Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 4 Sep 08 09:12
As a SAHM I am not insulted by that representation because in my experience it is true. I am judgemental, as are many of the other SAHMs I know. My judgementalism is directed at mothers who do everything for their kids, though. I've had women amazed that I let my kids ride their bikes 3 blocks to the Dunkin' Donuts for a Sunday morning treat. How could you? It's a busy road? (they don't cross it, though). What if they get hurt or stolen? My response is always the same, "But they didn't. And they likely won't. And they had fun. And if something bad happened I trust that they will handle it until they get home." So this begs the question: Why don't parents (SAHMs in particular) trust their children to do what they have been taught to do?
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 4 Sep 08 09:15
"...many of them have more time on their hands than is probably healthy for their children."" I know this is true for some moms; I've seen it when my own kids played sports. May I offer a counter, though? I'll bet some working moms are even tougher. Their schedules are so tightly packed, with their kid's soccer/hockey/baseball activity squeezed between a career and a homelife, that the mom thinks, "I'm going to make every damn minute of this count for my little Johnny." In other words, the over-protecting, interfering type of SAHM behavior is about the mom's stress or guilt or whatever, not about what's best for Johnny.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 4 Sep 08 09:20
(Whoops, "SAHM" shouldn't have appeared in the above post's final sentence.)
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 09:40
By no means is this restricted to SAHMs. And you are very correct in saying that this is not about the kids' needs. It's all about the parents' emotions (a lot of which is anxiety) running unconstrained. There are working moms whose schedule their kids as they schedule their own days. I don't think it's guilt alone that's driving this experience. I think there is a huge amount of anxiety that most aware parents feel because of changes in the global economy that have changed to conditions of success. They simply unleash it on their kids, rather than acting as a barrier. At every passage of parenthood, we make decisions to let our child make the next step toward independence. The old model (say, 10 years ago) was, you kept your anxiety to yourself; you didn't want to transmit your anxiety to your child; you bit your tongue. You prepared your child as best you could for most contingencies, you transmitted your confidence that they could take the next step,and then you let go (holding your breath). You prayed you didn't get a phone call. Now, too many parents put their own emotional needs before the developmental needs of their children to take the next step towards independence. And instead of letting go, they talk about all the possibilities of harm (which they vastly misconstrue) and use safety as an excuse to not let their kids ride their bikes the 3 blocks to Dunkin Donuts.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 4 Sep 08 09:43
The SAHMs are a big factor where I live. I don't think SAHMs are necessarily more judgmental than any other group of humans, but the ones who *are* judgmental have lots of money and free time to indulge their hobby.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 4 Sep 08 10:31
It's so bewildering to me. I would have been mortally embarrassed if my parents had called a professor on my behalf. They got to see my end-of-semester grade report and I felt like *that* was an intrusion. It boggles my mind that it's considered good parenting to do for a child what they are old enough to do for themselves. My child started Middle School today (6th grade). She was complaining yesterday about something that used to happen in 5th grade, and I started to offer to talk to the teacher if it happened again, but then I stopped and said to her "Now that you're in Middle School, maybe you'll talk to the teacher yourself". We ended up having a long talk about how to talk to teachers about different things. She also wants to do better in what was her worst subject last year, and this year's teacher has a great reputation, so we talked about how she might approach him. We talked about types of things to say and also the nuts and bolts of how you might set up a meeting yourself, how to find time to approach the teacher, or write a note, and such. (the topic that really makes me start to rant is the one <lrph> touched on - letting kids go about on their own. I was in grade school on the South Side of Chicago in the late 60's and early 70's - not the world's quietest corner by any stretch - and even the most over-protective parents let their kids move about freely before suppertime, once we'd mastered crossing the street safely)
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 4 Sep 08 10:43
Reading these anecdotes, several of them shocking, I can't help but remember Pogo's famous line: "We have met the enemy and he is us." These over-protective, over-bearing parents raising a generation of wimps, they're Boomers and immediate-post-Boomers. I'm a Boomer, too, and benefited from an upbringing that was much closer to the kind of childhood Lisa describes in post #1 -- no daytime TV, play outside, don't be late for dinner, do your homework, go to bed by bedtime. This was not an unusual way to grow up in the '50s and '60s or even '70s. So why did the experience not stick with the people who grew up into the kind of parents we're talking about here? Hara, you say the world has changed, and that's certainly true, but I wonder if there's a broader, deeper answer. Does anxiety over finding success in a fluid global economy really explain it all?
Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 4 Sep 08 10:56
I blame the "Baby On Board" bumper stickers. Why is your baby more important than anyone else? In all seriousness, I think the ability to instantaneously communicate is key. Hara writes about the cell phone, but I also think it's the 24 hour ad day new cycle. The news people fill our days telling us about the dangers out there - in Columbine, Colorado or some other samll town nowhere near where you live. And the airways are filled for weeks. It begins to seem like it's terrible all over. And it's not even so terrible in Columbine (just that one day). Most children will never experience what happened in Columbine, but you'd never know it to talk to the parents.
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 10:57
Betsy, what you have described is catching yourself and then transmitting to your child knowledge and skills so that she can cope on her own. yes, it took time to sit down and talk to her. yes, it's often easier to just do something yourself. but you gave her a rather invaluable gift, the highly portable ability to handle things on her own. the ability to cope. and, likely, the confidence that she CAN cope. the ability to approach people in positions of authority and not be intimidated. the ability to problem solve. and the confidence that problems can be solved. she will probably transfer that info to a million different situations. It isn't just anxiety over the children's ability to achieve, athough I think that is the lion's share of it. Parents today make a different emotional investment in their children; they identify with their children in a way that definitely didn't occur between boomers and their parents. The center of the household is no longer the adult-adult relationship. The household is centered around the children's needs; parents used to have a life of their own and got more oof their emotional needs met through adult friendships and their own martial relationship. My book opens with a real incident. Running into the now-grown daughter of a neighbor...who had not spent a moment of time away from her daughter in four years. She didn't even trust her own parents to care for the child in the two and a half hours she had to be in the local emergency room...the very same parents who brought her (and a sister) up quite OK. I ran into this many, many times. The belief that no one can care for my precious baby as well as I can, that my baby will suffer if I am not providing all the care and attention. Social trust has simply evaporated. And narcissism has blossomed.
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 11:01
Lisa, the filling of the airwaves with chatter has a great deal to do with our (mis)perceeption of risk. It winds up distorting the brain space we allott to, say, kidnapping. Or child sexual abuse. We hear one story over and over for years. It tends to fill up a lot of brain space and ignite a lot of fear, so that we wildly misperceive and distort the actual risk of any such rare event.
John Ross (johnross) Thu 4 Sep 08 11:39
There are somme obviouus over-reactions, but where do you draw the line about potentially dangerous behavior? I recently flew across the aisle from a couple with an infant in arms. The kid was asleep through most of the flight, so there was not the common noisy baby in a confined space problem. But during the landing, the father held the kid in his outstretched arms, "flying" him around. This scared the ehll out of me because of the possible danger to the child -- if papa had lost hold, or there had been some kind of bump, this infant would have become a projectile. After the (safe) landing, I did say something, in a non-scolding "I don't want to tell you what to do" manner, and I think the father took it in the same spirit. But is the overprotective Other Mom lecturing about the dangers of the world also acting with good intentions? As I said, where do you draw the line?
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Thu 4 Sep 08 11:57
> But is the overprotective Other Mom lecturing about the dangers of the world > also acting with good intentions? As I said, where do you draw the line? Intentions are one thing. Judgement is another. And method is the third. In too many cases good intentions are undermined by poor judgement and incorrect method. And I do think that fear is causing much of the problem
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 12:42
#37, thank you for your succinct observation. judgment. the judgment of the dad whipping his baby through the air on the plane was not the best for several reasons. all he took into account was himself...not the circumstances (being in a plane that could suddenly change altitude) or the possible risk to other people, including his own child. private behavior in public places is something that seems to be very much on the rise. you could call it stupidity and wrap it up with that, but it's also selfishness and self-involvement. #36, there are many ways that father could have been approached. you could have said, you know, i love seeing daddies playing with their kiddies, but i held my breath the whole time. i was terrified your baby could have become a projectile. maybe that's the kind of play that works best on terra firma.
