When children come into the world, they are confused about the nature of their relationships. They do not think they are dealing with one person. In their minds, there are two mommies, not one. Or, two daddies, not one. There is the “good” mommy and the “bad” one.
The good one is the one who gratifies them. When they are hungry or needy, they protest, and the good mommy comes and relieves their stress. When they are gratified, they see this mommy as “good.” But if something they want is not forthcoming and Mommy frustrates their wish, she is seen as the “bad” mommy. You may even remember this literally happening. It is not unusual for a child to hear “no” and say, “Bad Mommy.” This split is universal.
Some adults have still not resolved this problem. If you do what they want, they are very loving and see you as a good person. But if you say “no” to them, they see you as bad for not giving them what they wanted. Then when you gratify them, you are seen as good all over again.
The other side of this is what goes on inside children. When they are getting what they want, they see themselves as entitled to what they are receiving; when they are being frustrated, they see themselves as victims of the “bad mom.” So not only do they see two mommies, but they also experience two selves as well: the entitled self and the deprived self. You can probably remember seeing this in very young children. When happy, they are very happy. When angry or sad, they are very angry or sad.
But as children experience both having their needs met and being frustrated with limits, they slowly merge the two images of themselves and others. They slowly realize a few extremely important things:
- My needs are consistently responded to.
- Not all my needs and wants are gratified.
- The same person is both giving to me at some times and depriving me at other times—the one I love is the one I hate.
- I am fortunate at times, and at other times I have to deal with being frustrated.
As this combination of gratification and frustration occurs a few million times, children gain a secure sense of the world’s being “not perfect” in gratifying them all the time, but “good enough” in giving them what they need. They slowly give up their wish for the “all-good other” who is going to meet all their needs perfectly and learn to love the one who both loves them and frustrates them. And they decide people are not perfect, but good enough. Children endure enough frustration to become grateful for what they receive as they find out they are not entitled to everything they want
To accomplish this task, children need two important things from you: gratification and frustration. Children who are never gratified are in a constant state of need, and they will never feel grateful because they literally have not gotten enough. This is the danger of parenting systems that overemphasize depriving the child early in life for fear that the child will control the home. Children must have their needs met to develop trust and gratitude. As the Bible says about us and our Father in heaven, “We love because he first loved us” (see 1 John 4:19). We need to be given to first.
But children who are never frustrated never understand that they are not the center of the universe, that they are not owed whatever they want, and that others do not exist only for their needs. The balance of gratification and frustration tempers the extremes of neediness and entitlement.
The child who experiences frustration gives up the view that he’s entitled to everything he wants and that others should perform for him. In addition, he doesn’t see himself as a victim when he’s deprived, nor does he see others as bad when they do not do what he wants. He develops a balanced view of himself and others.
Learn how to instill the kind of character in your children that will lead to a balanced, productive, and fulfilling life in Boundaries with Kids.