#dotMom Part IV: Vicki Courtney on Raising “Me Monsters”

by Camille on October 7, 2012

I started this one more than a week ago prior to the gastro-pocalypse. You can read more about why it took me so long to finish HERE. We’re probably still raising “Me-Monsters” this week, so it’s still relative. 

Since there’s no way I’ll find the time to write about all the wonderful things I heard at the dotMom conference, I’m skipping around and trying to hit the ones that most resonated with my current stage of motherhood.

I’d never heard of Vicki Courtney prior to receiving my dotMom program guide, but after hearing her speak, I’m a fan.

She spoke on the dangers of increased narcissism in today’s young people, otherwise known as….raising ME MONSTERS.

Courtney quoted statistics showing that narcissism has doubled in college and high school students in the last 30 years with a correlating decline in empathy.  Facebook and other social media,  leading to the “self-promotion of the smallest details,” have contributed greatly to the problem.

And while I found all this information interesting, I don’t think it clicked with me on a personal level until she started giving examples of what raising a little narcissist might look like. Ellie is barely 20-months-old, after all. Surely I have a while to worry about this?

Ellie playing dress-up and modeling her tiara. And my brassiere. Oh dear. 

SOME POSSIBLE SIGNS OF AN OVERLY KID-CENTERED HOME (according to Courtney …so don’t hate on me, y’all. I’m guilty of more than one.)

  • Mom rides in the back of the car with the child
  • Kids choose the restaurant when eating out
  • Mom does school projects/homework for her kids
  • Kids’ activities take priority over parents’ lives
  • Attempting to have child assigned to a new teacher
  • Parents provide early technology (cell phone, iPod, etc.)
  • Mom cooks multiple meals to please different family members

Also, Courtney may or may not have poked a little fun at the elaborate birthday parties thrown for young children and documented on Pinterest. Whatever Vicki. I wouldn’t know anything about that. 

No doubt, many moms in that room do one or all of these things. I can come up with justifications for most of them myself. But the Bible warns against becoming “lovers of self” in 2 Timothy 3, and common sense tells us that raising a child who thinks the world revolves around him likely isn’t the best parenting strategy.

The problem, in my opinion, is that most of us don’t realize that our behaviors could be potentially harmful to our children. Most of us, me included, are simply trying to process our way through the mass of information, influences, and judgments coming at us from all directions in an attempt to be the best possible mother. But our measuring stick for “good mother” is often heavily influenced by a sense of competition and comparison fostered by impossible standards documented in shining color on Pinterest.

As Courtney discussed her criteria for raising a Me Monster, I recognized elements of my own childhood and habits in my own mothering. And as some of these are sure to push buttons, please share your thoughts!

According to Courtney, to raise a narcissist, one should:

1. Make the child the center of one’s life.

Wait. What’s wrong with that? Aren’t mothers supposed to be the self-sacrificial martyrs who devote every moment of their lives to their child’s success and happiness? No? 

When a child becomes the center of one’s life, then worship is directed toward that child. We are to worship no one but God.

Also, centering life around a child sets life priorities askew. In the correct order, God should come first, then one’s spouse, then children. I think for me, remembering not to place Ellie in a position above Charlie is the real struggle. Often, the loudest need gets first attention, and we didn’t call Ellie our baby velociraptor for nothing. (Oh God, the screeching. Nails on a chalkboard, y’all.) Most nights, we fall into bed so exhausted that we do good to turn to one another with a pat and quickly murmured, “Loveyababe” before falling into a coma.

After this conference, I had a long conversation with a friend, and we laughed at the shared fact that sometimes, days will go by, and we’ll turn to the hubs and say, “Umm….have I talked to you this week?” Charlie and I have always been good at making time for date nights and taking advantage of babysitters, but we can always do better. I never want him to doubt his place in my heart. Because in a few short years, our kiddos will be out in the world, and I plan on us still being crazy in love. (We’ll be the old folks making out in the corner booth. Especially if we’re having the chocolate fondue at the Melting Pot. There. You’ve been warned.) 

2. Do whatever it takes to protect the child’s self-esteem.

Isn’t giving every child a soccer trophy a good idea? And let’s not give an F grade anymore. Let the child take a re-test, do extra credit, or have a second, third….tenth chance.  

