Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.
Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.
When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. — Abraham Joshua Heschel
My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
Never mistake indulgence for love. Love is about doing the right stuff (which is often also the hard stuff) for the good of the other or yourself, not for the sake of your own convenience.
You see this lie all the time. For example, how many times do you see parents at restaurants indulging their tots with soda or the iPad instead of being consistent about controlling their children’s soda intake and screen time, and engaging the youngster to help him/her learn how to behave when dining out? See, e.g., http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2014/01/children_s_eating_habits_in_italy_european_kids_eat_junk_food_too.html; and, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/child-obesity-swells-as-italy-forgets-eating-habits-2347203.html. In instances when parents indulge their kids with unhealthy options, the focus is on the convenience of the parents, not the well-being of the children.
When I conducted research for my Honors Thesis in psychology on child-rearing and pro-social development, one of the findings was that parents must be consistent in enforcing rules and guidelines for their children. For example, if screen time is limited to an hour a day, and to watching Sesame Street, then parents must stick to that rule and not make exceptions when the parents are tired from work and don’t want the burden of having to entertain or interact with the children. Inconsistent parenting confuses the kids.
(Interestingly enough, another finding — replete in literature at the time — was that corporal punishment is one of many appropriate tools parents may use to help discipline their children. Today, political correctness has but excise that from child psychology and parenting texts. So, are kids today better behaved than those of earlier generations? better equipped to deal with life? more socially adept? happier? more successful? Kids today are coddled and bubble-wrapped to their detriment. The age-old game of tag, for example, has been banned from most school playgrounds. Running and playing tag teach kids social skills and the limits of their physical developments. Yet, in the name of educating the children, schools and educators deny them these normal and natural opportunities to learn about themselves.)
Parenting is hard, especially with all the conflicting messages these day. I get that. But, no one promised parenting would be easy. It is a responsibility best not taken lightly. We all falter. Absolutely. But, the one off parenting failure is a far-cry from the routine parental indulgence we see today.
Let me give you several real examples from your lives. Shosh, when you were a baby, your mom made a habit of instantly giving in to your every demand. For example, when we listened to music from a CD, you would shout out the track number for your favorite song. “Eight!” you’d shout. Then, “FOUR!” And, so on. No matter whether we were enjoying the song, your mother would instantly change the track to the one you’d demanded. What did this teach you? Instant gratification. What was the harm? Well, once used to instant gratification, you’d scream bloody murder should she not instantly give you what you wanted. Both your mom and gramma repeatedly told me how you’d scream and cry on your outings with them if you should see an excavator and your mom not stop to let you look at it. (These were the times when I worked long hours to support the family.) On one rare occasion when your mom and I were able to attend an after-work party thrown by one of the partners at my law firm, we had your two favorite aunties (and gramma) babysit you. (By the way, you were never babysat by strangers.) We had barely arrived at the party when we received an urgent and desperate call from your aunties, telling us you were screaming non-stop. You had made them carry you out of the house in search of us, and you wouldn’t let them turn around or take you back home. We had to promptly return home to relieve your stressed out aunties and gramma.
So, to avoid having to teach you self-control, your mom indulged your every whim and created a boy who people sometimes didn’t want to spend time with. Was that for your benefit, or for hers? (Jaialai didn’t have this problem because I had lost my job by then — when I blew the whistle against the Enron of Healthcare — and, as a stay-at-home-dad, I taught him differently.)
For all your mom’s talk about loving you and wanting what’s best for you, who ended up doing the hard tasks like potty training you? Do you remember? Yes, it was me. To avoid the stress of potty training you, she kept buying bigger and bigger diapers as you got way beyond your potty training days, and way beyond the period required of you by schools. (In fact, the next size up would have been diapers for incontinent geriatrics. I’m kidding … sort of.) So, she left it up to me to wake up once every two hours during the night to get you up to use the bathroom so you wouldn’t wet the bed. We did that for a week. Then, it was over. No more night time diapers. No more bed wetting. Love is doing what is right by you, not what is easy for me as the parent.
It works the same way with self-discipline and self-indulgence. Positive and constructive self-love is predicated upon self-discipline. Self-indulgence in sugary food, soda, spicy instant ramen noodle, McDonald’s, alcohol, drugs, and harmful relationships with bad influences is not about self-love, but self-destruction. (Look at your cousin A on your mom’s side and his felony conviction for being in the car with drug dealers.) By being self-disciplined and doing the right things that must be done today, you ensure a brighter and better future for yourself. That is self-love. That is self-respect.
Avoid giving in to indulgence, my sons. That comes with a cost. Be disciplined. That way lies success.
All my love, always,