Smothering Mothering.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


I loved last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine commentary by Mommy Trackd/Flexperience 2008 keynote Lisa Belkin, “Let the Kid Be.” Belkin hopefully forecasts the demise of helicopter parenting and smothering mothering, citing a wave of new books with self-explanatory titles like Bad Mother, Free-Range Kids and The Idle Parent: Why Less is More When Raising Kids. The only thing I’d change is Belkin’s title: I’d call it “Let the Mom Be!” Because in addition to the damage inflicted upon kids by uber-hovering, we moms are the biggest victims.


This is painfully clear as we transition from the blessedly predictable daycare/school schedule into…summer, a six-letter word for soggy packed lunches, childcare cobbled together like chickenwire, and the logistics of meeting the 4:10 camp bus when you are supposed to stay at work until 5 p.m. Unless you are sufficiently well-paid to be able to afford a fulltime babysitter AND camp (a pool shrunk dramatically by today’s economic woes), you and your work performance will suffer until the fireflies go back into hibernation.


Summer was once blissful for moms, wasn’t it? My mother made blueberry pancakes in the morning, opened the screen door to our falling down farmhouse in New Hampshire, and shooed us outside like flies for the 12 hours of daylight. Now summer seems crammed with tutoring, enrichment camps, sports skills improvement opportunities, and SPF sunscreen. It took me nearly four hours to fill out the paperwork and medical forms for my three children to attend seven weeks of local camps this summer. It would have been easier to apply for a Center for Disease Control grant. Where is the fun in that?


FUN parenting – can you imagine? The finest hours of parenting, in my experience, have had nothing to do with driving my child to Tae Kwan Do practice or Sylvan Learning Center. They’ve been the fun times – and not necessarily the expensive Disneyworld We-Are-Having-Family-Fun times (although I do start to drool just thinking about Disney’s waterparks).


As a sahm, I don't have extra money for camp, lessons or vacations. I stay home because my paycheck would be eaten up by childcare. My husband though took on a 4/10 shift so we can do the cheap and free stuff with the kids. It also gives us time with them to catch fireflies, plant sunflowers, ride bikes and such. My favorite part is just having ice cream with them and watching a movie of their choice. I never went to camp or took lessons as a child, I was raised by a single mother, and I went on to college and I don't feel I missed out.



Thank you! I struggle with guilt occasionally because due to the demands of my job and the nature of my husband's work we can't possibly arrange and transport my children to the events, camps, lessons that my non-working or part time working friends do. I wonder sometimes if I am depriving them of opportunities but at the same time acknowledge the fact that there isn't much I can do short of quitting my job (losing the house,insurance,car....)I try to remember growing up and as you mentioned - very few of my happiest memories included ballet, tennis lessons, tutoring .. but are of the cookouts we would have every Saturday night with friends, going fishing with my grandfather, and watching Wizard of Oz on "movie night." I try to keep things simple- one activity, one summer camp - I find that I am at my best when less "frantic/busy" and my children are at peace as a result.