Everyone is upset -kids, parents, dads, therapists, teachers and soccer coaches. We are parenting wrong, again, and all the real grown ups are fed up with the whole thing. They are so fed up they will take away your toddler if you spank her. They will also take away your toddler if you breastfeed her. If all else fails, they will just write about you in Slate and Atlantic Monthly because you are doing it wrong and there is no fate worse than having your parenting be disapproved of by the real grown ups.
I should confess right up front that I have three children who are all good sleepers. Aside from the 6 month window in which we were trying to figure out why Henry was growing in the wrong direction, we have enjoyed very good sleep. For the most part, it has been all in our separate spaces. We did sleep with our babies, all of whom began to sleep through the night once they reached 20lbs. This did not take very long for Theo who was 9lb 3 ounces at birth. At that point, we sort of cheerfully deposited them in a crib or pak-n-play in a room with their brothers. So, while I found Go The F*ck To Sleep to be very funny, it didn’t really send me rolling on the floor laughing (IFYWIM). Not the way, Parenting Illustrated With Crappy Pictures does. (Extreme lack of ice cream!) Still, hearing Samuel L. Jackson read it made me laugh. While sleep is not the issue, I do sometime find it impossible to resist the urge to tell my kids to “man up!” when they cry about, say, stopping for gasoline on the way home from the YMCA. Kids are frustrating. It’s part of the gig.
This morning, Liz of Mom 101 fame, pointed me in the direction of an article at Slate in which Katie Roiphe asks, “Why So Angry Dad?” I was really surprised to find out that it is all my fault! Roiphe believes the reason we all find the book so funny is because of our pent up rage at our children, I mean wives, well, the mommies. It is the mother’s unsexy blanket, movie and popcorn night creating all this rage inside the father, you see. He is blaming the child but he should really be blaming his wife. “Put on a f*cking dress!” she imagines the child to say to the mother. Yes, we who cannot “manage” to hire a babysitter are to blame -never mind if you cannot afford to hire the babysitter (I would like to know the going rates in your area, just to find out if what we are experiencing is normal or crazy.) Never you mind, if you actually want a quiet night in – if you are tired from working nights and weekends and truly just want to collapse in front of the big screen. I was surprised by the interpretation. But then again not really. Clearly if you are frustrated and tired, you are doing something wrong. It could not possibly be that the job you are doing is hard and demanding. Everything worth doing should come easily with little effort. Also, anytime your husband is upset it is because he needs more sex. By the way, you are lazy.
So, that upset me. It upset me because I was taught by my parents that rewarding things require effort, attention and sacrifice. So, I can blame them right? And so can Slate? Maybe Lori Gottlieb also help me figure out why I am doing it all wrong – or really you – because I am better than you and we both know it. Much better – except that I feel worse. It is so confusing! Truly, I found “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” to be a pretty good read. Again I should state up front that I am not, by nature, a helicopter-parent (whatever that really may be – I assume we know it when we see it, or rather, it is fun to point it out in others.) For example, my 12 year old wakes up and gets ready for school with no assistance from me. Often I am still in bed when he comes to say good bye for the day. If I am up, I am wrangling his two younger brothers. I will keep them out of his way so he doesn’t miss the 7:15am bus. I consider this to be good parenting because it works. I have no idea what his therapist will say.
What I found troubling is Gottlieb’s assertion that the underlying reason that my generation of parents protects, tends and overall oppresses with love our young is “precisely so that they wouldn’t end up on a therapist’s couch one day.” Are any of you thinking about this, you know regularly, seriously, without your tongue in your cheek? Maybe this is the type of thing only a therapist thinks about their own children. I don’t know. When I do anything for my kids – be it the right thing or the wrong thing – I can say with certainty that I am not the least bit motivated by want to protect them from one day needing help sorting life out. I must have missed the parenting theory about making sure the kids know that once they leave my nest they should never, ever seek counsel, help and support by talking out their problems with skilled professionals.
I will say I agree, kids always keep score in soccer. It is silly to pretend that sports are not competitive and that Bs are just As in disguise. I like it when my kids are successful. There are many things I will do to support and encourage their success. I am unsure how the compare to the lengths my parents would have gone, or the lengths my generational cohort of parents will go (If you are keeping track, I am 36, with a 12, 7 and 5 year old.) I believe in letting kids experience and express frustration, anger, sadness. Whether I believe in it or not, they are going to experience those things, so I figured I would just get on board with reality. Maybe I am just lazy.
The problem I have with the Atlantic Monthly piece is that it completely ignores the cultural reasons for this particular attachment style parenting. I am not parenting in a vacuum (much as I would love to do that because I hear vacuums are quiet.) What’s on tap here in my time and place: a struggling economy and a board of parenting experts that have promised if I meet enough of my kids needs they will not have any later – which of course, makes no sense, but that what is advertised. Let us also remember the marketing of camps, extra curricular activities, sports, classes and book groups – all the ways I am told that if I spend my time and money, I will have better kids, that if I do not invest in their gifts and talents now, it will be too late. In a rough economy, this is a particularly low blow. Spend money now while your kid is 8, so he will be well rounded enough to be hired at 20! The notion that somehow my kids are not good enough as is breaks through the haze. This is my own idea. I must swim uphill to standby it.
Through all of this marketing of books, theories, classes and ideas, I still contend with- as I imagine mothers at every time and place have – those perfect strangers who assert their right to barge in and let me know how what they think about it all. And overall, I consider myself very lucky in this regard. My mother and mother-in-law think I am a good mother. My father, step-father and father-in-law think I am a good mother. I live in a community that overall supports my parenting style – though I think I would be considered more strict than most. I am absolutely in favor of telling my kids to “knock it off” if they are acting like lunatics. I have even been known to use the word naughty in public. (Stop chucking acorns at the squirrel; that’s naughty!)
Still I find the microscope on mothering to be taxing and a distraction from my real work. I wonder if people around me think I am too strict, too permissive. I wonder if when my children cry in public, people think I must be indulging them, or maybe they think I am being too harsh. From the first moment I held my first baby, I began to receive conflicting advice. Never wake a sleeping baby. Wake your baby to eat every 3 hours. Don’t fuss so much over your kids. Hey, why don’t you have a jacket on him? It’s cold out there. Kids these days have no manners and are too busy. Stop scheduling all their time. Don’t let them play Wii all day. Mothers need to relax. Why is he crying? He should be sleeping through the night by now. Stop worrying. This is not the type of village I am looking for. Please send lasagnas and a housekeeping staff.