by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Yesterday I was chatting with a bunch of my favorite moms at school. Our kids are in 5th and 7th grades. This year, middle school doled out email accounts for communication between students, teachers and classmates regarding homework and other school-related activities.
One of the moms wondered out loud if any of us “monitored” these emails.
Before I could say a word, another mom piped up.
“I read every single email. Sent and received. Text messages on her phone too.”
She smiled brightly, looking like a rosy-cheeked milkmaid from the Alps. She radiated pride and good mothering. She clearly thought she’d trumped us all.
My kneejerk reaction: I don’t have enough time to check my own emails -- much less go through two other inboxes. And although I occasionally glance at my kids’ texts and emails the same way I poke through their backpacks, I would never make it my policy to review their correspondence. Because I don’t have time, true. But also because I believe pretty firmly that my kids need to grow up one day. I don’t want to get in the way of that process.
And I guess I’m not alone, based on this week’s Time Magazine cover story, The Case against Over-Parenting .
Reporter Nancy Gibbs illustrates a phenomenon you may already know all too well: American parents have gone insane in the last 20 years. We’ve gotten so fixated on our kids' success that parenting has become a form of product development. Of course our obsession comes from a good place: we all want the best for our kids. But throw in all those front page newspaper articles and parenting books about the importance of flash cards and Baby Mozart, how breastfeeding raises IQ points and daycare turns kids violent, plus a few horror stories from other parents, and guess what happens? Panic robs us of all good judgment. This fear, which Gibbs accurately describes as “a kind of parenting fungus: invisible, insidious, perfectly designed to decompose your peace of mind” paradoxically (because we are pretty smart in other ways) makes us stupid.
Time gives the example of Kansas elementary school principal Karen Faucher who had to institute a "no rescue" policy at Belinder Elementary in Prairie Village when she noticed the front-office table covered each day with forgotten lunch boxes and notebooks brought in by parents. The tipping point was the day a mom rushed in with a necklace meant to complete her daughter's coordinated outfit. "I'm lucky — I deal with intelligent parents here," Faucher says. "But you saw very intelligent parents doing very stupid things. The parents couldn't help themselves."
I happen to think intelligent, highly-educated parents are actually MORE STUPID than other parents when it comes to raising kids. We are so frothy-mouthed about being the best parents on the planet that we’ve forgotten what it is actually like to be a kid. Our goals are wonderful -- building our children’s self-esteem, instilling good judgment, and inculcating high standards when it comes to achievement. We want to protect our children from mistakes and failure. However, our overzealousness unfortunately sets our kids up for a lifetime of self-doubt and insecurity.
"Our whole culture," says Slow Family Living expert Carrie Contey in the Time article "is geared around 'Is your kid making the benchmarks?' 'Is my kid's head the right size?' People think there's some mythical Good Mother out there that they aren't living up to and that it's hurting their child. I just want to pull the plug on that."
Me too, sista.
You’ve got to look at overparenting from a kid’s perspective. This view matters most – far more than any parenting expert, research study, or the other moms in carline. Think about it. Helicopter parenting delivers a clear message to our kids: we, your loving parents, don’t think you can manage walking to school alone. Or writing your own emails. Choosing the websites you visit online. Completing your homework. Picking out your clothes. Walking the dog around the block. Determining which sports, hobbies and friends you love. Making your own mistakes.
Kids’ takeaway invariably ends up in this dodgy dead-end:
A) My parents think I’m not smart or capable enough to manage my own life.
B) My parents think the world is too dangerous and complex a place for me.
Those messages are not the ones I want my kids to grow up with. I don’t want ANYONE’S kids believing that kind of stuff. And I don’t believe any parent wants it either. Thank god a few brave souls are standing up against the Mothers Superior movement. Add me to the list.