I can’t believe this is still on my mind…

(And all because someone made an assumption about something deeply personal.)

Global Parenting Habits That Haven’t Caught On In The U.S.

Here’s another reason I’m not so hot on having babies.  I live in the United States of America.  Nothing Un-Patriotic is about to be said, I’m not super pissed at my country or my government; I’m super irritated by parenting trends.

Recently, in Well? Do You?, I wrote what I’d learned about the scare tactics employed by Reagan-era government and media that forced parents to be more cautious about when they let their children out of their sight.  The atmosphere, according to studies, and people who lived it, changed dramatically between 1970 and 1990; as a child, I wasn’t allowed to leave our section of the neighborhood without an adult, whereas older people report being able to ride their bikes all over town as long as they were home for dinner.  In the past year articles have appeared in both The Boston Globe and The Washington Post about the newly-dubbed “Snowplow Parents” (“helicopter parents” hulked up on gamma rays).  Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was met with fascination and revulsion by “American” parents.  Parents phone up their child’s teacher to ask why their kid got such a poor grade, even when that teacher is a PhD college professor.

In Life, and through my job, I have seen increasing evidence of parents who hover, who go out of their way to try and “make things better” for their kids, instead of letting their kids handle it themselves.  Even in children under the age of five playing together, which inevitably leads to disagreement, I’ve seen parents step in and try to reason with their offspring, whereas, years of babysitting and covering nursery has taught me, if you leave them alone they’ll either figure it out or one will hit the other (and that’s when you step in).  But parents are quick to intervene, thus hindering their child’s problem solving ability.  In addition, parents are setting up times for their children to get together to the chagrin of some parents.

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“You are going to play with Bobby from 1 to 2:15, then we’re going to Sally’s from 3 to 3:45, then Abbey is coming over from 4:30 until 5:30.  It’s time you learned how to interact with other kids!”

Parents ask their kids what they want to eat for lunch instead of, like the French , or my mom, putting food in front of the kid and telling them to eat.  If their child has any sort of dietary restriction, they are measuring and attending to their kid’s food for them instead of teaching them how to monitor their own food; so by the age of twelve a child with diabetes still doesn’t know what she needs to do to make sure she isn’t overloading on carbohydrates.  Parents, I sometimes feel, are trying too hard.

The NPR link at the top of this post shows parenting habits from other cultures that make American parenting look like Lock Down: Japanese parents let children as young as four ride the subway alone; Danish parents leave their babies in strollers on the sidewalk while they go shopping; Kisii parents don’t look their babies in the eye to assert their authority over their children.  Other Cultures’ parenting techniques, to me, make a whole lot more sense than some of the things I’ve witnessed in the United States.  In South Carolina a woman was arrested for letting her nine year old play alone at a playground while she was at work because another parent called the cops when she discovered the girl was there on her own.  Had the child been in their own home would her mom have been arrested?  Probably not; no one would have known the girl was on her own.  Plenty of kids I knew growing up returned home to an empty house after school.  They carried keys and regularly let themselves into their houses.  Hence the term “latch-key kid“, which is attributed to an NBC documentary from 1944 that was made after an increase in this very lifestyle.

In the United States there are many different types of parenting from the regimented Tiger Mother to Attachment Parenting, made famous by Mayim Bialik.

There are websites, books, and blogs dedicated to how the author thinks we ought to parent our children.  They are varied, and they are not all as strict or hovering as some of the concepts I’ve already written about.  Some are the opposite.  This confession on Food Riot would make the French very happy.  In it the mother states she doesn’t give her children options: if they don’t eat the dinner she’s prepared, then they don’t eat.  No exceptions.

I say this now, but I believe, if I were to have children, I would be inclined to parent in a way not like what I must assume is the mainstream; the helicopter parents.  I would be more inclined to lean toward how other cultures handle child-rearing.  I wouldn’t think twice about sending a ten year old to the corner store to pick up a loaf of break, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

But, if I’m leaving myself open to incarceration by wanting my children to be able to handle a certain amount of personal responsibility, then I might as well not have kids in the first place!

Lest we think hovering parents are a new concept, let’s remember the parenting differences between Edna Pontellier and Adele Ratignolle in Kate Chopin’s novella The Awakening.  Adele is described as a “mother-woman”.  One of the women “who idolize their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”  Whereas Edna is fairly hands off with her children.

“If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing.”

Later, Adele doesn’t understand Edna when she declares she would give her life for her children, but she won’t give up her life for her children.  And, I’m almost certain, probably doesn’t understand Edna’s actions at the end of the story.  But my point is now, as it was then, Edna’s approach to raising her children (this is a woman with a nursemaid on staff) was considered odd.  Peculiar.  Not Normal.  Women, even women with nannies, were meant to be affectionate and warm toward their children.  Edna isn’t cold toward her children, but her actions do give them independence.  They are allowed to take care of themselves.  She doesn’t do everything for them.

From what I’ve observed, modern women who don’t do everything for their children are Bad Mothers.  It is implied throughout society that a parent, a mother, must make their child’s life easy.  We must socialize them through playdates at age two, we must give our children options to give them a sense of power over their lives, we must be able to see and hear our kids whenever they are in our care.  They aren’t, ever, unattended until they are teenagers, and, even then, there will always be an adult who knows where they are: their teachers, their employers, or their frends’ parents.  Parents of college students phone administrations to find out information ranging from how does my kid sign up for classes, to “my kid is sick; what are you (the college) going to do about it?”

I don’t want to be that kind of parent.  If I have children.  I don’t want to hover and make decisions for my kid well into adulthood, like the parents the current trend in parenting has produced.  But I also don’t want to be demonized by other people for sending my ten year old to the corner store for me and kicking them out of the house with the expectation they won’t return until the streetlights come on.

I am aware I can do exactly these things if I have children of my own one day, but how much easier would it be to do this if the culture reflected how I want to parent.  I love my country and the freedoms I am guaranteed by my government, but our society makes me reluctant to raise children.

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