I have raised this issue before in a previous article, but this matter is important and complex so we can revisit it again, this time at some length.
Human beings are conflicted creatures by nature. We’re both selfish — looking after ourselves, calculating, looking often for an unfair advantage, having autonomy, thinking of self serving acts and advantages — and we want the company of fellow humans. We naturally tend to cooperate, and have empathy, compassion, altruism, and a desire for companionship. Humans want to form bonds that give us pleasure and joy in life – along with many other qualities of ours, like intellect, curiosity and eagerness to explore, to participate in social affairs, to be praised, and to excel.
These two parts of our nature are not mixed but side by side and often in conflict. The individual selfish part came first in our developmental history, while the social one came later. But this social part ensured our success on this Earth.
All these are built into our nature when we are born, but as tendencies only. Many of them are unfinished — especially the social parts, so they need proper reinforcement. It’s also true sometimes the components of our nature are not evenly distributed. Some of us get more of the social side, while some get more of the individualist selfish side.
That’s where family and parents come in. Our crucial task is to help our children mainly with their social part. In addition, we need to help our children to learn habits that are not build in our nature from birth, like neatness, orderliness and restraint, attitudes, routines, disciplines… as well to reinforce respect and eagerness to share with other humans, to cooperate, and be fair. Harmony and fairness in the home in order to establish all that are important, but above all rules and expectations and discipline to perform according to their abilities and to have constraint to avoid being impulsive and uncooperative.
Both parents are needed, but especially the mother, who is crucial to this task. Being firm-while-fair and keeping our parental adult role in mind, we may avoid indulging them and developing “chumminess” — which can diminish our authority as parents. Giving in and indulging is a “no-no.”
Exposing the children in quarrels between parents is another “no-no” and to be avoided to every extent possible. Playing favorite should also be avoided at any cost. Healthy competition with siblings should be promoted within bounds but with a background of respect, cooperation, and mutual assistance between the siblings.
But above all, the parents, even divorced, should have an agreed upon “common front” towards the children so the kids will not take advantage, playing one against the other, or being cynical or even devious.
Of course all children need to be in the presence of affection and warmth, but these components should not be mistaken with indulgence, or the child might end up having a sense of entitlement.
All of the above are crucial for a child to later survive, have an original sense of joy of being alive, having enjoyable relationships, and being creative and contributing to the society in which they live. This way, they can be prepared for the inevitable difficulties they’re going to face in life. It’s a difficult task, but please read it again and try to follow through. You will be glad you did when later you see the children blossoming in life.
Copyright © 2016 by Nicholas Pediaditakis, MD
For more information on Dr. Pediaditakis and his Raleigh NC mental health clinic, visit his Facebook page.