Hyper-Parenting

101117_FT_perfectKidTN Katie Roiphe wonders whether parenting has gone over the edge of insanity. We're going to impractical extremes to create safe, education, creative environments for our kids, at the expense of independence and spontaneity.

Last year, a friend of mine sent a shipment of green rubber flooring, at great impractical expense, to a villa in the south of France because she was worried that over the summer holiday her toddler would fall on the stone floor. Generations of French children may have made their way safely to adulthood, walking and falling and playing and dreaming on these very same stone floors, but that did not deter her in her determination to be safe. This was, I think, an extreme articulation of our generation's common fantasy: that we can control and perfect our children's environment. And lurking somewhere behind this strange and hopeless desire to create a perfect environment lies the even stranger and more hopeless idea of creating the perfect child.

Roiphe isn't the first to make these claims. If I wasn't so rushed this morning, I could dredge up three or four debates on this very topic that we've had over the years.

I wish I was in the position to agree whole-heartedly with Roiphe. As a special ed parent, I don't have the freedom to ever stop parenting and just ignore my youngest for hours at a time. If I practiced benign neglect for a day, he would either get hit by a car or obsessively play video games by himself.

With my oldest, who was blessed with a normally functioning neurological system, I am probably as involved as my parents were with me. I probably sit on the sidelines of more soccer games than they did with us, but other than that, they were just as involved in homework and in leisure activities. In fact, many say that parents today aren't involved enough. Local administrators complain that parents are too busy to monitor their children's cellphone activities and to attend school functions.

Sometimes, I think these writers cherry pick extreme examples of parents and then extrapolate that we're all that way. I guess it makes for a more sensational story, but it's far from the truth.

23 thoughts on “Hyper-Parenting

  1. The media cherry picks extremes of every kind – parenting, medicine, fashion, weather. “If it bleeds, it leads,” as they used to say.
    Also, all these writers – and there are so many of them – need to find *something* to say to distinguish them from all the others. So they tend to migrate to extremes.

  2. I read Roiphe’s piece as mainly being another manifestation of status one-upmanship amongst the educated elite – i.e., conspicuously opting out of one’s peer norms is often another way to claim elevated status, as any would-be hipster teen would tell you.
    I was also reminded of David Brooks’ line about how the high-powered “Ubermoms” who try to shape their children into perfection (and thus who are the targets of Roiphe’s piece) “without being overbearing about it, unlike some of those other parents one could name.” Roiphe’s piece fits perfectly well with current trends of claiming elevated status through parenting techniques; she is thus much closer than she’d like to the parents she describes.
    In fact, that may give too little credit to the parents she attacks; it’s all well and good to wonder what Tolstoy and Flaubert would think of modern parenting, but the trends Roiphe decries haven’t come out of nowhere, many of their bases have been discussed on this blog (cf. Lareau and the increasing importance of different skills).

  3. I’m not so sure. It seems to me that the parents I meet now a days are either way too hands on or way too hands off. I’ve gotten questions from friends like “you actually let your kids go OUT to play?” or “Your kids walk to the LIBRARY alone?” (It’s a mile, and the girls, who were 12 at the time are now 16, and I still get comments like that!)
    Kids don’t seem to have the freedoms I had as a child. We seldom know our neighbors, which gives us the feeling that somehow the world is a much more dangerous place than it was 40 years ago.
    Perhaps, what makes it seem so dangerous, is that we’ve lost that contact and the familiarity we had in the past.
    I’m glad you aren’t an overprotective parent. I know personally far too many who are.

  4. I think most of us, throughout the generations, parent in exactly the same way — in fear of becoming our neighbor’s cautionary tales.
    I never wore a bike helmet, sat in a car seat (front or rear facing), or played over padded playground, and I walked placed alone far earlier than I am letting my kids — and I parent that way not because I’m afraid anything will happen to them, but because I will be judged for unhelmeted biking or unsupervised walking. And because if anything ever happened, it would now be my fault.

  5. I parent that way not because I’m afraid anything will happen to them, but because I will be judged for unhelmeted biking or unsupervised walking. And because if anything ever happened, it would now be my fault.
    Yes, exactly.
    It drives me crazy that I cannot let my kids stay in a locked car in 40 degree weather while I run into a drugstore for 2 minutes.
    They face far more danger in having one parent try to herd all three of them through a parking lot than they do from — God, what? — someone crashing into my parked car? Someone stealing it?
    But I don’t dare, because our county’s DHS has been totally out of control for the past few years.

  6. I have to protect my kid from some stuff that my parents never had to contend with. A few weeks ago, an 11 year old kid sat down with Jo and his buddies in the lunchroom and told them that he licked girls’ vagin*s until their vagin*s turned purple. (just trying to keep out the evil spammers.) WTF?

  7. Kids said that sort of stuff from time to time when I was in grade school, too, Laura- in the early 80’s. It’s not new. It’s mostly bull-shit, but even when it’s not, it mostly just makes people nervous or silly. It’s not something to worry much about.
    (While I think lots of “safety” stuff goes too far, I do think it’s pretty reasonable not to have jungle-gym equipment on top of asphalt anymore. It’s not as if any good ever came from someone falling on top of asphalt.)

