This Mother’s Day may be a lost cause—but you can create thoughtful, caring kids who won’t give you generic greeting cards or “dumpster flowers” next year. Psychologist and author Madeline Levine, PhD, offers six tips for changing the message you’re sending your kids—and creating a better life for yourself in the process.
All year long, seize opportunities to teach empathy. Ask your kids, “How would you feel if it was your birthday and no one noticed?” But also ask them, “How do you feel when somebody remembers something special?” For younger kids, have them consider their own feelings. (That’s what they’re best at!) For older kids, ask them to put themselves in the shoes of someone else. “How do you think Grandma felt when we all came over for Thanksgiving? What would it have been like for her if no one showed up?”
Use teachable moments to make your Mother’s Day expectations known. We have this magical idea that if our spouse and kids love us they should “know” what we want for Mother’s Day. They don’t. We have to teach them. It’s not necessary to boldly state, “This is the kind of gift I want…and oh by the way, I want it wrapped and festooned with ribbons.” But you can couch the lessons inside casual conversations about how to buy gifts for people for occasions that happen all year—birthdays, graduations, Christmas, and so forth.
Ask a spouse or someone else to remind kids next year that the big day is coming. You want kids to see and feel gratified by your delight when they present the big gift. It’s the good feelings they get that will reinforce their newfound consideration for others. They won’t get to have that experience if they forget the day altogether.
Own your part of the problem. By giving up your life and your interests to be fully child-centric at all times, you’ve taught kids that nothing matters as much as their needs. Girlfriends and even spouses fall by the wayside as you spend weekend after weekend sitting in the bleachers watching your kids play endless soccer games (endless for you because you don’t participate; exciting for them because they do!). If you teach them that their needs always trump yours (the movies you see, the vacations you take, the allocation of family resources), then don’t be shocked when they learn the lesson well.
Start making adulthood attractive. (Mother’s Day is a great starting point!) One of the most important things we do in encouraging our children’s growth is to make adulthood look like something to be excited about. If your child gets an Xbox for his birthday and you’re content with carnations sprayed some awful neon color, grabbed from the neighborhood supermarket bin, well, who in their right mind would want to grow up? Levine suggests that you bring your spouse or significant other in on Mother’s Day plans (and be sure you do the same for Father’s Day).
Don’t expect the change to be easy. Our whole culture is centered on advancing and promoting our kids. Opting out is literally a countercultural move. It will feel uncomfortable at first—even wrong. Parenting habits are hard to break, especially when they’re supported by advertising and neighborhood values that make it seem like it’s the most natural thing in the world to be overly involved in our children’s every move. But you’re not doing kids any favors when you buy into this mindset, insists Levine.
So starting May 13th, why not give yourself the best Mother’s Day gift of all: Vow to make this the year you finally get a well-rounded life. “You might be surprised by what you can do over the course of a year,” says Levine. “Let me know how next year’s Mother’s Day turns out.”About the Author:
Madeline Levine, PhD,is the author of Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. She is a clinician, consultant, and educator; the author of The Price of Privilege; and a cofounder of Challenge Success, a program of the Stanford School of Education that addresses education reform and student well-being. She lives outside San Francisco with her husband and is the proud mother of three newly minted adult sons.