Wednesday, July 04, 2012

On that Recent New Yorker Parenting Piece, and Others Like It

My friend suggested I cross-post this here, and I think it’s a good idea. He posted this article from The New Yorker on FB and asked me (and a couple other moms) my thoughts. I suggest you read the piece to understand this post, but be warned, it’s long.  

I read the piece, and this was my take on it, as posted on FB: 

“My first thought reading this was that its general themes are true, but at the same time, I genuinely wonder how much of it is mostly true for higher-class, white people. I don't know that studies like this are socioeconomically or culturally inclusive. That said, I do feel like the culture in this country is geared toward making life easy (too easy, IMO) for children. Parents have to be sensitive to everything about their kids; parents have to resolve everything; parents have to think 18 years down the road and be prepared for every. possible. scenario. It's overwhelming and exhausting and I personally struggle with it because it clashes with a lot of my values - be they values I've developed through experience, or the values ingrained in me by my Cuban upbringing. I find I straddle a line - in some ways I want to be a "modern, American" parent, and in others, "old-school Cuban" is the way to go. Meaning, I don't want to live by threatening my kid with the chancleta for everything, but I also don't want to chew his food and practically swallow it for him, either. I think it boils down to really and truly thinking about what kind of parent you want to be - both big-picture and in the day-to-day - and actually carrying it out. It's not easy when you have work, bills and other responsibilities hanging on you, but you have to do it if you don't want to end like some of the parents described here, or your kids, either. For example, I in no way feel like it's my job to rescue my child, and so I don't. He breaks a toy, too bad. It's not replaced, I don't buy something new. He misbehaves in school, he has my wrath to deal with. He does something wrong to another, he has to face the person and apologize to them. As he gets deeper into school, I will be available to answer questions, to expose him to as many different things as possible, to help as best as I can, but I will in no way do his work for him, or plead with his teachers to go easy on him, or save his butt when he forgets things. On the other hand, I absolutely want my child to know - every day, no matter what - that I accept him for who he is, and that my love is unconditional. I overdo it with affection, but that's due to how friggin' adorable he is, combined with how deprived of affection I was as a kid. So, whatever. I know he'll start to pull back from that eventually. I think this article fails to account for individual personalities, and what parenting can be like when you really pay attention to the kind of kid you have and work it to your advantage. Max LOVES being helpful. He will come ask to help me when I'm cleaning or cooking and then do whatever I ask him to do (he is now being assigned chores and learning how our family is a team and everyone plays a role). At the same time, he's easily distracted and inattentive. So I have to work with that. I give him tasks that are done in a short amount of time, and I don't give him anything to do that will triple my work if he messes up. I make a game of it so that we both enjoy it and get it done quickly. I think a big problem in our society is that *real* parenting is very, very hard work, and many parents just bag out even as they think they're doing the right thing. Helicoptering, stepping in to rescue them, giving them whatever they want - those things are actually EASY compared to the hard work of having a long view, of identifying the core values you want to impart and seeking ways to do so, of being strict and demanding, of pushing them to do or be on their own when you know you have to. I don't know if you wanted something this long-winded, but there it is, my thoughts on the article.”

Later, I added: 

“For the most part, conversations of this nature are really only taking place in forums where the readers/commenters/writers are white and/or upper-middle-class to high-class. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, per se, but I think it shows that that's the only segment of the population who has the real luxury of ruminating and angsting over this stuff.”

And clarified, when it seemed someone else thought I was saying non-white parents are bad parents: 

“There's no question that good parents come in all colors and from all financial backgrounds. What I'm saying is, look at where these discussions are taking place: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, TIME -- who's their main demographic? The people who have the time, maybe the money (therefore, the luxury) to do so. I would actually say that it's these very people most in need of some real soul-searching in regards to their parenting, but that seems too general and unfair.”

A few days later (today, actually) I stumbled upon this piece in The Atlantic (this one's a lot shorter), and I again found myself thinking about these articles, and why they rankle me so.

These two articles hit upon something that I confront everywhere on the Internet: minority voices (here I’ll just focus on parenting) remain few and far between, especially when you consider that minorities exist in far greater numbers than the white “majority.” And it’s not that they don’t exist – there are so many black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, etc. parent bloggers, sites, forums, etc. But when you get to mainstream articles like this, and the sites/publications behind them, it’s largely white voices. White, upper-middle-class to high-class voices. In and of itself, there might be nothing wrong with that, but I feel it doesn’t offer a full, accurate representation of parenting in the U.S. That's the funny thing about these pieces: I get the sense that they're trying to be universal, and they are anything but. I always end up thinking, at some point, who the hell can actually, really relate to this? (side note: I've felt this way before, and felt it for a long time)

Articles like this mess with my head. I read all the articles that come out like those referenced here. I visit (not every day, but frequently enough) so many news/commentary websites that it boggles the mind. I do so by choice, because I enjoy reading and learning and and seeing what’s out there (though I have zero time to do more than read and move on). And consistently, just about everywhere I go, I find myself at once understanding but not really relating to all these pieces on parenting today. They tap into anxieties and worries I carry with me, but they speak nothing of my life experiences, not as me, and not as a parent - not really, anyway. I typically consider this yet another consequence of being a hyphenated individual, but the more I read stuff like this (aware, on some level, about the general cultural tendency to fan the good-parenting vs. bad-parenting flames), the more I feel like this has to be more about how a very small, specific segment of the population parents today, and little else. 

