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Are we really a nation of crummy parents?

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For almost a week now I’ve been wrestling with Elizabeth Kolbert’s article for The New Yorker entitled, “Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?”. There are so many examples like this one in the media that make me want to declare civilization a failed experiment, grab the kids and a bag of rice to hold us over until we have constructed our primitive weapons, and head for a deserted Caribbean island where we can contemplate important questions like, “are Truth and Beauty one and the same?” and “what makes us Human?” without the deafening roar of “WHAT ARE THOSE PARENTS THINKING?” and “WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND LETS THEIR KIDS DO THAT?” and the more somber, “What sort of future adults are we raising?”.

Kolbert paints a picture of the worst of the worst when it comes to bratty and enabling behavior: eight year olds who refuse to tie or untie their own shoes, parents who can’t get their kids in the bathtub, and college students who make A’s but can’t make their own beds. More often than not, I stick to the tactful “your kids, your business” mantra. But if I am being really honest, I guess I do think its my business. If I require my kids to learn to pick up and pitch in, to share, to maintain an acceptable standard of hygiene, to be accountable for their behavior, to get a healthy regimen of sleep and nutrition, if I tow this line long and hard everyday (btw deciding between “no” and “yes” for three little people all day long is the hardest labor I’ve ever done) then I think other parents should, too. If you already find yourself beginning to bristle just take a listen to the generalization Kolbert makes about all of us who are sitting at the parenting roulette table right now:

“Letting things slide is always the easiest thing to do, in parenting no less than in banking, public education, and environmental protection. A lack of discipline is apparent these days in just about every aspect of American society.”

Translation: “Your generation is a bunch of immoral slackers and your punk kids are going to be even worse.”

Come on! I mean, I feel fairly confident about the basics at the moment but the finer points are elusive when you live in a toddler fishbowl and you answer-on-demand questions that run the gamut from ‘when is supper going to be ready?’ to ‘what’s a soul?’ to ‘why can I tee tee in the ocean but not in the pool?’.   Maybe I found Kolbert’s article both insulting and frightening because as I read, I could hear that little voice in my head every paragraph or so saying, “ooh. that’s you. why haven’t you thought of that yet? you’ve got to work on that. that’s you, too. oh boy. maybe you need to ship the kids to peru so that the matsigenka tribe can raise them up right.” But before I hire indigenous surrogate parents for my brood, there are a few things I’d like to try.

CHALLENGE #1: Encouraging my kids to be more independent. I will not continue to do things for them just because its faster, or easier, or more efficient. Even though they are a bunch of small fries, I will actively look for the things that they can contribute to our household that will lead to better cooperation later down the road. Cooking for themselves, keeping a clean house, changing lightbulbs, filling out their own paperwork- these are simple things in such a complex world and if they are so simple, then our kids should be able to do them, right?

CHALLENGE #2: I will not “overestimate” my influence on my kids. I will not over-think the future or how they will remember me or whether or not something has the potential to become a bad habit in adulthood. I will keep my eyes on the horizon between protection and overindulgence and try not to squeeze my eyes shut too tight in fear of the disappointment, sorrow, and pain that I will watch them endure.

CHALLENGE #3: My family will draw a hard line between ‘need’ and ‘want’ so as not become over- ‘stuffed’. We will continue to minimalize our stuff by buying and giving only on special occasions, de-cluttering routinely, and finding ways to receive-through-giving. I pledge not to fail in CHALLENGE #2 so that I can complete CHALLENGE #3 more effectively. I shudder to think about becoming one of the families whose homes are displayed in the book, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” as exemplary of “the crap-strewn core of American culture”. Just re-reading that quote makes me a shudder all over again.

The common thread between these three is the ability to discern between the temporal and the eternal, what lasts forever and what turns to dust and is forgotten, the reason, the truth, and the beauty that transcends the routine, the mundane, and the difficult. And I’ve arrived back at those questions I mentioned earlier but I probably won’t have time to ponder them on a deserted island. I’ll have to do it in the real world but hopefully not, as Kolbert predicts, while I am tying my teenagers’ shoes and making their beds. I would really like to go to Peru one day, though, to see how those Matsigenka’s teach their three-year olds to cut grass with a machete.

