Too Much of a Good Thing is Not Always a Good Thing!
By Foster Cline, MD
Kids’ lives are saved when they are protected by their parents. Kids’ lives are lost when they are over-protected by their parents. If protection is not the major portion of love shown in the early years, the infant dies. If protection is a major part of the love parents show teens, they become hostile, dependent and usually, rebellious. That rebellion may lead to car accidents, drugs, and death.
Protection, like all good things, has a dark side when delivered too freely. In fact, protection could be one of the best examples of: “Too much of a good thing is not a good thing!”
Toddlers don’t have the capacity to be more concerned about maintaining good health than the parents so parents must shoulder most of the concern about health issues in toddlerhood. Depending upon the maturity of the child, by the time a child is in second grade, they should be shouldering more of the concern about their health than the parents. Certainly by the time most children are in third grade and nine-years-old, they are well aware of their health problems.
When children suffer from illness or medical conditions, they need more protection. Parents understandably fall into checking on medication dosage and timing, managing dietary concerns, scheduling trips to the physician’s office, and become much more involved in their children’s health than the parents of well children. Depending upon the medical condition, its severity and the character of children and the parents, the line between necessary protectiveness and over-protection can become very blurred. The problem is compounded by the fact that the more a person is protected, the more he or she comes to need it. So giving protection, whether it is bestowed by loving parents or the federal government, generally leads to a spiral of ever-increasing involvement, with the associated risk of ever-increasing entitlement and hostile dependency.
When people are hostile dependent, it means they feel helpless or cheated and always demand more while expecting others to give it to them, rather than accepting the responsibility for taking care of their own wants and needs. They can become angry, bitter, blaming, rebellious and hostile. And when children become rebellious and hostile, they often become self-destructive. For a child, what could be more effective to upset loving parents than to refuse to take good care of yourself? What causes more parental angst than a child who takes drugs or ignores medical regimens? So the parents of ill children can feel boxed in between the rock of unchecked illness and the hard spot of attempting to control the health of an increasingly resistant child.
Let’s look at an example from Parenting Children with Health Issues:
Bonnie’s story is a sad one, particularly because it has an unnecessarily unhappy ending. Things started out sunny. Bonnie was a beautiful five-year-old blonde, who had developed normally. Then she started stumbling. Her parents first attributed this to “growth problems,” but when the stumbling was accompanied by headaches, nausea, and vomiting, her parents took her to the doctor. It was the first of many visits to healthcare professionals. After that first visit to a pediatrician, a subsequent MRI revealed a posterior meduloblastoma. The pediatric oncologist referred Bonnie for surgery, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Things were never the same again for Bonnie.
At 32, Bonnie is unable to get her poorly functioning life together. She drifts through various living situations: sometimes she stays with girlfriends; sometimes she stays alone; more often she’s with some guy who takes advantage of her for a year or so, then leaves. She holds jobs, perhaps for as long as a year, before being fired for being late, insubordinate, or disrespectful. She is estranged from an older sister and younger brother, both of whom will have absolutely nothing to do with her.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be so sad if all this was the result of a compromised neurological system ravaged by tumor, surgery, radiation, and toxic drugs. Then, somehow, Bonnie’s nearly wasted life would make sense, but that’s not the case. Bonnie is psychologically, not physically crippled.
During Bonnie’s fifth year of life, the family’s life was turned upside down with visits to the hospital and follow-up physician visits. For a year and a half, Bonnie’s eventual recovery was uncertain. During the following years, Bonnie’s folks turned what should have been simply a demanding and controlling phase of life into a life script. Their parental responses of continually excusing their daughter’s immature and demanding behavior validated her attitude of entitlement, feelings of victimization, and her habit of blaming others for all the unhappy things in her life. In the years that followed, Bonnie’s parents’ fear of losing their daughter to a recurrence of tumor that never occurred turned Bonnie into the witch-princess of the home. Whatever Bonnie wanted, Bonnie got. She antagonized her older sister, Rachael, who was admonished by her parents to put up with her antics, and simply cope with her unremitting nastiness. Her younger brother, Bud, remembers Bonnie only as “the older sister from hell.”
Perhaps these siblings could have recovered from the resentment of their childhood if Bonnie had grown up but, sadly, she never did. In Bud’s words, she has continued “...to suck my parents dry. They took out a second mortgage on their home because Bonnie wastes her money on pedicures and DVDs instead of paying rent.”
Somehow, Bonnie’s parents have never been able to disentangle themselves from making Bonnie the center of their energy and attention. Now they are between a rock and a hard place, having created a demanding, hostile-dependent child who they fear could become a street person if they do not accede to her continuing demands on their resources and energy. Bonnie resentfully (“it’s not enough”) accepts their gifts, which have considerably drained the family estate, with nary a “thank you.”
This sad cycle is so common that it might almost be considered “normal” for kids with serious health concerns. But happily, with the right techniques, it is less likely to occur. So how do parents avoid raising hostile-dependent children? And how can parents best insure that their child is “respectful, responsible and pleasant to be around”? There are many good answers that are effective for most children most of the time. Those answers include how parents should encourage rather than praise their children; how they can develop problem-solving skills in their children; how parents show empathy rather than anger before allowing consequences to fall and include techniques that avoid showing parental frustration. It truly takes a book to clearly define all the answers but here are some guidelines:
- Entitlement begins when children no longer say “thank you” to giving parents.
- Hostile Dependency shows when children are angry when parents don’t fix the child’s problem.
- When children demonstrate a higher ability to perform tasks for others than they show at home, then parental over-protection and low expectations is the usual cause.
- Children who are blaming attempt to manipulate and increase parental guilt in order to control the situation.
- Wise parents do not excuse disrespect, for it sets the foundation for their child’s hostile and self destructive behavior.
Finally, we rejoice in the fact that protection of others has a positive side. A shining aspect of the human soul sparkles when we act on our desires to help one another out of difficult situations, even at our own detriment. On a deep level, sacrifice for another may actually be a gift we give ourselves. When we see a person who has lived a sacrificial life for others, our own soul confirms, “That’s a sweet person who deserves a special place in heaven!”
But too much sugar leads to a death from diabetes.
Foster W. Cline, MD