Thursday, April 10, 2008


For four months the writer's strike forced people in my town to cutback and reconsider their financial priorities. Some barely felt the pinch of a comatose economy while others didn't survive it. Those in the middle adapted and survived.

During this time of financial re-evaluation I realized how easy it has become to delegate our parenting responsibilities to others. We live in an era where excellence is the norm, pushing ourselves to reach the same maximum ability as our technological gadgets and passing this goal of excellence onto our children. Their world is faster than ours was at their age and we expect them to achieve earlier and better than we did in order to compete. We give our hard-earned money to professionals to train our kids for the marathon of modern life - private schools, tutors, trainers, therapists. In some situations professional consultation is necessary but many parents, feeling overwhelmed by self-imposed expectations and inadequacy, seek out experts who they believe can handle the demands better than themselves.

I recognize this is most prevalent in big cities like mine but I think it applies on some level to everyone. I know of parents who enroll their kids in private school expecting the school to churn out perfect children with perfect critical thinking skills, perfect SAT scores, and perfect manners - their money buying them perfect visions of themselves. I hear of countless others who place themselves on the brink of financial ruin in order to enroll in these same schools. They cause stress in their marriage and their family not wanting to give their child anything less than the best. Some students thrive in these challenging environments going on to college with an academic knowledge deeper and better than from any public school but many students do not. It's these children that pay the price for our super-charged, supremacy-seeking, education-budget challenged society. The time they spend struggling with an accelerated curriculum meant for a minority of students is time away from self-discovery in alternative forms such as sports, music, reading for pleasure, or just goofing off.

A boiling teakettle lets off steam to release pressure - our children are like little teakettles. We risk them exploding or burning out if we don't let them play during the only time in their lives when they can without guilt or judgment.

We make things worse by sheltering our children from disappointment starting at a young age. We lavish them with praise and accolades. We let them win at cards and board games to protect them from frustration and failure. How does this prepare them for real life? We immunize our kids to build up their resistance to disease, why not the same for disappointment?

I believe in therapy, it is the reason I am happy with who I am today, and before we instituted our family cutbacks, I depended on our therapist for my children's every emotional misdemeanor. I worried about my daughter's shyness and withdrawal and my son's tendency to be explosive. I wrote down every piece of advice our therapist gave us and kept the notes in my night table drawer for frequent study. I heeded her words more than I did my own instinct. Surely, some kids do need professional help but I risk saying that many would do as well or better with genuine parental nurturing and supervision. We're all looking for the easy answer, the explanation, the quick fix, but with time off the perfection treadmill and only my gut to guide me, my family is no worse for wear. We err, we survive.

It takes as much time to drive our kids to the tutor as it does to spend quality time with them. We'd have to educate ourselves on our specific subjects but don't we all read parenting books and research the internet anyway? The trick is to trust ourselves. If we do, we might come to the conclusion that we are more capable of raising our children than we give ourselves credit for. Paraphrasing parenting expert Wendy Mogul, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, we don't need to be perfect, sometimes good is good enough.

I'd go so far as to say sometimes good is better.


InTheFastLane said...

Sometimes it is hard to get off that treadmill, isn't it. It is so hard to believe in ourselves and our ability to do right for our kids. I really liked this post.

McSwain said...

From the POV of a teacher, this is an EXCELLENT post! The skills most kids are missing today are problem-solving and self-reliance. Those skills develop from good old-fashioned play. The kind of play kids do by themselves, without some guy with a whistle around his neck or a helicoptering parent directing his every move. The same could be said for tutoring, etc.

My mom gives the best advice ever, which actually comes from the Bible but I'll give her the credit for applying it to parenting: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." And to quote the Beatles, "Money can't buy me love." :)

Anonymous said...

There is no recipe for raising the perfect child. But, trusting ones gut, being present, and seeing what really works, as opposed to what the books say is a pretty darn good start. Where did I learn this from? My mother and my wife!

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