Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"A Parent is a Person Who Has Children"

I know Kacy says the best things about being a parent, and I don't really have anything to add or improve upon what she has already pointed out, but I've just been thinking about "parenting" lately as my oldest son approaches the double digits (he'll be ten in January) and suddenly seems to be turning into a surly teenager (puberty is thankfully not part of the equation yet). I love Nora Ephron's chapter, "Parenting in Three Stages" in I Feel Bad About My Neck. She makes such good points about how "parenting" has sort of become this new phenomenon, this new obsession, and that when she had her kids a parent was simply "a person who has children."

"Here's what's involved in being a parent," Ephron says, " You love your children, you hang out with them from time to time, you throw balls, you read stories, . . . you teach them to say please and thank you, you see that they have an occasional haircut, and you ask if they did their homework."

But then "parenting" became a thing, and suddenly it meant "playing Mozart CDs while you were pregnant, doing without the epidural, and breast-feeding your child until it was old enough to unbutton your blouse" (shudder). Parenting right now seems based upon the assumption that children come to us as a lump of clay that we are supposed to mold into the perfect person (through lessons, tutoring, planned activities, and complete involvement in their lives from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to sleep, at which time you break out the Love and Logic, or whatever the current popular parenting strategy is, and study up, while grinding wheat to make the bread for their organic lunches the next day). The job of a parent, then, is not just to love, and be there, and to teach good principles, but to also form and shape and mold and pound a kid into an "accomplished" person.

I think this is going on in with a lot of intensity right now. I'm not saying it's all bad. There are a lot of great things about reading parenting books and being involved in your kids' lives. Extracurricular activities are not inherently evil or anything. It just seems like maybe the pendulum is swinging too far to the extreme of parental orchestration.

Trick or treating always gets me thinking about this, and I think it's the perfect example: when I was growing up, we went trick or treating around the neighborhood on Halloween night. We walked for what felt like miles, unless there was a blizzard and then someone's highly reluctant mom drove us from house to house. We took big pillow cases. We usually waited until dark to leave, and came home hours later, then dumped out our candy and ate it.

These days, we have "trunk or treats," where everything is in a controlled environment, parents walk around with their kids, the entire event is over in half an hour, and when our kids dump out their candy at home, we engage in an elaborate system of buying back the candy, confiscating it, or melting it in the oven as an experiment. Parents worry about how they will "handle" all that candy in the house, and how their child will cope with the sugar. We worry about our kids being out on their own (not saying that isn't valid in many places). We worry about their teeth rotting, or their ADHD acting up, or their stomachs hurting. We worry, worry, worry, so we just decide to take control of Halloween so that nothing bad will happen to our children. They won't get a stomach ache, or have to walk by a scary house. It's all under control.

Why can't we just relax a little? I don't know. I think because if we relax, then we must be bad parents. Good parents, who engage in "parenting" don't relax. They plan, they prepare, they control, they study. Like I said, there is a lot of good in this, but I think we forget that our kids need to learn lessons on their own sometimes, no matter how painful.

Like Holden. He is in 4th grade right now and had to turn in a power point presentation on a book. It was supposed to be a book trailer. His presentation was 3 slides long and not adequate. I told him this. He disagreed. It took every ounce of integrity I had to say "ok, well, it's your choice to turn it in like that, but you will have to live with the grade you receive." He missed ten points and his teacher said "you need more information." I hope with all my heart that this made an impression on him.

I could have easily taken over the project and added more information, myself. I could have hovered over his shoulder until the project was adequate. But I remembered the time when I lied on a biology project and then had to tell my teacher about it and it was completely horrible, and from then on I vowed to be a really good student and I ended up taking AP Biology and getting a 4/5 on the test (brag alert!) That moment of accountability really turned my life around, and I don't even think my mom knew about it. However, it was her example and her non-pushy teaching and influence that probably led me to tell the truth and do the right thing. Was she hiring biology tutors, helping me with projects, and looking over my shoulder the entire time? No way. But she was being a parent to me in the original Nora Ephron definition. She loved me, spent time with me sometimes, asked about school. She taught me correct principles and showed me a good example. She did not take it upon herself to mold me into a biology star (I did that all on my own, bwahahaha). She let me be who I was, and helped me along the way.

I think about all this and feel conflicted every time I have to sign off on my Kindergartner's reading, or I get a tentative email saying 'Is it okay if I show your child a John Wayne movie for our cowboy unit?' or I get a homework assignment forcing me to make invisible ink with my 5 year old. There is so much pressure to be "parenting" all the time! I find that the times when I am feeling that pressure the most are the times when I make the worst mistakes and ruin my kids' and my own days. Maybe if I stopped trying be a parent in the modern definition of the term, things would be lighter, happier, and freer.

This wonderful lady at church gave the best "parenting" advice I have ever received. She said "the small things we do with our kids are always magnified." And she told how her grown son said "remember when we used to walk to Albertsons, buy twinkies, and then go to the park? That was so great." In reality, they did this ONCE, and the mom hated it because the walk was too long and it was a huge pain. Somehow in her son's mind, though, this small thing (that had no hidden agenda, ulterior motive, or molding purpose at all) became this wonderful, legendary memory. This gives me more hope than I can express! I am going to try to stop "parenting" and start just having fun with my kids a little more often. I wonder if that means they won't get into college???


  1. I agree with you 100% and your kids are great and everyone likes them so there must be something to this.

  2. Why do I always feel like shouting AMEN after every single one of your posts?

  3. Fantastic Carly! I agree 100%. We're a bunch of paranoid people who bubble wrap our children, hoping they'll live their lives in the Apple Store of life, rather than Savers. Maybe they need a little Savers. I was ecstatic that we had actual trick or treating in our neighborhood (your old digs, actually - you were right around the corner from where we are) this year instead of the trunking.

  4. Thanks, Sorro! I'm glad to hear that somebody is walking around my old stomping grounds trick-or-treating these days--of course back in MY day we had no sidewalks and had to walk on the edge of the street and pray that the scary man in the big white house didn't chase after us. And somehow it was uphill both ways, and there were razor blades in our caramel apples, but whatever....

  5. I loved this post. I just loved it. I agree completely.

  6. amen to katy's amen comment. i am always saying "yes" or "agreed" in my comments to your posts. so, sorry to be boring and redundant, but you do say such great things!

  7. I also loved this post. And it made me have fond memories and miss Georgia. I love your Mom. Yes, me too- sign me up for less worry and more fun!

  8. I have many thoughts about this subject since I think my childhood experience was quite different from a lot of my friends growing up. But I certainly agree that our kids will learn more by themselves sometimes than if we constantly hold their hands every step of the way.

    By the way, I LOVE that you have a chocolate cake as your avatar.

  9. I am the type of parent who like the parents of my time, lets my kids just have at their Halloween candy. Recently after talking to a couple of other moms about their candy strategies, I was feeling really guilty. I like this post!

  10. Great post, Carly! And yes, your mom did a great job.

  11. I totally agree, and I think a lot of this "parenting" business came along when people started having only 1 or 2 kids. Who has time to be that involved with each child when your raising 4 or more?