Spero? (robertflink) Thu 4 Sep 08 13:35
Without getting muddled in a religious argument, could it be that this over-protective behavior is fueled in part by modern secular people abandoning the idea of divine intervention or "God's will"? Everything has its price and maybe this is one of the costs of post-religious life.
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 14:02
I would prefer to leave religion out of this discussion. I fail to see how abandoning the idea of divine intervention creates overprotective behavior. And pardon me, but when did we ever subscribe to the idea of divine intervention? Most parents don't count on divine intervention for raising their kids. And it is important for you to know that not all the overprotective parenting is done by "secular people." A lot of homeschooling and overcontrolling of kids is done by the highly religious. Your suggestion just doesn't hold with the available evidence.
Spero? (robertflink) Thu 4 Sep 08 14:52
I suggested "fueled in part" not "created". BTW, homeschooling may offer opportunities for more exposure to the "real world" of adult life albeit at the sacrifice of collective "youth culture". Don't peers exercise a degree of control over the individual? What is the "proper" balance of parental, peer, school, etc. control?
put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Thu 4 Sep 08 16:54
Thank you for #41. this is a fascinating discussion already and I'd hate to see it even begin to be framed in religious ways.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 4 Sep 08 17:06
I'm curious about things parents can do. In your last chapter you mention the single most important thing for kids is a stable home with two parents in a solid, loving relationship. But half our families are single parent families (or some such number), what can those parents do to overcome that big discrepancy in home lives.
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 17:32
For starters, they can make sure they are not in a contentious relationship with the child's father. Sometimes that's hard; it takes a lot of emotional work and just plain negotiation. But it is very important. Probably the most important thing that ALL parents can do is sit down with their kids and have dinner with them five nights a week. Everyone gets to talk. Everyone gets to listen. Everyone comes to count on this time together. It doesn't matter what the menu is and it doesn't matter what time this occurs. If it's late, kids have plan an earlier snack to tide them over. This is how love is communicated. This is where intellect and curiosity are nurtured. This is where the desire to be an effective adult takes shape. This single event correlates more with later achievement and adjustment than any other factor. At all income levels.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 4 Sep 08 17:51
<scribbled by castle Fri 5 Sep 08 01:34>
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 4 Sep 08 17:53
Hara slipped in. I just want to add that in my family, even though we ate together six days a week, it was the most dangerous time in terms of physical and emotional abuse. It's not the solution for ALL parents.
OZRO W. CHILDS (oz) Thu 4 Sep 08 17:58
What a great discussion. Preaching to the choir, in my case -- we almost always had dinner together as a family, and made a point of going out with our kids when they were all over 6 or 7 -- some of our best conversations took place in the big booth at our usual restaurant. And my kids walked to school starting in kindergarten -- at first, with me, then with me leaving them in the hands of the crossing guard, then a couple of years later, letting the older and younger ones walk alone, less than a half-mile. It helped that some other parents felt as I did, so both ways there were usually friends to walk with, in a pretty safe neighborhood. Pretty safe, but nothing is 100% safe, and my kids understood that, too. The results have been excellent -- young people who are confident wherever they are, for the most part. My feeling exactly was that the most important thing for a kid is learning to be independent, from an early age. It's a lot harder today. When I was under 7, it was not safe to walk farther than the block I was on (heavy traffic). But I did go out and play with the kids on the block, without supervison -- my mother would have been shocked if someone said that was not how to raise a child. When I was older, my time was my own after school, or on weekends, and if there were plans or obligations, we were told. I could go as far as I wanted, after being told when I had to be home. Every kid had a set of boundaries they were not supposed to go beyond, but inside those bounds, their time (and location) was their own to decide. When I became a father, I could not imagine any other way to raise a child. Times have changed; most significantly, the amount of truly free time has declined immensely due to organized sports or training. But there still is room for some freedom, if parents want to provide it.
