Two recent articles about parents. The first, from The Washington Post, I was put onto by Free Range Kids. That article talked about how stressful it is for mothers to exhaustively involve themselves in every aspect of their kids’ lives, especially when most of them work full time. The beginning example of a mother who watches all her kids’ TV shows with them in order to monitor them and has a separate system implemented for each kid made me exhausted just thinking of it. Sure, I enjoy some Phineus and Ferb with my kids sometimes and if they watch something I’m curious to make sure it’s not rated R. But come on. Three different systems?
The second, from New York Magazine, I was put onto by Mental Multivitamin. This article was probably one of the most depressing things I’ve read about parenting in awhile, if ever. Studies show that being a parent decreases your happiness and that it’s a joyless task for most people. Good grief. First of all, let me say that I’m proud to be a statistical anomaly. I’m pretty happy and I make room for enough personal time, at least usually. However, this quote, which Mental Multivitamin also pulled out, really struck me:
Annette Lareau, the sociologist who coined the term “concerted cultivation” to describe the aggressive nurturing of economically advantaged children, puts it this way: “Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work.” Yet it’s work few parents feel that they can in good conscience neglect, says Lareau, “lest they put their children at risk by not giving them every advantage.”
Excuse me? That mom from the first article, who had the system for her kids’ TV viewing that probably ate up all her own TV viewing time sounded like she was doing “tiring work.” When I read about parents who don’t let their kids go to sleepovers or play in the yard by themselves, that sounds like tiring work. Organizing ways to ferry your kids to five different activities after school when you’re working full time sounds like tiring work. Don’t get me wrong, because I love homeschooling, but that’s a good example of tiring work. However, talking to your kids and treating them with respect? That does not sound like tiring work. Not every single thing a kid says is a “special contribution.” However, the notion that having a thought-provoking conversation with your kids is what’s at the heart of American middle class mothers’ stressed parenting levels is just… depressing. How out of whack are our priorities when that’s what the sociologist is suggesting is our biggest problem?
I’ve posting about free-ranging and homeschooling before. I think they can go hand in hand, in part because I think that like all these helicopter parents, schools are also micromanaging kids’ lives and taking every ounce of free time away from them. Even recess and bus rides are getting programs and special coaches these days. However, I have chosen to be involved in my kids’ lives on a sort of epic scale by homeschooling them. It’s strange to agree that parents should lay off and trust that their kids will be okay when I’m essentially not doing that by removing them from a piece of society that I don’t trust at all, namely our school system. However, I have tried to let go of any notions that my kids’ every ounce of success or failure depends upon me. If I screw up, I let it go. Likewise, if the summer camp teacher screws up, if the kids see something on TV that’s less than desirable, if something crazy happens in the front yard while I’m not watching them, I try to remind myself that no one thing, makes or breaks a person. I trust the world and I trust the kids and myself.
For me, the ability to homeschool has increased my happiness because I chose to do it. It wasn’t foisted on me and I don’t feel societal pressure to do it. If anything, the pressure is to send your kids to school. It makes me happy to have the ability to do what I think is right and to live my life the way I want, not the way society tells me to. I think one of the problems I see with parents is that they don’t feel like they’re in control of their circumstances. They feel like they have to stay on a certain track or they’ll have damaged their kids, just like that sociologist suggested. When even talking to your kids becomes a chore to check off in their development, of course it becomes tiring and stressful. When you think the kids’ futures depend on you checking everything off a list that includes both conversation and closely monitoring their TV watching with a system, then of course it’s all just joyless.