  8. “…it’s all well and good to wonder what Tolstoy and Flaubert would think of modern parenting…”
    I haven’t read the article, but Tolstoy’s Natasha from War and Peace was famously 210% into motherhood (Tolstoy depicts her stressing over the color of infant poop). Tolstoy himself was Mr. Breastfeeding, much to Countess Tolstoy’s dismay. If you transported the Tolstoys into the present, he would definitely have been an attachment parenting guy.

  9. That doesn’t sound a whole lot different from what 11-year-olds said when I was one, i.e., 1969.
    (Actually, oral sex may have slightly more cultural visibility than it did back then, but similarly raunchy yet uninformed statements were a staple of my boyhood.)

  10. “Kids said that sort of stuff from time to time when I was in grade school, too, Laura- in the early 80’s”
    I think a gender divide? Watching my little boy (who has an older sister and is naturally compliant) turn into a “Dooood” (as he likes to say) in K-1 has been fascinating. Yesterday, he told me that all boys turn crazy when they turn five or six. He said, he doesn’t act like that at home, but he does at school. I asked him when they would stop being crazy. He estimated 15 (but, he doesn’t understand the whole puberty/adolescence thing yet).
    The boys have started to say things that I find discomfiting to the girls in my daughter’s class (4th grade). My spouse talks me down and says that it’s normal, and that I should not be lecturing the girls about sexual harassment yet.

  11. Totally off-topic, but I don’t want to write about blog post about this… Did anyone read Penelope Trunk’s last post about her sex life? Reactions?

  12. Laura,
    So that’s the TMI you were tweeting about. All is clear. It’s the usual PT trainwreck but very entertaining and informative–you have to give PT that.

  13. I feel as though Penelope Trunk writes blog posts with the thought process of “If I write about X (sex, abortion, miscarriage, whatever) it will cause a big reaction and people will want to read it.”
    I mean, I guess all bloggers do that to some extent (if your 10th post about artichokes also gets no comments, then there probably won’t be an 11th), but it seems so INTENTIONAL in her blog. I almost feel bad for her, like I felt bad for those girls who would “put out” in junior high or high school so that the guys would like them.
    Anyway, I have friends who have really bad, colorful dating histories. When we meet for lunch, they tell me interesting stories that I cannot reciprocate because I haven’t had a “dating history” for the 12 years since the wedding. Reading her blog is like talking to those friends — or like driving past a car crash, or watching a child vomit. . .
    But I don’t think I’ve ever read one of her blog posts and thought, “Thank you! You have perfectly encapsulated my experience!”

  14. eh, the Trunk post on sx seems pretty generic Trunk. But I really like the link to the Kimba Woods “girl celebration” in court.

  15. Here is my attempt at the world’s scariest bedtime story:
    “…and then I invested all of your college money with a start-up run by Penelope Trunk. Night, night sweetie! Don’t let the bedbugs bite!”

  16. I really like Penelope but I agree with the emotional feeling Ragtime talks about – that she’s happy to keep doing what gets hits without a kind of compass on it. But a lot of the best writers lack the proper filters, it’s just that bloggers don’t have editors who call them up and say “just wanted to check that you were aware that…”
    For the parenting I commented there but really, although I do think there’s a nice balance to be struck between neglectful and hyper-parenting, I’m really not sure the 70s, when I was growing up, are a good example. So what annoys me is when they get trotted out as the sparkling standard.

  17. I’ve recently started letting my second grader walk home from school. I can see the school from our house. I intentionally did not admit this to our neighbors for fear of judgment. The first couple of days her teacher even walked her home out of fear of letting her go alone. I was touched by her kindness but I don’t want my (very responsible) child to miss out on her independence.

  18. it needs to be said. Boys are gross.
    Yeah, probably. But soon enough they will graduate from vulgar but likely bull-shit stories about oral sex to things like this:

    (Amazingly, or perhaps not, there are lots of similar videos on youtube, often enough ending in the same way, but so far as I can tell, with no one needing to go to the hospital or singing castrati in the end.)

  19. Boys don’t have to be gross. WE tolerate or even encourage it. BJ give that talk to your daughter.
    My school should be full of helicopter parents but I haven’t seem that much and not in a couple of years; although Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee is on the reading list for parents so that helps. Now a discussion on how old do girls have to be to go to Center City by themselves? That’s a rager.

  20. “Last year, a friend of mine sent a shipment of green rubber flooring, at great impractical expense, to a villa in the south of France because she was worried that over the summer holiday her toddler would fall on the stone floor.”
    I don’t think that’s nuts at all (although I would have gone for a pack of those interlocking foam puzzle piece things instead). About a year ago, my then 4-year-old liked to twirl himself around in our living room. Unfortunately, he twirled himself right into the brick fireplace surround and opened up a gash right between his eyes a couple days before Thanksgiving. He wound up getting stitches and looked like Frankenbaby for at least half a year. (I’m hoping he’ll just look ruggedly handsome 10 years from now.) Anyway, the brick fireplace now has a long, unsightly foam guard.

  21. Both my kids now have house keys to let themselves in the house in case I don’t get back home on time. (The 8 year old walks home from school, which is right across the street, and the 11 year old is let out at the bus stop right across the street.) Yes, my youngest has AS, but he doesn’t wander or anything.
    If you saw The Middle last week, the 9 year old kid, who probably has AS but it’s not said directly, wanted to be left home alone. And he almost burnt down the house. “Brick! No one ever uses the oven. That’s why I keep your great aunt’s quilt in there!” Love that show.

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