Sunday, July 10, 2016

Parenting in the Gen X/Millennial Age

Everybody has something to say about "other people's kids." You know, how kids these days are out of control, and how people need to discipline more and take care of their kids. But, of course, we also live in the era of "helicopter parents," who are over-parenting to the point of driving their kids' teachers and college professors and even bosses nuts. I certainly have strong feelings about how many parents are doing it wrong. Certainly, people probably have issues with my parenting - though my kids really are quite incredible. A couple of new manifesto's about parenting are joining the shelves at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, alongside the thousands of other "How to Parent" books that have pledged to give new parents the tools of the trade. We've learned a lot - and nothing at all - since the early advice of Dr. Spock.

Alison Gopnik of the Wall Street Journal makes an interesting argument "Against Parenting" in a Saturday Essay of the WSJ (adapted from her upcoming book The Gardener and the Carpenter). I was intrigued by Dr. Gopnik's assertion that we are making a mistake if we turn the word parent into a verb. Since we don't "wife" or "child" or "brother," we shouldn't talk about parenting. Because the idea of a "parent" is that it's something we are, not something we do. I could, of course, take a linquistic exception to her claim, for we are really just substituting the world "parenting" for "raising a child." And some people do not do much of that. But I like the idea that the idea of a parent is more an identity than a job. And Gopnik's really interesting idea against parenting is the mis-guided belief of too many parents these days that specific things they do will produce desired results in their kids. If they send the kid to a camp or play Mozart to their womb that their kids will miraculously turn into Ivy League success stories. It simply doesn't work that way.

As individual parents and as a community, our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it is to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows. Our job is not to make a particular kind of child but to provide a protected space of love, safety and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish. It’s not easy to be a parent, especially in the U.S. right now. It takes time and energy and money to provide the support and nurture that children need. We evolved in small-scale societies, where an extended group of caregivers could spontaneously provide resources for the children they loved. In a big, postindustrial world, we treat most human activities as if they were either a kind of production or a kind of consumption—so that raising children is seen as either very badly paid work or a very expensive kind of luxury. But the “parenting” industry isn’t the answer. Instead, we have to find a way to help parents be parents, and to provide the love and care that all children deserve.
Another trustworthy voice in the world of parenting, or raising kids, is Dr. Leonard Sax who just released a new study called The Collapse of Parenting.  Sax, who did some brilliant work in his book Why Gender Matters argues that contemporary parents - which mostly means the Baby Boomers, but is spreading to Generation X - have ceded authority to their kids and are doing psychological and emotional damage by being afraid to parent.

The point of the book is, look, you need to give kids choices in some domains but not in others. I'm seeing a lot of parents who are really confused about in what domain is it appropriate to give kids a choice. For example, is it OK for your 14-year-old to take their cell phone to bed with them? My answer is no. But so many parents think it is their job to be their child's best friend. That's not your job. Your job is to keep your child safe, make sure they get a good night's sleep and give them a grounding and confidence and help them to know who they are as human beings.

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