How Do I Know If I'm Loving Them Enough?

By Steve Markel, Founder and CEO of Families of Character

I was speaking with the mom of an 11 year old daughter and a 9 year old son. She was telling me how much she loves her children, and that there is nothing she wouldn’t do for them.

She went so far as to say that “whatever they wanted at any meal they got served.” If she was serving steak for dinner, but one wanted popcorn, he got popcorn.  If the other one wanted fried chicken, she would get fried chicken.

Besides doing anything that the children wanted for them, the mother gave in to materialistic things as well.  By the age of 11, the daughter was given the pleasure of a smartphone and was allowed to have a TV in her room.  Her son was also given a video game console and kept it in his room. He played it whenever he wanted. The mother rarely said no to their wishes. She wanted her children to know they “were loved unconditionally” by her.  This is love, right?

I’m going to stop right here and present the question: What is the potential problem with this situation, and what harm can this potentially bring long term? Have you, as a parent, ever thought about the potential long term effect of giving our children every desire they request, instead of helping to create boundaries and helping them to delay gratification before getting the things they desire?

Here’s a hypothetical: What if the 11 year old girl is now 15, and she meets a 17 year old young man at school.  This gentleman is good looking, known as the jock of the school and is very popular. He’s dreamy, and she is loving the attention and affection she is receiving by him.  The jock happens to like the 15 year old girl and wants to take it beyond just a friendship into more of an intimate relationship. The girl has been educated on the risks of pregnancy and STD’s and knows the facts, but her emotions are telling her this is the right thing for what she wants NOW.  After all, she has been given everything she has ever asked for and felt “loved” in return. Now, she is being asked of something of herself, and the only way she knows to respond is to give in.

Fast forward another 10 years and she is now 25.  She continues to seek out ways to feed every desire she has. She’s never heard the word no to any request she has, and she has figured out ways to achieve and accomplish anything that she desires, even if it means twisting the truth or hurting friends.  You would think at this point in her life, having money, prestige, notoriety and influence would make her happy. But the sad thing is, she’s not happy.

So what makes people happy? What gives us happiness?  This is often a topic our culture struggles with and spends millions of dollars a year on, trying to find the answer.  What if I challenged you and said that the answer is actually very simple?

Happiness comes by doing good and in giving of myself to others. There is nothing wrong with pursuing pleasure in and of itself, but there is a lot wrong with pursuing every pleasure that presents itself to us.  

Here’s another idea: self control.  Self-control is the power of controlling our desires or pleasure in order to achieve other important goals. Self-control is like a reservoir; if I’m constantly doing the things I should, such as making my bed, cleaning my room, being generous to my siblings and friends, being grateful and living other good habits, then I’ll be strong enough to say no to the negative influences and peer pressures that come my way because I’ll recognize the satisfaction and good that the self control can bring to me.  

Now let me share with you another story. Another mother was telling me about her 9 year old daughter. The family was working on developing the character strength of self-control in their family. The daughter told the family that for the month she was going to spend her money only on what she needed and not what she wanted. They had gone to Hobby Lobby and the daughter saw a craft that she really wanted. She had the money to spend on it. She picked it up off the shelf and started pestering her mother about how much she wanted this.  Because the family had previously had the conversation about each one’s self control goals for the month, the mother turned to her daughter and politely said to her, “I thought you were only going to spend money on what you needed this month and you don’t need that.” The daughter looked down at what she picked up off the shelf, studying it for several seconds, and then put it back. Another mother in the aisle watching came to the mother and asked, “How did you get your daughter to do that? I have several children and there is a reason they’re not with me.  We would own everything in the store that the kids wanted. They are relentless in pursuing what they want until they get it.” The mother of the 9 year old told her that they were working on self control for the month, and the daughter had said she would only spend money and what she needed. The family went home, and the daughter soon realized that she had many crafts in her craft closet, and was happy to pull one out.

Take a look at these two young girls.  The 11 year old getting every appetite, passion and desire fed to her, and then the 9 year old who is being taught how to condition and control her own passions and desires.   Ask yourself the question: who is better prepared to face the disappointments, challenges and changes life brings? Who is more likely to be happier, healthier, and more productive or successful in life?

So how do you know if you’re loving your children enough? You’re loving them enough when you realize they have greater freedom and happiness because they are not a slave to their appetites and desires, rather their appetite and desires are a slave to them. Authentic love is when I am taught to give of myself to others, to think of others, and in wanting their goodwill.

Steve Markel