they are perfect and deserve perfection in every aspect of their lives.
I recently consulted with a 50 year old who is not rich, famous or a model but he genuinely thinks he is perfect. The average girl believes she is a goddess and nothing less than Prince Charming is the equivalent pedigree and good enough for her.
Herein lays the dating quandary:
It’s very difficult when there are only two people in the world who think you are perfect: You and your Mommy.
Many kids grow up with household help, no expectations of doing simple chores and responsibilities and your parents hand out cash as needed. Your struggles at school are outsourced to tutors and the responsibility of dealing with problems is abdicated to therapists and counselors.
A person who cannot deal with stress at work usually can’t deal with stress at home. People simply have no resilience. The second there is stress or they have to leave their comfort zone the painfully unprepared-for-real-life person shows through. I often find the most perfectly manicured and presented people are just that superficial. Just a little pressure on the ecosystem and the designer looks and picture perfect Facebook posts crumble.
I personally give my kids loads of responsibility and I have been doing so since a young age and I have no doubt that it is character building for them. They also understand that they can contribute to the world and not just take. At age 17 my son is more confident and competent than many 30 year old and I see that my 15 year old daughter has insights into interpersonal relationships that are missing in so many of my Shabbat guests who are old enough to be her mother.
Most parents do not engage their kids in real meaningful conversation. I would encourage parents to stop trying to be their child’s friend by struggling to be cool and hip. A child needs their parent to be a parent. Talk to them of important things; make them aware of challenges in the world and how to deal with them. Help them focus on the difficulties other people are facing and how they can help. An outwardly focused child becomes an outwardly aware adult.
Another core skill is about having empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Gavin and I frequently counsel couples in crisis. They often simply lack empathy - a complete inability to think beyond their own needs. Children can be taught at a young age to have empathy. Rebbitzen Yungreis of Hineni (Z’L) shared so many examples. When her kids were young she didn’t focus on their good grades at school but did spend a lot of time talking about the part of their report card that spoke of their good behavior traits or character. She taught me that if her children cried over something silly she would remind them to save their tears for people suffering illness, or poverty or loneliness. I love the idea of saying Tehillim (Psalms) for people in need with your children before candle lighting on a Friday night and putting a coin in a charity box. Kids need to be reminded the world is not about them. Dating would be so much simpler if it was less about me, myself, and I.
The best thing we can do for our children is not to ensure that they get into a top tier college. It is to provide them with the life-skills to be a resilient, sensitive, empathetic and a generous person. It is all about raising stable, warm, emotionally available adults who have a positive sense of self and the ability to develop a long-term loving relationship.