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How Important Are Feelings?

Updated: Apr 19


two eggs in carton with emotional faces drawn on them

During the 60's and 70's, before Freudian psychology had been largely

discredited, the air was filled with references to Freudian slips, Oedipus complexes, and anal-retentiveness (which, in case you didn't know it, was a psychological problem supposedly caused by the poor toilet-training your mother imposed on you).


During this era, I read the extremely popular book, Sybil (about a woman with multiple personalities, which has also been discredited), and in my fascination with all things psychological, I began trying my hand at figuring out the "reasons" for the various moods and anxieties I experienced.


Pop psychology was everywhere, and it had the effect of turning one's gaze inward. Since this was also the age of Hippies, Viet Nam, a new focus on the rights of women (with the accompanying denigration of the "drudgery" of being a mother and homemaker), the Civil Rights movement, and unrest everywhere, there was no shortage of angst to analyze.


People were encouraged to "find themselves," and it seemed every family was disintegrating, either because of divorce or because one or more teens either physically ran off to an ashram or rock concert, or headed off to college and learned to reject their parents and everything they stood for. Maybe focusing on feelings and rights wasn't the best thing after all.


An entire generation of us thought in "psycholog-ese" and without being conscious of it, began applying it to the way we brought up our children. I vividly remembered feeling left out, bullied, and made fun of as a child, and wanted to make sure my kids never experienced any of that. I wanted to protect them from feeling bad.


It's one thing, however, to make sure you don't say hurtful things or put your child in an emotionally harmful environment; it's another thing entirely to try to prevent them feeling anything negative. I started to realize that, at the very least, if I ever needed to correct them, (and the need for this was becoming more obvious every moment) they would be unhappy about it--they would "feel bad".


Teach them to be respectful, expect them to pull their weight around the house by doing chores, give them everything they need but only some of what they want, and consistently impose painful consequences so that they learn we're all accountable.

Not only that, I knew at some point they'd have to be around mean kids, harsh teachers, coaches who yelled, bosses who couldn't care less how they felt, and all sorts of unpredictable human behavior throughout their lives.


In shielding them from feeling bad, I was actually doing my kids more harm than good; they didn't need to be protected, they needed to be taught how to "deal with it". They needed to be secure, able to take instruction and correction without wilting, and understand that it's ok not to be universally adored.


Psychology hadn't helped me, and it wasn't going to help them. I had to learn to think differently, to embrace a more practical version of child-rearing.


What I want to say is this: if you're always probing your kids to see how they feel, stop it. They need to know how to function in a world that can be harsh, without feeling offended and hurt all the time, or constantly checking to see if their rights have been violated, and they can't do it if they're always looking inward. Feelings aren't the most important thing.


Teach them to be respectful, expect them to pull their weight around the house by doing chores, give them everything they need but only some of what they want, and consistently impose painful consequences so that they learn we're all accountable.


In closing, I want to leave you with a link to an excellent podcast on this subject. It's long, but you can take it in segments, and I urge you to do so because it's absolutely worth it. If you'd rather read a short article, here's a link to one recently published, from a book by the same person as the interviewee in the podcast.


Don't be misled into thinking that you're a bad parent if your kids cry, make a fuss, or have a bad day. Don't tippy-toe around for fear of offending them. Teach them to be good, strong, wise people, and enjoy the real men and women they grow up to be.






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