Posts Tagged ‘Parenting Bullshit’

broccoli in the mac and cheese

September 24th, 2015    -    29 Comments

MacCheeseBrocCaulThere comes a day as a parent when you realize you have accomplished nothing because there was nothing to accomplish.

I have a strange relationship with readers. Or rather, they have a strange relationship with me through my books. Some of them are new to parenthood, and so they find me musing about the first terribly shocking and sincere years of raising a child. Some of them are at a later stage and so they find themselves on the outer edge of midlife with grown children. And then there’s me and my family, defying the demography, crossing the currents, merging the streams.

Sixteen years of personal research into parenting and I can tell you this much: it doesn’t work. My conclusions have been premature. The early signs were irrelevant. We do not raise our children. They do not conform to a graph, a glyph, or a stamp. We do not mold them. We have been thoroughly misled and mistaken.

I started clapping before the scene was over; stood up to leave before the encore. There’s a twist, an alternate ending, an extra feature, a director’s cut!

They grow up to make their own choices, and it doesn’t matter if they liked asparagus at age three.

It doesn’t matter if you hid spinach in the meatballs, zucchini in the muffins or broccoli in the mac and cheese.

They have their own interests, and their passions are not based on how many evenings you read them to sleep.

It doesn’t matter if the preschool aide called them a “genius.” I, for one, will never forget that day.

They don’t floss just because you nagged them nightly until they were twelve.

They don’t care just because you do.

Nothing was lost by waking up four times in the middle of the night; nothing was gained by sleeping through.

They have their own hearts, and you cannot mend them.

Their own feet, and you cannot steer them.

Their own voice, and they do not speak the words you sounded out for them so long ago.

My child will not be a giraffe when she grows up (her first choice), not a superhero, a princess, or a cowboy. She probably doesn’t even know what a cowboy is. Or was.

My daughter was born premature, but I was the one ahead of myself. Every expectation has been erroneous. I can finally admit that I don’t have any idea what will happen next or when. I’m eavesdropping through a soundproof door.

I no longer think of my daughter as something for me to do, or parenting as something to accomplish. We are ordinary people who love and need each other in ever-changing and unpredictable ways. Let’s hope I can keep the broccoli out of it.


your child’s peril

September 26th, 2011    -    27 Comments

Dear Dr. Neuroscientist:
Please help us grow up to be safe.
The Kindergarten Class of 2012

Last weekend I saw a story in the New York Times that made my head explode. Those of you who have heard me speak about “my head exploding” know that it is a clever metaphor for when my head actually explodes. The story in the paper was this:

Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril

I have a vested interest in this story, since I – gasp! ­– delayed kindergarten at my child’s peril. (Actually, she delayed it herself by refusing to go.) The gist of the story is that a couple of neuroscientists did some math and concluded that if you keep your child from starting school until he or she is a year older it won’t deliver a measurable competitive advantage. Boo hoo. Here’s the money graph:

In a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age.

Say what? The findings, in my book, are benign and irrelevant. What mattered more to me was the word “peril.” Who in their right mind would put the word “peril” in the same sentence with the word “kindergarten,” provoking the subtle suggestion of child endangerment, ensuring that the article would be the number one e-mailed article for days after?

The answer is, someone playing on your fear that you are ruining your child’s life. And someone who wrote a book about it. Yes, these kind of grotesque generalizations and implied consequences are always about selling something you think you don’t have, telling you something you think you don’t know, and convincing you – by way of arcane statistics – of your worst fear: that you are a terrible, rotten and not very good parent, making the kind of irreparable mistakes that will condemn your child to second place, a lowly Von Winklevoss to a triumphant Zuckerberg. read more

Lay off the parents already!

October 25th, 2009    -    43 Comments

OK, I’ve had it up to here and my head is about to explode.

