The Atlantic has an interesting article this month by Emily Matchar titled “How Parenting Became a DIY Project.” On first glance, I envisioned parents trying to make their own baby blankets or struggling with blenders. But then the subhed made me cringe: "From home birth to homemade baby food to homeschooling, raising kids is a way for parents to express their individuality." Excuse me? A way for “parents” to express their individuality? There’s a time and a place for this, and it’s called high school. When will parents realize that having children shouldn’t be an exercise in egotism?
The article spotlights all the fashionable ways that parents find to channel their own fragile uniqueness through their kids. Take homeschooling: One homeschool proponent told the reporter that she was "horrified" to see that all the fingerpaintings displayed on the wall at her child’s potential school looked the same. “Were schools destroying children's creativity?” she wondered. (Seriously?) Ultimately she decided she could best honor her daughter's individuality by homeschooling. Here’s a thought: She could best honor her daughter’s sanity by not overanalyzing the school “experience” to the point that her child becomes hostage to her mother’s own fears. Was the child being bullied? Having learning issues? Failing to thrive in a classroom setting? No. Her reason was that all the finger-paintings at this school looked the same. Guess what, lady, most elementary schoolers aren’t Leonardo Da Vincis in training. They grab some Crayolas and have at it, then they go to recess.
Another example points to parents who insist on making their kids’ baby food. Fine, wonderful. Kids should eat healthfully, and if these parents have time to churn out turnip puree by hand, more power to ‘em. But it’s the reason behind it that’s so troubling to me: "The only way to know what's in your food is to make it yourself," a 20-something mom recently told the reporter. Again with the anxiety. Such a thin line between care and fear.
Or yet another example from the story: Parents who go into birthing rooms clutching painstakingly drawn out birthing plans. (From the Atlantic: "no Pitocin...perineal massage rather than episiotomy.”) As a mom-to-be, I remember reading so many conflicting things about how to best prepare for the birth experience. My favorite tip was from a tough old nurse who’d been through it all, seen it all: “Honey, the kid will come out one way or another.” I mean, sure, I’d love my perineum massaged, but ultimately I was willing to bet that when my water broke and the contractions started coming every two minutes, the last thing on my mind would be the soothing anal rubdown I'd read all about back in month seven. Or maybe it would be, but if not, I'd be more focused on getting a healthy kid at the end of my grunting, not crying about messing up the plan.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t look to statistics and science to make sound choices for our families. Of course we should. We should be smart consumers who make rational decisions based on reason. We should read. We should care. But we also shouldn’t be so bogged down by statistics and numbers—so often peddled to manufacture mom-identities couched in fear—that we make our choices in order to fulfill some selfish vision of what diligent parenting should look like. I am willing to bet that even if my son has the disgusting orange Spaghettios that my mom insists on feeding him every Wednesday when she babysits, and God knows what’s in ‘em, he’s still going to get by. More than anything, he’ll remember the time spent with his grandmother.
I’m sorry if this sounds judgmental. I’m not trying to be nasty. I just feel sorry for these kids who seem to be at the mercy of parents who are so afraid, so bound up in the parent “identity” that they lose sight of the whole experience. It's a newer, greener version of parents who live through their kids on the baseball field or hockey rink. And it seems the Atlantic agrees. I love this closer:
“I remember watching an early Mad Men episode with a friend, the mother of a young daughter. In the episode, Betty Draper wanders around the house smoking cigarettes while her kids play with a dry-cleaning bag in an empty bedroom.
"Betty Draper had it easy," my friend said, only half-joking.
"Really?" I said. I mean, depression, a cheating husband, no friends, no life purpose, awful kitchen wallpaper. Doesn't sound easy to me.
But, hey, at least nobody expected her to make the baby food by hand.”
So much expectation, and to what end? Next time I feel the guilty urge to churn Andrew’s food by hand, or the next time I become paralyzed reading up on different school philosophies and so on, I’m going to mentally check myself. Am I doing it for him? Or for me? Thanks for the reminder, Emily Matchar.
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