Sunday, April 22, 2007

Those Terrible Parents of Today

Katie Allison Granju has a piece on over-parenting at Babble (obligatory disclaimer to preserve my cred: I do not read Babble; I was just pointed to this piece). In theory, I agree with her: over-parenting is bad. But at this point in the parenting media bubble, I have to question the premise. In four pages of diatribe, Granju describes the terrible hovering parenting practices of our generation in terms that any parenting pundit or mommy blogger will recognize, but she offers essentially no evidence that these practices are actually widespread. I'm not sure what statistics could serve as proof, but she hasn't found them--she cites one poll on a tangential issue. Even the anecdotes that usually pass for proof in the pages of women's magazines are strikingly absent--there is one.

So where's the beef? Are we really as terrible as they say we are? I think, perhaps, not. Consider: where do you see these parents who teach their children to crawl, schedule afternoon activities in half-hour intervals, and send their babies to speech therapy when they can't say "Mama" at six months? They're usually in the pages of the NY Times, New York Magazine, and upscale mommy lit. And what do those media manifestations have in common? Hint: major cities of English-speaking countries and lots of cash. You don't often hear about competitive parenting in Dubuque.

Of course I know some parents like Granju describes--I spent an uncomfortable hour with one just last an expensive apartment in just such a city. But the majority of us? Sure we're more obsessed with our children than our parents were, but we have some reason to be: many of us were scarred by parental self-indulgence in the 60s and 70s (not me, actually, but lots of other people), we parent in a more dangerous world, and the decline of the American public school system has made education an issue that is ever more fraught. But in the day to day grind? We're too busy or too poor or simply too uninterested to hover over our kids (and I'm not even going to go there on the class bias of Granju's piece, which is a hopelessly omnipresent fact of the public discourse on parenting).

There is always going to be a certain proportion of the population that is insecure and tries to live up to media images, whether those be the housekeeping magazines of the 50s and 60s that Granju cites, the reality TV shows of today, or...well, I'm sure you can think of examples yourself. And we are certainly more media-saturated today than we've ever been. But still, I really do believe that the majority of us are just living our lives. And the recent failure of a bunch of parenting magazines supports my claim.

In my set, the basic tenet is "Don't worry unless there's blood." We may not live up to this all the time, especially when it comes to college applications and bar mitzvahs, but when we're all sitting around drinking beer, and the kids are upstairs wreaking havoc, that's pretty much how it goes. Katie Allison Granju should come over and join us some time.


katie allison granju said...

Hey Becca, I live in Appalachia, not in NYC or any other upscale area of the country. I do think the phenomenon I was describing (admittedly in a very anecdotal way) is maybe more prevalent in Broklyn than in Knoxvile, where I live, but I see it everywhere.


Amy said...

I absolutely agree that TALKING about overparenting is something that certain classes tend to do much more than others.

However, I see the influence of the expectation of overparenting in families of varying levels of economic means. Sometime it plays out as a mismatch between what the public school teacher expects and what the parent expects of a child. For instance, I know a sixth-grade teacher who is horrified by how parents carry their children's backpacks for them, but those parents have been told constantly about the dangers of heavy backpacks.

More often it plays out as a debilitating anxiety on the part of parents who desperately want their kids to do better in school, etc., than they themselves did. I don't live in a big city, and most of the parents I know work to live and don't have a cent left over after paying for housing, food, and transportation, but I've seen more than a few mothers driven to the edge of sanity by what they're told by doctors and teachers and other "experts" they MUST do to be good parents.

It's easy for me to think they should just ignore what others say to do, but my husband and I are coming from a place of relative confidence--we're able to pay our bills each month, we have degrees and jobs which allow us to see our kids' teachers and doctors as flawed mortals and peers. That wasn't so for my own parents, and it's not so for many of the parents I know today.