I spoke to a group of parents at a preschool last week, and I got there early so I wouldn’t get caught in Southern California’s all-day traffic. So I sat on a teeny tiny chair at a teeny tiny table for an hour while the group took care of an agenda of issues vital to well-intentioned childrearing:

Eco consciousness
Internet privacy
How to use twitter
Pie sale
Germ control
School photos
Snack schedule
Yard sale
Teacher evaluations
Plastic forks vs. silverware
Halloween costumes

After a two-minute break, I got up to speak to a room of parents who held stacks of handouts from the one-hour meeting just concluded. I was silent for a bit, and then I shared what I’ve been feeling lately, which is the need to shut up about parenting. “You have enough on your hands. I don’t want to contribute to the enormous body of information out there. I don’t want to give you anything else to do, or worry about not doing.”

I’m not going to use my inside voice right now, because I’m angry at the way the news media, aided by all manner of publicity hounds, a whole industry of gurus, keeps bullying the most vulnerable pack on the playground. They call us names. They make fun of us. In fact, they make a sport of it. And so I’m blowing the whistle.


“Stop the presses!” exhorts one review for a recent parenting book. “Everything you thought you knew about parenting is wrong!” Way to sell buddy, but are you really helping anyone else but yourself? You think what we need is more conflicting opinions? More self-doubt? More judgment? More test results? More pseudo-science telling us how many mistakes we’ve already made? More worst-case scenarios to fret over?

You want me to believe you have the missing link to a perfect outcome? An Ivy League early admission? A fairytale future? A happy, grateful, gifted, well-adjusted child? (What does well-adjusted mean anyway?) I think I’m going to have to live with the child I have, no matter what, and with me as her mother, no matter how lacking we all might think I am. I think I’m going to have to forget all my high-minded expectations and forgive us both while I’m at it.

Last week there was a story in the New York Times that sent my cranium ricocheting off the kitchen ceiling. In the name of reporting, the article takes parents to task over shouting. Since when is shouting news? Before I send you off to read this one more time, let me level my head and admit that this is exactly the same kind of story as all those “this-is-the-new-that” stories. You know, white is the new black, paper is the new plastic, up is the new down. It doesn’t take itself half as seriously as I’m taking it.

First thing in the article comes the inconvenient fact that “parental yelling is a near-universal occurrence.” File that under “Duh.” Except then the article goes on to say, “this generation of parents seem to be uniquely troubled by their outbursts.” I don’t buy that. I think parents have always been troubled by their outbursts. But if a story doesn’t suggest some aberration, some new twist, this wouldn’t be a story at all, and there wouldn’t be an industry of experts selling into it.

Oh, those smarty pants parents who think they know it all: they can’t stop screaming! (Sorry, I can’t stop screaming.)

I finally get it. Like the story says, it’s socially unacceptable to spank children. But it’s terrific fun to spank the mom and dad.

When I speak to parents it’s with the sole aim of reassuring them that they already have everything they need to raise their children. They have enough love, enough patience and enough forgiveness, even when they think they don’t. Parents have their frustrations, their tears, their confusion, and their outbursts, the very tar pit where competence and confidence eventually oozes up from. The point where you think you can’t go on is the very point that a breakthrough occurs. Parenthood is nonstop personal transformation. We can’t figure it out because we can’t figure it out! It’s not Sudoku, you know. (Full disclosure: I can’t figure that out either.)

I’ll admit it’s a hard sell when you’re not selling anything: not a lecture series, not therapy, not an online class, not a packaged set of DVDs for $299. One of my talks was at a conference where the workshops covered the usual rugged turf: handling sibling rivalry, effective discipline, non-violent communication, how to raise girls today, how to raise boys today, resolving conflicts, teaching diversity, managing transitions and a host of terrors that have us trembling in the sanctuary of our own homes. Leaving the hotel after, I saw a woman from my workshop sitting in the hallway wiping her eyes, and I wondered if I’d hurt her feelings.

“You were the only speaker all day who didn’t convince me I was doing everything wrong!” That, my friends, is the only parenting problem they don’t presume to solve.

I’m so sad. I’m so tired. I’m so frustrated. I’m going to my room to cry it out.

I’ll be back in a day or so to talk through my feelings the way some of you probably think I should. But the thing about feelings is that they don’t last the way you think they would.

(The rant is not over, but the end is in sight, as it always is.)

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