Courtney said that the message to the child becomes “you are more important than others,” when we rush to protect their self-esteem. A plethora of articles suggest that it’s psychologically damaging for children to receive rewards without any real accomplishment and that true self-esteem comes from hard work resulting in success or learning.

Also, I’m again reminded of Jen’s words on raising disciples; life isn’t meant to be a string of successes. We become like Jesus through times of trial…not through a manufactured world where everyone wins, and the slightest hardship is met with mom or dad rushing in to save the day. I also think of those poor kids on American Idol and similar competitions whose parents kept telling them how great they sounded. Do the world a favor. If your kid can’t sing, tell him.

3. Rescue the child from the consequences of poor choices and life’s injustices.

How many of you would run a lunch/homework/book to school if your child left it at home? I’m conflicted on this one as my mom did all of that for me on more than one occasion. (Thanks Mom. You know how moody I get when I miss lunch.) 

I think it’s important for kids to learn the consequences of their actions, but where is the line between being a supportive parent who realizes kids sometimes make mistakes and creating a dependent sloth who thinks rules don’t apply to him?

I think of my days teaching high school English when kids would drag their parents to the school to argue with me for counting off on late assignments….even though they clearly had my expectations and grading policies in writing from the beginning of the year. “I’m sorry ma’am, but since I count off 10% per day that the research paper is late, and your son didn’t give me his paper until two months after the deadline, he actually now has a negative score. But you think he deserves full credit? Uh-huh. Explain that again, please.”  

Parents covered for their kids cheating, plagiarizing, and lying. Parents asked what I did to provoke their blessed children into cursing me out. One mother copy-pasted an essay straight from Google for her son, and then came to the school to yell at me when I gave him a zero. “But I wrote that report! I know it’s good.” Oh dear. An explanation of irony would be lost here, wouldn’t it?

I’m not saying that children don’t need help, guidance, and second chances sometimes, but continually protecting children from consequences is crippling. So many kids now make it through school without ever learning to accept responsibility for their own actions, and they spend their lives blaming others for every failure and perceived injustice.

4. Teach a child to put themselves before others.

How many of you have tried to have a conversation with another adult only to be interrupted a dozen times by a four-year-old? Teaching children they are the most important starts early. Granted, I’ve had to dash away from a hundred conversations mid-sentence to keep Ellie from eating loving on another child a little too fiercely, but her father and I try to practice making her wait before immediately acknowledging her requests. We’ve taught her to sign/say please when she wants something. We’re working on thank-you. And as she gets older, I hope to teach her to treat others with respect.

The friend I visited recently has a toddler son, and she’s teaching him that while she’s talking,  if he wants her attention, he should come and quietly put his hand on her leg and wait until she acknowledges him. He’s a sweet, bright, and well-behaved kid, and I think I’ll probably try to implement a version of this with Ellie in the near future.

On the other hand, I once observed a scene where a three-year-old snatched a snack from her smaller sister, and instead of disciplining her and returning the stolen item, the grandparents laughed, allowed the toddler to keep the confiscated food, and provided the smaller child with another item as a pacifier. Excuse me? What lesson did we just learn here? It’s okay to snatch things from my sister? Nuh-uh. If Ellie snatches something from your kid, you have my full permission to take it right back and put her in time-out with a firm lecture on sharing.

Courtney also brought up the example of parents who stay in the restaurant with a screaming child to the detriment of other paying customers. “Children are not mini-gods,” she said, with advice that parents should get up and remove the child until he or she calms down. I’ve been the starving mom desperately trying to finish my sandwich while Ellie hurls silverware to the floor, ninja-style, while screaming hysterically, and I’ve been the wife, trying to enjoy a date-night with my husband, forced to listen to the incessant whining of someone else’s child. Conflicted on this one. Thoughts?

 

A typical meal with Ellie

 In any case, I don’t think any of us want to raise me-monsters, but the world’s standards tell us that our child’s happiness and success are the most important things. Those standards cloud our decision making and mute our doubts. Yet, I know that Ellie won’t be truly happy outside of the will of God, and she can’t belong to God if she places herself at the center of life. As much as I adore her, I cannot worship her. And as much as she has my heart, she cannot be the center of it.

It won’t be easy, moms. The first time she gets a crap teacher, I know Charlie will have to sit on me to keep me from rushing to the school, sword drawn. But we can help each other remember that character comes from challenge, and that in the end, above all else, we want to raise disciples.

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