Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oh those modern parents...(they're not doing it all wrong)

This morning, I came across an article titled “This Young Mother Has Something Serious To Say.  You Might Not Like It, But You’ll Probably Love it” (at, about and including the original blog post by Stephanie).  I didn’t love it.  I may not be exactly the “modern parent” that Stephanie is referencing, but I can identify the trends she complains about, many of which I agree with and therefore follow, and must respectfully disagree.  That said, I think this argument will ultimately boil down, as many do, to the need for moderation.

First, it is a blatant oversimplification to equate every kid’s childhood experience with his/her future expectations as an adult.  By immediately responding to my child’s cries for help or attention, she will not grow up to expect her professors or employers to do the same for her, any more than giving her a treat after a stressful doctor visit will condition her to expect a raise after completing a difficult work assignment.  She will not be blind to the realities of the world simply because I chose to buy her another ice cream cone when her first one dropped instead of teaching a 2 year old some deep life lesson about loss and materialism.

By validating her emotions and tending to her needs – even when silly, repetitive, or expressed in the form of a tantrum (and by “tending” I don’t mean “giving in to”) – I seek to foster her confidence and to instill in her, from a young age, the understanding that her desires are not meaningless, her opinions are valued, and her needs are important.  At least to her parents.  And while she will learn to rely on her parents, she will not expect waiters to give in to her every whim.  Or teachers, or bosses.  If I let her reach her tiny (usually sticky) palms into my food and retrieve whatever she wants, she will not think this is acceptable with other people.  But if she tries to do this with others, she will be rejected, and it will be ok.  She has no expectation of blind, loving, unconditional acquiescence from strangers, and will therefore take such rejection in stride.  For this same reason (and lesson), I also won’t reprimand her for trying.  She will learn it on her own.  Two years old is the time for lessons as these, not for Ms. Manners lectures (although, that adult’s reaction will naturally help develop her awareness of social norms).

Is it possible that she will become too dependent on her parents?  Maybe, and we would address it when she’s old and confident enough to understand that she must learn to stand on her own two feet.  She will internalize that lesson logically, reasonably – no longer emotionally.  It will be about independence, not abandonment, and I will be assured that we have encouraged her, supported her, and raised her into a strong woman who knows what she wants, knows how to pursue it and, if things don’t go her way, knows how to move on.

I believe there is a proper age for teaching about feelings and emotions, for instilling confidence and a sense of self-importance.  Safety concerns come to mind most easily, and I want my daughter to be able to speak (or blabber) her mind (or gut reactions) if she doesn't like something, even if she has to tell an adult “no,” and even if she has to yell it.  At this toddler stage, I want her to know that it’s not rude or inappropriate.  She can interrupt me; she has the right to be both seen and heard.  After this is firmly established, lessons about politeness, patience, and self-sufficiency will be more timely and more easily absorbed.

Maybe latchkey kids grew up independent and self-reliant - they had no choice but to be.  I’m striving to raise my daughter in a way that is driven by concerns other than bare necessity, and I am lucky to have that luxury.  We are no longer in the 40’s and 50’s.  Bullying, like the author noted, is no longer defined by taking someone’s lunch money.  It involves a horridly public assault on a young child’s privacy, vulnerabilities, and flaws.  And yes, it is horrid for a teenager, even though as late-20-something "grown ups," we know that it's just not that bad.  When a boy's lunch money was taken away a generation ago, after being pinned against a locker and given a wedgie (chalk that up to Saved by the Bell reruns), that embarrassing moment could not be known to teenagers across the country, who could then chime in with their own hurtful comments.  No.  A few kids in the hallway laughed about it, and of course it was easier for the victim to rebound from this experience.  So, without a protracted discussion about the obvious difficulties of a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. centered youth, perhaps “coddling” is necessary, even if you’d like to term it a necessary evil.  “Modern” parenting gives children an unshakable foundation, stronger than parents had to (or could) establish in the past, before sending them out to “modern” middle/high school life.

Finally, I do not understand the recurring negative portrayal of parents who make their children their “whole world.”   Perhaps this modern parent has outgrown her party days, all her friends also have kids, she is active in her community, and she finds time for herself (her interests, her husband, her Hulu queue) when her toddler is sleeping or with her parents, or while she is at work.  And lately, I’m at work a lot.  The rest of my time goes to my daughter, and she knows she’s my world.  It’s fine.  She doesn’t think she’s the center of The World, or the center of the gas station attendant’s world, or of her friend’s mommy’s world.

So before suggesting that “modern parents” are raising pansies and primadonnas, maybe we should give proper heed to the nuances of this conversation.  And let’s circle back in 20 years.