The Coddling Trap

I wanted to share a  little insight into the problems frequently cited in young people today — their sense of entitlement and their  emotional incontinence. A few years back I was reading a book called, The Christmas Mouse (published in 1973) by a British author who used the pen name, Miss Read. It isn’t a children’s book, it is  a charming story set in an English village with some female characters (along with some children.)

In the course of the plot, one of the female characters, recently widowed, is home alone on Christmas Eve and has a run away child break into her pantry that stormy night. The boy was a foster child from a good family she knew down the road. What struck me reading the book was the response of Mrs. Barry to the hungry, crying child eating her pies in the pantry. The boy being fostered at the farm down the road was upset, because he felt the kids of the foster family had a better set of gifts than he received, and he felt left out not having his own family, so he ran away.

Initially, I found myself thinking, Oh, poor child!  So alone and sad on Christmas Eve without his own family!  But the response of Mrs. Barry set me back very quickly. Rather than emotionally surrounding the shivering boy with a blanket of emotional comfort and understanding, she proceeded to address the core problems. The core issues were that he was A) ungrateful for the warm, safe family home where he was living B) ungrateful for the wonderful family that had taken him in and their buying him gifts he otherwise would not have had C) That he had worried this good family by running away D) That he felt he had the right to break in to her home and steal her food, because he was unhappy.

In short, she rebuked his sense of entitlement and brought him to see, eventually, his wrongheadedness on every front. She let him warm by the fire, met his needs and then called his foster family.

This is the set of values that made Britain and the US strong.  In the West, we  long ago departed from this way of handling children. We are prone to coddle kids when there are core character issues that need addressing. The results are all around us.  Didn’t get what I deserve!You have ‘privilege’ and I don’t!, You have better stuff and it’s not fair!,   I’m entitled to what you have cause I have nothing!

Christian teachings – as found in the Bible – emphasize humility, gratitude and respect for others. When a culture at large ceases to value that and it is no longer taught in homes, you get the atrocious state of things we are now witnessing. I DEMAND this !, I DESERVE WHAT YOU HAVE! , I’M A VICTIM AND YOU OWE ME!I’m UNHAPPY AND YOU NEED TO FIX IT!

No loving,  responsible parent is going to ignore the emotional needs of their children. But there is a difference between idolizing happiness, as though anything that threatens happiness is the problem – in essence, allowing for the tyranny of emotions in a child’s life –  and making sure a child is not carrying unnecessary emotional burdens  I tell this to our young daughter  when she is very unhappy and very unhappy that she is unhappy. “Your happiness is not the most important thing. Obeying and doing the right thing comes first.  Sometimes we are sad, angry, and unhappy. That’s just how life works. But how we ultimately pick ourselves up and respond to it  is what matters.” That’s what I try to get across to my children (and myself!)

Something to remember is that the ongoing mindset of victimhood wars against acknowledging the GRACE in our lives and squelches gratitude. It kills it.

The Christmas Mouse is a wonderful little book by Miss Read, but I found something deeper there worth recognizing, I think.

(There are still copies of this book in some libraries, and there are used versions of this little book available online with a simple search. Sometimes it is combined with two other Christmas stories by Miss Read, all of which are a joy to read.)

7 thoughts on “The Coddling Trap

  1. Rose says:

    I read this very book a few years ago. In fact, I read almost all of the Miss Read books that were in our public library. However, sadly, at the library’s book sale last year, all those wonderful books were out on a table being sold and are no longer in our library. What a loss! This was a great post, Ingrid. I am forwarding it on to my son and his wife. Thanks so much!

  2. Carol Blair says:

    abebooks.com, my favorite used book source, has *many* copies of this book — all under $5.

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