OZRO W. CHILDS (oz) Thu 4 Sep 08 18:06
(slips) I can't help with the phenomenon of parents beating on their kids in public. I do think that two-parent families can be a real help in that department -- if both parents are together, the less stressed parent can deal with obnoxious children. Probably not a help, of course, if you have a parent who abuses you emotionally, but not physically. Parental overprotectiveness is something I've seen in my childrens' peers, both middle and upper-middle class. Where I don't see it is among the children of the poor. Typically, if poor mothers are highly protective, there is a good reason -- gangs and the like. When the gangsters are still asleep, my experience (as someone who walks all over town in the morning hours, often before school) is that the *only* kids walking to school without a parent are in the very safest places, or in the very poorest places. And in my neighborhood, which is pretty safe, I think a lot of kids get walked or driven or co-bike-ridden to school in the a.m. mainly because otherwise they might not be to school on time. Coming home, they're more on their own.
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 21:41
if you check the comments log above, you'll find that some of the statements some discussants are attributing to me were not made by me. in any case, oz is 100% correct. the problems of overprotection and overinvolvement as i discuss them exist among the middle and upper classes. and the reasons have to do with wanting the kids to succeed in the modern dynamic, global economy and recognizing that getting into college, and preferably a brand-name one, is a minimum requirement for maintaining middle-class status. college entrance is the focus of so much attention for a reason. and we have these elaborate status rankings of america's colleges and universities, with parents believing that a higher-status or brand-name college is the best guarantee of success around. so they push their kids and clear the path for them. for a variety of reasons, lower SES households are not generally focused on the same goals. many more of these kids drop out of school. there is often a problem of parental underinvolvement. when i'm out there giving talks at schools, even when the talks are timed for maximal parental attendance, it's invariably the parents of the middle and upper class who come...full of anxiety. these parents are worried about their kids. and they come because they suspect, at some level, that all their overparenting and overinvolvement might not be so wonderful for their kids. and why do they suspect that? because they know that they weren't raised that way...and they turned out OK. but very few of them can curb their anxiety enough to back off (they're so terrified that their child will, somehow, singularly be left behind). they don't know how to do it. i try to give them the tools to do it. certainly the encouragement.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Fri 5 Sep 08 04:57
Self-reliance is a pretty basic part of success too, though, and a child who cannot problem-solve is not going to get very far past that shiny college. My parents were not religious; they are 'secular humanists'. But I remember getting The Look if I asked them to do for me what I should be able to do myself. And I was expected to *work* when I was able. I had chores, and I was not allowed to spend summers idle. As a teen I was expected to find either a job or an educational activity. As an adult I became a practicing Conservative Jew, of the not-strict variety. I highly recommend The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel to *all* parents. It is (gently) wrapped in the language of traditional Jewish ethics but the lessons are universal. I note that *my* mother thought the whole idea was blindingly obvious, but it's definitely rowing against the prevailing wind. One of the things the author points out is that so many of these coddled children are pervasively *unhappy*. The child who isn't challenging herself against the world isn't being allowed to *grow*. As adults, the most satisfying thing for most of us is not some elusive "happiness", but finding productive and meaningful Work, in the broadest sense of the word, a way to make a contribution to the world and feel that we are truly valued. We live in a culture that values "self-esteem", but even the smallest children can feel the difference between idle praise, and the satisfaction you get from working hard and completing something. (I am also: not focused on Ivy League. I dropped out of a top-tier school and bummed around for too many years. I finished my degree at scruffy UMass/Boston, where I found genuinely committed and challenging teachers who mentored me in work and life. I want my kid to find a path that leads her to productive, meaningful work and good, loving friends, and a measure of security as she gets older, and I don't know that an Ivy League school is a guarantee of that, unless you're aiming for certain fields where credentials count the most)
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