There is never too much of a good thing

Photo by viviloob

So I find myself forced to take it back. I'll admit that I was ever so wrong and do it graciously. For starters, let me clue you in on what I'm talking about. I mentioned in my last Leaping Thought Wednesdays Post that I was going to attend a Ladies' Luncheon for my son's school. I said that I worried such an event (my first ever as a 'school' mommy) would be a gathering of older blue haired ladies and feature not so exciting bingo play. I was wrong. No bingo, no older ladies. This was a collection of über chic chicks. A panoply of the well-preserved and the Bergdorf-dressed with nary a blue hair in the entire well-coiffed bunch.

600 of us women and 5 lone men (I counted), a representative half-slice of the school's total households, gathered at the impressively upper class Houston Country Club for a mediocre lunch and one superb guest speaker. There was much eye sport to be had. You know me, I love observing and there was a lot to look at but I'm getting sidetracked here because whom I really wanted to tell about was of Dr. Dan Kindlon, that special guest speaker I mentioned a moment ago. Now, I don't know if you've ever heard his name because I myself hadn't but what I had heard was the name of a book he co-authored. It's called Raising Cain.

May I use the word wow with regards to his presentation and not have you believe I lack descriptive skills? I thought not. How about If I tell you he was witty and engaging, self-deprecating and funny as hell, sobering in his explanation of his research and findings, ardent on the subject of childhood and of parenthood. In short, a convincing modern-day crusader for the raising of emotionally well-adjusted and character-driven children within the excesses, of what he terms an Indulgent Age. Dr. Kindlon convinced me that he knows what he is talking and without a doubt, he wowed.

Earlier, when I had thought I'd be bored to tears in no time, I'd prepared myself well for an early departure. Since I excel at extricating myself from where I don't wish to be, I accordingly sat with my back to the podium and in the most direct line of passage to the entrance I could manage. The plan was to do the pretty, comply with my fund-raising duty, maintain the yawns to a minimum and leave at the first possible opportunity. Imagine my surprise therefore when torticollis set in, three hours had gone by and I was still sitting in my place listening to this mesmerizing guru of child-raising.

I'll have you know that before and after the birth of my son, I've made it my business to read and read about child-rearing. My personal belief with regards to this kind of information is that good info equals better parenting; that there is no such thing as too much information since every little bit of knowledge might help and finally, that distilling the useful from the not so useful bears a direct correlation to how I can make it work positively for me and my child.

That's why I cannot understand how this guy slipped beneath my radar. He was absolutely amazing. You want to know what made him so good? He made sense. The best advice is often the simplest one, the one that speaks to the heart because the heart is eminently capable of recognizing truth. That sounds like a cliché I know but if certain things are repeated often enough that they become part of our daily lexicon then, why devalue them for their repetition when their repetition might be an indicator of their value? You might read someone like Kindlon or, you might hear him speak and feel the workings of some change occur within you as regards to how you go about your parenting but, you certainly cannot read or hear him and find yourself immune to the good sense and conviction of his words.

For my part, I'm carefully working my way through his book Too Much of a Good Thing - Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age which he wrote in 2001. I feel so convinced by every page of his words that I read, for the simple reason that he gives some darned good advice. I am ever so glad I attended my ladies luncheon. I would have even put up with bingo and blue hairs for the illuminating pleasure of hearing Kindlon speak.

Before I go, I'll leave you with some heavily excerpted paragraphs from the introduction to Too Much of a Good Thing. I know I've been speaking and speaking about how great I thought he was and yet, I've given no examples. So without further introduction, Dr. Dan Kindlon:

As parents, we do a great job in some areas but not others. Compared to earlier generations, we are emotionally closer to our kids, they confide in us more, we have more fun with them, and we know more about the science of child development. But we are too indulgent. We give our kids too much and demand too little of them... I find myself at the center of this problem as I try, with my wife to balance the two major tasks of parenting: showing our kids that we love them and raising them with the skills and values they'll need to be emotionally healthy adults, which often requires that we act in ways that can anger and upset them...

By our disinclination to set appropriate limits for our kids, we undermine their character development. Character is hard to define, but it's easy to tell when someone has it, or doesn't. People who have character know who they are; they are centered and have the courage to be honest with themselves and others. Having character means being honest, charitable, compassionate, and emotionally intelligent. When we stop blurring the line between friend and parent, we can help our kids develop healthy attitudes and good habits that are character's foundation.

We indulge our children at least partially because we can afford to. Ours is an affluent society, perhaps the most affluent the world has ever known. We want to share the good things in life with our kids; and we know that money can protect us from at least some of life's problems. As parents, we naturally want to extend this protection, and the advantages that money can buy, to our kids, But by protecting them from failure, adversity, and pain we deprive them of the opportunity to learn important coping skills; a realistic sense of their strengths and limitations...

Due to our hectic lives, our kids are often neglected in ways that we as parents are unwilling or unable to see. We need to take a hard look at how our often work-obsessed lives affect our ability to be effective parents. On one hand, our children are the center of our lives, but, on the other, how often are we fully present when we're with them?

While most of the survey data and many of the interviews and anecdotes in the pages that follow focus on teenage children, it's important for parents of younger children to realize that indulged toddlers can, unless checked, become indulged teenagers who are at risk for becoming adults prone to many of the syndromes - excessive self-absorption, depression, a lack of self-control - that I discuss in the second part of this book.

My recommendations for dealing with indulgence are not based on moral outrage, and I don't advocate a regression to the harsh discipline and an emotionally distant style of parenting that has been common in the past. Instead, I give advice that tries to keep the best of both worlds - the emotional closeness and informality with our children that characterize parents today, as well as the ability to clearly comprehend and set limits entailed in building character. As a generation of parents, I think that we must ask ourselves what kind of adults we want our kids to be - what we think is most important to teach them. I hope this book will give you a clearer view, as it has me, of why we parent the way we do, and I offer it as a guide into the hearts and minds of our children.

For some video of Dr. Kindlon being tightly led by Katie Couric but still speaking about this particular subject matter, click here. For if you missed the extremely interesting NPR Morning edition Broadcast last week on the importance of letting children have free-play then click here to listen to or read the transcript. As you can see, I'm kind of obsessed by the subject of parenting and how to go about it. Hope I didn't bore you.


  1. I, too, always have an exit strategy at an event like that.

    He sounds amazing.

    And I love the excerpt. Especially the part about being present for your kids (and maybe not always looking at my crackberry).

    I just might be guilty of that.

  2. I read Raising Cain ages ago and you've inspired me to retrieve it from the archives and give it another look. I'm of the mind that a book that helps a person be a better parent should be read again and again. It may be common sense but somehow, we manage to forget the obvious in the course of our daily lives. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. First, nobody get bored on the web - they just click away. Second, launching lives has the potential to be, at turns, tedious and fascinating.
    I've heard another person make the distinction between parenting as coach (pushing kids to achieve what might not be comfortable) and cheerleader (reassuring and comforting). The trick, he said, is to find a balance there.

  4. oooh... we have Raising Cain... my husband received it as a gift well over a couple years back!
    we have heard it IS fabulous... he needs to open it!!!
    you just brought it back to mind... thanks... i'll set it out for him.

  5. Wow, I am sooo getting that book. As parents who have more than our parents were able to give us, my husband and I are constantly torn between wanting to give Bear everything and not wanting to raise a spoiled brat. It's a finer line than I ever thought!


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