An interesting article in the New York Times from last Friday about trends among "Mommybloggers" caught my eye this morning. It raises the now familiar question of whether today’s notions about parenting have become a kind of "over-parenting" and also wonders whether the shrinking economy will force parents into something that more resembles sanity. I smile at the thought. It is impossible to be a mother today and not find yourself occasionally annoyed (o.k., I’d use a different word in conversation with my closest mommy friends . . . but this is a family blog) by the sort of mothers who--while certainly meaning well--have elevated their craft into a kind of sick obsession. One wants to be careful, however, about criticizing this sort of woman, first because such criticism can easily degenerate into simple meanness but more because sensible people realize that this kind of "helicopter" parenting--or whatever you want to call it--likely came about as a kind of reaction (and then, overreaction) to an even more disgusting kind of "hands-off" parenting where the rules were too lax, the supervision was minimal to neglectful and children were encouraged to do whatever they feel (so long as what they felt like doing did not involve any inconvenience to Mom or Dad). But this article from the NYT, while it made me smile to think of a backlash against the backlash, also gave me reason to shake my head and scream, "NO!" Here’s why:
But in the past few months, a second wave has taken hold — writers are moving past merely venting and are trying to gather the like-minded into a new movement. Carl Honoré is one. He calls it “slow parenting” — no more rushing around physically and metaphorically, no more racing kids from soccer to Suzuki. Lenore Skenazy is another. She calls it “free-range parenting,” a return to the days when childhood was not ruled by the fear (overblown, she says, with statistics to prove it) that children would be maimed, kidnapped or killed if they did something as simple as riding their bikes alone to the park.Can we stop with the "movements" already? Is every parent today really so insecure in themselves that they need to have the backing of a movement and a blog to work it out for themselves? The problem with movements is exactly the same thing that I find when I get caught up in conversations with other mothers at the park or in the school parking lot. It im-personalizes the conversation to an unworkable point. You forget you’re dealing with actual and complex souls that don’t really belong to you. It makes you obsessive and crazy! It really is possible to over-think a thing and completely lose all sense of proportion, never mind your sense of humor! Life has always been imperfect in one way or another. Life with children is imperfection on steroids. The reason the "Mommy Wars" are so stinkin’ annoying, is that every Mommy in them--whether she means well and is sane in the beginning or not--becomes, over time, a self-appointed and self-righteous expert talking in a general way about specifics situations with which she has no familiarity or realistic capacity to understand.
Here’s the deal: when you have kids, YOU have to raise them. Some people are going to do a better job than you do. Plenty will do worse. Mothers need to put their big girl pants on, look around, learn what they can, avoid getting over-wrought in discussions of "parenting" and do the best job they can manage with the information and the capacities that they have. That’s all any kid needs or has a right to expect. Children are not made of steel, but neither are they made of glass. They are precious, yes, but they are not our possessions.
A friend of mine recently told me about another friend of hers who had lost a child in a tragic accident. She said that the family is coping with the loss by remembering to consider that the child "was not theirs" in the first place. They were blessed by this child’s presence in their lives for a short time, she noted, but they felt lucky to have had him at all rather than cheated by his being taken away. They focused on gratitude for his life instead of anger, sadness and regret at his death. I admit that this is probably more than I could muster in that situation . . . but how can one not admire it? Since hearing about it, I have tried remember it--not so much as a guide to understanding the proper way to react to death (God forbid a thousand times!) as it is a good general guide for understanding how to approach life with your children. There is only so much you can do or expect as a parent. Ultimately, you are talking about another soul--not an extension of your own. The only formula is that there isn’t one.