Whenever her 4-year-old twins started bickering with each other, Michelle Papay used to jump between them to keep the peace.

Now she sits back and watches the action.

She used to get the boys dressed in the morning.

Now the Westlake, Ohio, mom tosses them their underwear and heads down to the kitchen.

All those wonderful scheduled activities for kids, the music classes, the gymnastics, the ballet – Papay isn’t interested. The only activity she schedules is for herself is exercise time at her gym while Frankie and Anthony stay in the baby-sitting area.

And although the twins are still a couple of years from first grade, she already knows what she’s going to do when one of them forgets to take his lunch to school.

Nothing. No phone calls to the school office. No trips to school to drop off the food.

Other parents might call Papay a mean parent, a selfish parent, a lazy parent.

Truth is, she seems to be something entirely different.

A good parent.

Society might not agree, of course. Our culture’s image of a great mom or dad is someone who helps kids avoid mistakes, protects them from life’s pain and struggles and enriches them with hours of scheduled activities – all while sacrificing at least 18 years of life to little junior.

Problem is, say experts, that kind of “ideal” parent can be hazardous to a child’s well-being.

Perhaps the best way to explain is to go back to the Great Depression, when parents spent more time working and struggling, not partnering in their kids’ homework projects, chauffeuring them to drama class or confronting a teacher about a bad grade.

“The kids struggled, too. Many of them had to play a fairly pivotal role in the economics of the home, at least making sure all the chores were done,” says Charles Fay, an author, school psychologist and president of the Colorado-based Love and Logic Institute, which teaches a parenting philosophy of personal responsibility. “They were seeing their parents working really hard and having to delay gratification.”

From that emerged what’s been called the Greatest Generation, a group of people who lived the values of self-sacrifice and hard work and used them to conquer fascism.

But then they married and had kids of their own.

“They said, “I don’t want my kids to struggle like I struggled,”‘ says Fay. Thanks to the affluence of postwar America, many were able to do it, giving their children lots of wonderful things and, with a sudden abundance of free time, more and more assistance.

But what they, and many parents since, were really doing was not giving, but taking.

“They stole the gift of struggle,” says Fay. “As a result, people started believing that the only way to feel good is to have lots of good stuff and to have people make your life easy.”

In a way, it’s as bad as not teaching a child to read.

“When we are constantly going around making sure that everything goes well for the kids, the kids have no understanding of how to cope with struggle,” says Fay.

The proliferation of scheduled activities just adds to the problem.

“When kids are overscheduled, what it teaches them is that they’re the center of the universe, that other people are supposed to entertain me and life is always supposed to be fun.”

Papay and her husband, Frank, recently took a parenting class on Fay’s philosophy of Love and Logic, which calls on parents to provide lots of love but to sit back and allow the child to learn through experience and struggle.

Many devoted parents might be shocked and call it lazy parenting, but it hasn’t exactly been easy for Papay.

When her boys begin to argue, she fights the natural urge to step in.

“I try to sit back and say, “You boys have to solve this,”‘ says Papay. While it might seem like a loving gesture to tie a child’s shoes each morning, Papay knows it helps no one. That’s why she has the boys dress themselves.

“At first, they were very frustrated,” she says, “but then they get very excited that they can actually accomplish a task by themselves.”

And when one of them someday forgets his lunch and his tiny tummy is grumbling at school, Papay isn’t going to budge.

It’s better, she says, if children learn the lessons early when the consequences are small. A forgotten lunch today is better than a forgotten term paper in college.

Then there’s the time issue. While society praises moms and dads who “devote their lives to their children,” Papay says she makes sure her boys see her devoting time to herself, at the gym or elsewhere.

“They see it’s important for Mommy to take care of herself,” she says. “I’m not a servant to them 24/7.”

That’s crucial, says Ron Chidsey, a retired school counselor who now teaches this philosophy in parenting classes (ChidseySeminars.com).

“Chances are high that children are going to end up pretty much like their parents,” he says. “If parents are controlled by their kids – every time the kids want something, they stop, drop and roll and do it – the kids will see that and say, “Oh, I guess it’s important in life that when anybody else asks me to do something, I should just do it for them.”‘

That attitude can mean big trouble later when kids are dealing with peer pressure.

Instead of jumping when your kids ask for something, Chidsey advises parents to continue with what they’re doing, and say, “I’ll be happy to do that when it works into my schedule.”

“It’s a balance,” says Papay. “Of course you can’t sit around all day and drink coffee and have your kids be by themselves. But every single thing can’t be about your child. When they get to their jobs, is the boss going to go, “Are you OK? Are you OK? Do you have everything you need?’ They’re not going to do that at all. No one’s going to baby-sit your kid all day.

“They gotta learn that early.”

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