I could be completely wrong. Part of my frustration is simply not knowing. It's not like minority parent bloggers are out there responding to these articles, offering their take. I don't know if the stuff that baffles the hell out of me - parents who edit their kids college papers?? parents who schedule 12 activities for a four-year-old?? - is a white people thing, a rich people thing, a rich white people thing, or none of these. I only know that that kind of stuff doesn't exist in my world. I am neither Anglo nor rich (though I am privileged enough to be able to blog as much much as I want, and to read these articles and ponder over them, luxuries that the great majority of parents in this country don't have, and I am fully aware of this), but I certainly am not immune to all the pressures I've been told I should feel. Do I expose my son to enough things? Am I properly planning for his future? Am I being present enough? Attentive enough? 

And heavens knows, I devote a ridiculous amount of time to feeling all kinds of anxiety over my child. The thing is, I don't stress over any of the examples given. I don't get insomnia because my kid did a poor job on a project and it'll ruin his chances of later success; I get it because I fear that he won't be able to overcome his personal challenges and develop into an emotionally stable person. So it's like I can get the anxieties about wanting your kid to succeed, about wanting the best for them, but the details are worlds apart. Moreover, so is the methodology. I don't believe in rescuing my child - in fighting his battles or intervening on his behalf if he messed up and has to learn from it. And generally speaking, my culture - or at the very least, the very small world I inhabit - falls more along these lines than those constantly splayed across the Internet. I am more Tiger Mother than the Western kind. I try to expose him to lots of things and be present and attentive and forward-thinking, but not at the expense of our defined roles: I am the parent. He is the child. Period - and all that comes with that.

Ultimately, I think articles like these reek of such an utter lack of true self-awareness. They completely fail to acknowledge that their points of reference include little to no minorities, and that as it is, the great, great majority of parents are too worried about losing their homes and being unable to pay bills and put food on the table to be the kind of helicopter parents that are always trotted out as examples. They are small snapshots that I don't believe capture the complete picture of parenting in the U.S. today. 

I go back to what I said on FB: “For the most part, conversations of this nature are really only taking place in forums where the readers/commenters/writers are white and/or upper-middle-class to high-class. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, per se, but I think it shows that that's the only segment of the population who has the real luxury of ruminating and angsting over this stuff.” That's what it boils down to for me. And if that's the case, like I said, there's nothing wrong with that, but I can't truly buy any of this as legitimate universal statements on parenting. They simply aren't.


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Posted by Tere @ 7/04/2012   | |

3 Comments

  • Blogger Nicole posted at 7/04/2012 8:52 AM  
    Well done! Reason #563 I am so glad I don't have kids. I have NO idea what is the "right way." I grew up with in an Irish Catholic home... very non-emotional, very loud.. and sort of "My way or the highway." I often wonder which pieces of each culture gets it right.
  • Blogger Mary Gilmour posted at 7/04/2012 9:15 AM  
    You make a lot of really good points. It isn't only ethnicity/culture that doesn't get considered in the 'helicopter' parenting discussions. I find none of the debates consider urban/rural differences, for instance, or even type of community.

    Example - my daughter's family live in a neighbourhood that has some very unsafe elements but suits them perfectly for their jobs and access to schools, etc. So my granddaughter does not have the option of travelling around the neighbourhood solo, as she would in a suburb heavily stocked with young families and watchful parents.

    I think you have an intelligent and loving grasp of what your son needs and the sense to allow him to be himself. Too much of the 'helicopter' debate centres on producing kids that parents can boast about - and I want to smack such parents right on their inflated egos.

    Loved your thoughts on this.
  • Blogger Tere posted at 7/04/2012 9:37 AM  
    Nicole, the truth is that there's no right way. While I think I can easily identify some general intelligent rules of thumb, they remain opinions, and they are most likely held by people of all racial, cultural and religious backgrounds. I don't doubt that the parents described in these articles exist, and that they have produced/are producing children who will lack a lot of important life skills and an ability to healthily cope with the world-at-large, but I just don't accept that this is the majority of people. I also feel that pop culture promotes this child-centered pressure, but we'll tackle that on another day. ;-)

    Mary, great points. Geography is important, too. It dictates what we can realistically do and not do. We live in City of Miami proper, our neighborhood being among the safest in the county, but I don't let Max play out front alone. That's me and my "he'll be snatched!" fears. But the fenced-in backyard is all his. I know parents who don't allow even this.

    I think you're dead-on about the root of helicopter parenting. It's ultimately about producing children the parents can boast about, *proof* that they did things correctly, perfectly. It's just not about the kids themselves. Wish they understood that there's no such thing as perfect when it comes to parenting!
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