The best things you can give your children are the same things your parents gave you: fear, guilt, and anxiety. These will help kids keep their guard up in an uncertain world. For parents, fear rules. Fear is like risk prevention for the soul. Fear lets others make decisions so you can remain blameless. Fear prevents embarrassing moments from ever starting by keeping you out of situations where results are unpredictable. Fear keeps you from attempting the impossible.
Fear is the invisible leash that keeps your kids from playing piñata with the neighbor’s cat. Ask any parent and they’ll tell you it’s only the fear of Santa watching that keeps little boys from kicking each other in the jimmies during the holidays. But the moment Christmas is over, there isn’t an eight-year-old alive with an older brother who isn’t dropping to his knees and humming The Nutcracker Suite like a natural-born soprano.
Those are just the ways kids behave when fear is real and when it isn’t. That’s why it’s crucial for you, as the parent, to provide your children with a backup system when fear breaks down and is unable to govern their behavior. Moms call this little miracle “guilt.”
Apart from television, guilt is the only thing controlling your kids when you need to take a little break from “parenting.” Guilt is what makes your kids feel bad for not doing the things they should be doing, and worse for doing things they enjoy doing.
The fear of failure is one of life’s lessons that kids rarely get over. It starts in elementary school as the fear of being ridiculed and carries over into the teen years as the fear of being rejected. Giving your kids the gifts of shame and humiliation early on will make it less traumatic for them once they start getting picked on and beaten up in middle school. And once guilt gets a good foothold, your kids won’t do all the things you don’t want them doing when you—or fear—cannot step in quickly enough. You’ll never again worry whether your children have enough anxiety or fear to control their behavior. Guilt is that good.
Life is simply too unpredictable and uncertain to try to instill consistent habits and routines. That’s why telling your little ones that nothing they do is right and never offering any encouragement are the best ways to prepare them for living and working in the real world. So why are we as parents running to shrinks to try to undo all the bad, evil things our parents did to us when those are the very things we’re passing on to our own kids? It’s because our parents told us when we were little that if we just believed in ourselves, someday we could be a movie star or a professional athlete or even the president of the United States. If you ask me, it’s a bad idea to tell children they can grow up to become anything they want to be. You’re only making sure they end up in therapy to overcome inferiority complexes for attempting things they were never capable of achieving. Kids need constant reminding that, even as adults, they will get burned when playing with fire. Despite numerous songs to the contrary, we don’t have wings and we cannot fly. The world is a dangerous place. Safety and success are uncertain.
Of course, the very things we failed so horribly in are the very things we want to protect our kids from—risk, uncertainty, and Algebra II. The question now is twofold. How do we protect our kids once they’re out from under our wings? And how do we pick them up after their dreams come crashing down around them?
Well, the bad news is they can’t be picked up, dusted off, and made to dream even bigger. They’re just like you, remember? The good news is you can tweak your child’s spirit very early on to help prepare him for failure. By “tweak” I mean numb. Numbing a child’s spirit will make it easier to withstand the endless string of crushing defeats that await him in some crappy job his guidance counselor kept referring to as “a promising career.”
The same technique you use on your child to protect her from a hostile world can and should be used to prepare yourself for a day at the office. Numb your spirit and you’ll find yourself spending less time worrying over things you once wished for. Daydreaming may have carried you through school, but it won’t get you out of the mailroom.
Show me someone who is content and satisfied with a 9-to-5 job, and I’ll show you a mild-mannered adult who owes his parents a debt of gratitude for raising him in a home filled with constant anxiety, countless fears, and endless guilt. Fear equals job security. It saves you from termination by keeping you from speaking up for yourself in front of superiors. When fear is not enough, you can usually rely on a host of other anxieties to keep you loyal and compliant.