If you want to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s article “Spoiled Rotten”, you will find it here.

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16 thoughts on “Are we really a nation of crummy parents?

  1. That article has been a huge topic of conversation at our house, too. I was especially struck by the issues raised by your Challenges 1 & 2. Our household is on those same missions and I think those were good things to keep at the forefront of our decision-making. Already, the boys amaze me with their capabilities…and now I’m paying more attention. So true about the choice between “no” and “yes” being the hardest part of this grand adventure!

  2. I actually postponed some cooking tonight so that Nora Ruth could grate cheese for me tomorrow…and NOT for the lesson in self-sufficiency but because it only took a few days for me to say “whew, so glad I never have to do that again” and I cannot imagine ever taking that job back ha!

  3. Love you Bec! Give your sweet independent and practically perfect in every way children a huge hug and kiss from me! Oh and get my hammock ready… I need to come visit

    • don’t play with my emotions, Pats! when we have at least one hemisphere in common, I will expect some action. Allie called you on her phone one day this week. She was inviting you to pancakes when we go home for a visit at the end of July. love you!

  4. You know what – you are a great parent and you have great kids – all kids are different and as daddy once told me – “I’ve taught you everything I know about right and wrong, so it’s your decision how to use it”. I figure if you apply that to raising your kids that’s best thing you can do, and you’re gonna love anyway – no matter their choices – and rest assured no matter what you think now and all your good intentions – it’s all going to work out – they will make choices that you will test your tolerance but not your love. So enjoy your time and your kids now – it goes fast, they grow before you’re ready!!!
    and I can’t wait to see you at the end of July!!!

    • Amen! I’ve got an idea…how about you come do some of that babysitting you owe me and I’ll use the quiet time to lay by the pool working on my tan and reflecting on how to enjoy the here and now. 😉 Love you and can’t wait to see you, too!!

      • Please – it’s hot – I can’t leave my air conditioner – it’s my splurge – it is what I do!! I’m so glad I’ll see ya’ll soon – I miss you and I’ll still owe you the babysitting – Love you

  5. Now I’m jealous about this little family reunion you y’all are having in a couple of weeks without me. Mom, I’m going to need a ticket to Grand Caymen ASAP! I have some pancakes that need to be eaten! Oh, I love you all very much and don’t worry Bec you’ll be begging for your kiddos back next time I see you! I may just steal them and run away!

    PS why couldn’t this reunion wait until the end of August? Whats so special about July?!

  6. Pingback: Focus On: Parenting Blogs | The Daily Post at WordPress.com

  7. Judgement (which is a bullying-type of perspective) is a good sign that someone who has not done thorough homework and is talking out of the ass. My son has proved has many people wrong through actual work he has created, more times than I can count. Just with his independence skils, he can run circles around the forty-year olds who make statements about playing on the Gameboy.

    Bullies want to throw opinions based on superficial observations. It’s their way of dropping a bag of poop on your doorstep and expecting you to do the cleaning. I can bet that if a person said “explain” to the one who is openly bagging on this generation, there would not be a sensible explanation delivered.

    http://thejunglepackworkbook.wordpress.com

  8. I just stumbled onto your blog/this post and I think it’s fabulous! I would also like to know how to sfely hand my 3 year old a machete, point to the overgrown yard, and let him have at it. Unfortunately, I don’t plan to make any more 3 year olds so it’s a risk I’m not quite willing to take 🙂

    • right- I hear you! I recently let my five year old take up the cheese grater and that was a big step for me!

  9. Your words hit the nail on the head! I challenge myself to help my kids become more independent, too. Lots of times, I find myself failing at that yet I still keep trying! Keep up the good work.

    • you, too! I’ve been documenting some of my successes and failures with pictures, hope to be sharing soon. Got to keep myself accountable! 🙂

  10. Stumbled onto this post now and loved it ! I so agree with you on the ‘deciding on the no and yes’. My daughters are 13 and 9 and refereeing seems to be my only job right now 🙂
    I can identify a lot with your Challenge 1 since I end up doing jobs which I think I can do faster and finish it off. So this has been a solid nudge for me to sit back and let the kids be more independent.

    • thanks! I’m STILL making a conscious effort with this…hoping it will eventually become habitual or at least a little easier 🙂

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