Grow Up, Parents

Swaddling

Much has been written about the rise of helicopter parenting, and how it has made kids more spoiled, entitled, snowflake-ish, etc. However, little has been discussed about what effect it has on the parents themselves, and on the experience of parenting. Writing in The American Spectator, Ben Stein has a thoughtful take on the matter:

A parent [today] is a chauffeur, body guard, tutor, mentor, butt of the child’s mockery and contempt.

What happened? When I was a lad in the 1950s, our parents could just let us out the door and we wandered all around Silver Spring all day. It was safe and it was fun. At 7 or 8 years old, we could take the D.C. transit bus to Georgetown, walk over the Key Bridge, and buy fireworks in Virginia.

Tommy got to do that in the early and mid 90s when we lived in Sandpoint. Again, it was fun and it was safe. I let him out of the house after breakfast. He came back for lunch and then I saw him and his pals for supper. I never worried about him at all.

Plus, when I was a child, we kids did our own homework. We didn’t have our parents sit with us to do it. Somehow we all knew history and civics and easy algebra. Even Latin. No one had to stand over us with a hickory stick telling us if we didn’t get all A’s we could not go to a decent college. We all knew it. We wanted to go to good colleges.

Now, parenting is slavery. Small wonder so few couples have children. It’s a pain in the butt and it’s expensive.

Growing up in a small California farm town in the ’80s and ’90s, my experience wasn’t too different from Stein’s. Me and my friends would spend all day riding our bikes around town, hiking through the hills, or walking in the fields with our dogs, playing. Occasionally we’d break a limb or have a close encounter with a rattlesnake, but that was just part of life. We’d ride around in the back of our dad’s pickup truck and nobody cared. As a teenager, I’d go visit a friend who lived in the San Jose mountains and we’d spend entire weekends camping out with our rifles, no adult supervision required. It was a childhood not much different from my dad’s in the ’40s and ’50s.

But now, only two decades after my childhood ended, being a parent in the 21st century is like raising a kid on a different planet. Parents hover around their children everywhere they go, and micro-manage every activity they do. A while back, we took Jimmy Jr. to a classmate’s birthday party, and the kid’s mother wouldn’t allow any kid to jump on their trampoline unless the parents had signed a Release Form. A freaking legal form, just to bounce on a trampoline! Think about what kind of message this sends to kids about having fun. I can give you a dozen other examples of this kind of over-parenting insanity, and our kid isn’t even in the First Grade yet.

This kind of parenting is just as unhealthy for the parents as it is for the kids. It leaves them in a constant state of nervousness, permanently stressed and worrying about every little interaction or activity their child partakes in, unable to relax or enjoy life for a moment. And by not allowing the child to take some risks and experience life in an autonomous way, the parents pass those neuroses onto the kid, making all parties involved miserable.

As parents, we all want to be good Mama and Papa Bears and keep our cubs safe, but we need to get back to a healthy balance of protecting our kids and letting them experience things for themselves. In the rush of day-to-day life and under the crush of social pressure, it’s easy to forget that every day of a kid’s life is a day closer to adulthood, and one of our primary jobs is preparing them for that transition, by teaching them to be autonomous beings able to take risks, deal with adversity, make decisions, and take on life’s challenges on their own. Every day we hover over and coddle our children, we not only do them a disservice, but ourselves as well, because we rob ourselves of the ability to enjoy our lives and have a happy, healthy parenting experience.

Ever since Jimmy Jr. was a toddler, he and the much-older neighbor kids have gathered on our front lawn on sunny days to play “ball tag”, a game where they run around and toss a rubber ball at each other. When he was little, I played with them, but once he got a little older I backed off and went inside the house and Mrs. C and I enjoyed the peace and quiet while he happily played outside for hours on end. Occasionally he would come inside in tears because he got a skinned knee or because someone pelted him in the face with the ball at point-blank range, but on the whole everyone was happier, parents and kids alike.

We only get 18 short years to mold each kid into an adult. We cannot afford to obsess and make ourselves miserable doing it, nor can our kids afford to be turned into entitled, fragile basket cases who think that parenting is something devoid of joy. No matter how crazy our PC society gets about this, we have to do better, for our children’s sakes and our own.

10 comments to Grow Up, Parents

  • One day I will find investors in my “Drop-off Baseball League,” no busy-body parents or overbearing coaches allowed anywhere but the parking lot.

    • JimmyC

      Sounds freaking awesome, but these days not even the schools are “drop-off” anymore. Ever since our kid started at kindergarten last fall, my poor wife has been inundated with robocalls from the school asking her to “get involved” in bake sales, field trips, fun runs, fundraisers, etc. Not just participate, but volunteer at all of them.

      I’m all in favor of parents getting involved in their kids’ education, but turning parents into unpaid school employees seems like a bit much.

      • Notfernuttin’ but all those volunteer activities sound identical to my parents’ experiences when my brothers and I were in elementary school.

        • Oh, that was just the beginning of the list. If we did it all, it would pretty much be a full-time job.

          • I have zero trouble believing that they would try and take advantage of parents that volunteer. I’ve seen that phenomenon at work in many other fields of endeavor.

            In the Army they would identify someone who produces. Then anytime something needed to get done who do they pick? The guy who produces. Other non producers would skate by. In a just world every one would contribute, but it’s harder to get the non producer to produce than to ask the guy you know will get it done to do it again. Of course you are betting the guy that produces won’t get fed up and quit.

            I would imagine your kid’s school is similar in that they identify those who have helped in the past and target them for anything needing to be done in the future.

            • My co-workers and I have a saying: if you need something done, give it to the guy who already has a million things to do.

      • My mom drove me and my classmates on field trips in the ’70s

      • Dr. Schplatt

        My perspective as an elementary teacher is that one reason why so many parents are involved in their kids educations, is that schools no longer just do a school’s job. Teach a kid to read, write and add numbers together. Now it’s all globalization, multiculturalism, and social welfare instruction. Many of my student’s parents are involved because they simply don’t trust schools anymore. In my mind, they have good reason not to trust schools. I know more crappy teachers these days than good ones. There’s very little to attract high quality individuals into education these days.