Where Does “Fear Of Spoiling” Come From?

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart… Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:21,23,24)

One of the things Wendy and I learn most after becoming parents is that both the older generation of American parents and the majority of Chinese parents seem to have one public enemy when it comes to raising a child: they are afraid of spoiling their children.

As new parents, we appreciate a lot of friendly advice from others who are experienced parents. Many times, though, the first thing they tell us are things like, “don’t carry your child too much or they will be spoiled,” or “children are so smart and they can manipulate you to get your attention,” or “you need to set a rigid schedule for the baby to follow so he knows you’re in control”, etc.

Funny thing is, I used to think the same way before I became a parent. But after Wendy was pregnant with Chase, I started really thinking and praying and reading hard about being a parent and to gain parenting wisdom, and that process led me to question this “fear of spoiling” phenomenon. Where does this fear of spoiling a child come from? Why does “spoiling” seem like the ultimate evil? And, while they are so focused on bringing down a problem (of “spoiling”), are they devoting equal amounts of thoughts and consideration in positively raising up a child?

After a few months of parenting, one day it dawned on me the two real reasons behind all this:

Reason #1: Pride

Sometimes when Chase cries a lot, especially in a public place, I really want him to shut up. But, deep down inside, I know the reason was not for my child’s good, but so other people won’t see me as a “bad parent.” Society has determined that the parent of a crying, fussy, clingy baby is probably doing a bad job. In order to avoid losing face, people want to claim and boast that their baby is happy enjoying by himself/herself, that he/she is “indepenendent” (I always wonder how some parents could expect a baby to be “independent”, but that’s another story). To me, the fear of spoiling comes from a pride issue to avoid people saying you’re a bad parent.

In reality, babies actually “need” to cry and “need” to fuss. In the book “The Wonder Weeks” which I’m currently reading, the authors found that babies go through periodic leaps of major mental development, and during those times, the mental stress on the baby is so great that they typically cry more and fuss more. And this is a good thing because you know they’re growing. Children also fuss and cry to let you know you might have missed their gentler communication cues. A parent who ignores those cries actually means that he/she is missing an opportunity to grow as a parent, and he/she is also discouraging the children from communicating gently.

Reason #2: Laziness

Notice how the fear-of-spoiling advice sound so easy and convenient? “Just ignore” is easy to do. “Set a rigid schedule” seems to make your life so convenient. No wonder busy people like to adopt this kind of advice. But I don’t believe parenting is easy, so I am wary of shortcuts. It’s just as bad as a shortcut like “playing classical music to your baby will increase his IQ,” which to me is not only a stupid advice, but also an irresponsible and lazy advice to help people abdicate their responsibilities as parents of helping a child grow in intelligence (and in other areas like emotional wholeness).

Another laziness problem of fear-of-spoiling is how some people translate “not spoiling” as “love.” I’m sad to know that people are lazy to invest in loving a person and just using those quick-and-easy “not spoiling” methods.

In summary, I think Colossians 3:21 speaks directly against this fear-of-spoiling phenomenon. The fear-of-spoiling tactics often leave a child alone to struggle to grow up by himself in an environment of negativity. Colossians 3:21 says don’t make a child “lose heart.” Losing heart is exactly what those fear-of-spoiling tactics do to children. Instead, I encourage parents to be positive and responsive to children, and follow the advice of Colossians 3:23-24, which says that we should parent our children just as we’re serving the Lord. Because when we’re parenting children just as we’re serving the Lord, we will not have fear of how other people look at us (pride), nor be lackadaisical in our service (laziness), but we will try to gain wisdom and understanding and use every effort to excellent in pleasing our Lord to gain the “reward of the inheritance.”

2 thoughts on “Where Does “Fear Of Spoiling” Come From?

  1. Thanks for your insighful post! I never realized parents could learn so much about themselves from their crying baby. In regards to laziness, what’s your take on playing classical music as a “supplement” rather than a “substitute”?

  2. Thanks for asking!

    Supplement is of course no problem. However, because playing classical music sounds like such an easy thing to do, it has the side effect of making raising a child’s IQ seem like the ultimate goal for parental education. In fact, helping a child be emotionally mature is much more important than IQ. So my biggest qualm is not so much the method, but more the wrongness of the goal of parental education.

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