On Parenting: When feeling sorry for our children causes more harm than good

photo 2aMy daughter recently celebrated her second birthday. She is growing so quickly and I marvel at every milestone. Oohing and aahing at the smallest achievements. From being able to feed herself to her ability to spell words on her iPad mini I am constantly reminded that she is growing up. She is no longer the infant I brought home from the hospital two years ago and the more she grows the more I think about the daunting task parents have in raising confident, kind, independent and productive human beings. I also think about the challenges she will one day face and my heart swells. As parents it is our natural instinct to protect and nurture our children, to try as best we can to shield them from pain and disappointment. But as much as we may want to guard them, sometimes overprotecting them does more harm than good.

 As a relatively new mother I am frequently questioning my parenting, often times doubting myself and my decisions as a mom.  Wondering if I’m too affectionate or not showing her enough affection? Am I praising her too much or too little, am I too strict, am I too overprotective? Am I stunting her growth and independence? Donna Ball said it best,

“Motherhood is a choice you make every day, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”


There’s no rule book when it comes to raising children and for most parents it’s trying to find the right balance between love, protection, and discipline. It’s more about doing what’s best for them in the long run and not what’s in our parental nature to do like deciding when to console them versus when they need to self soothe or figure things out on their own. Being a parent is not only about bearing a child. It’s also about bearing witness to its life. It’s about helping them create a life that is separate and apart from your own. A life, which they have created for themselves through hard work, struggle, determination and commitment, not one that, was given to them.


The worst thing parents and care takers can do to their children, in my opinion, is to feel sorry for them. As a Brooklyn born Puertoriqueña, I call it the curse of the “bendito”.  In my family we have used the term bendito way too many times. From when little Johnny falls and scrapes his knee to when Doña Maria’s roof caves in from a tropical storm. The phrase is used in pretty much every situation to denote sympathy or frustration and while some things do garner sympathy the truth is that there will be many experiences we have no control over. We have to teach our children how to rise above their circumstances.

Children are sponges. They internalize everything they see and hear. They are constantly absorbing the messages we as parents are sending. If we start making excuses for them and start feeling sorry them they will learn to do the same. They will never learn to deal with challenges or adversity head on because they will always feel that something is always happening to “them” or expect mommy and daddy to protect them.  Children learn to succeed by overcoming obstacles, not by garnering their parents’ sympathy and having them always intervene on their behalf.  Children have to be disappointed sometimes. They have to learn that they won’t always succeed and that it’s ok to fail. Teaching them to feel sorry for themselves will not build self-esteem. It only teaches self-doubt and uncertainty in their abilities.

Children who lack a positive self-image can grow up to be unhappy adults who constantly complain and blame their current situation on their circumstances.  How people value themselves affects all facets of their lives from relationships, to work, to school, to how they treat themselves and others. We are our children’s main influencers and as such we must teach them that we are not our circumstances. We all at any time can rise above our situation with the right reinforcement, direction, and encouragement.  

As parents we must build our children up, instill confidence, show them independence, nurture them and encourage their individuality ─ even if that means we have to let them fall sometimes. The expectation that the world owes them something is the worst thing we can teach our children. The world owes them nothing. The sooner they learn that the better off they will be. We must teach them they are not what happens to them, they are who they choose to become.


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