Two articles about parenting and failure have crossed my radar within the last 24 hours.
The first is a CNN story titled: Father’s screed a wake-up call for permissive parents
and the second is Amy Morrison’s piece on her blog Pregnant Chicken: Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother
Both of the articles annoy me, though I’m not completely sure why. Let’s explore.
The first is the story of an email Nick Crews sent to his children. He’s disappointed with what he sees as as their ” underachievement and domestic ineptitudes [sic],” particularly as it relates to the raising of his grandchildren. “It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven and then helplessly to see these lovely people being so woefully let down by you, their parents.”
A couple of experts are cited. We’re told of an outpouring of support for Crews, who is lauded by some for “telling it like it is.” But the basic thrust of it is that we’re living in a world with too many permissive parents, who are raising weak and morally bankrupt children. (At least that’s my take-away.)
I’m shocked by this man’s actions, especially to the extent that we know about the email. I’m also disappointed in the positive reaction this has gotten from the public. I disagree with the notion the there are too many permissive parents. Yes, there are parents who coddle. Yes, there is a very real problem with style over substance in how we as a society are raising the next generation. But most of the parents I’ve seen are working exceptionally hard to make sure that their children have opportunities for future happiness and success.
All too often this results in shortcuts and excused behaviors. I’m not so quick to want to place the blame on the parents though. We live in a country that places a lot of pressure on everyone to succeed, to live up to the American Dream, which we define by status symbols (degrees, awards, titles) and possessions (big house, nice car, stylish clothing). Because everyone is reaching for the same things there’s enormous competition at every turn, which means enormous pressure on children right from the beginning. (How many systems for stimulating the mind of an unborn child have we seen marketed?)
I don’t think the solution is to “work harder” or to piss and moan about those who don’t measure up to whatever version of this standard we’re applying. I think the solution is to change the standard, change how we define success. In my own life I’m coming to see success as being content in my work, having time for my family, and my friends and myself. I can have all of these things while living in a small apartment and driving a compact car and wearing the same shirts I’ve owned for years. I don’t see how to inspire this change in our society at large though, we’re too beholden to our things and to making political decisions that place the good of the economy (as measured by dollars spent) above other concerns.
I’m wandering away from the original article a bit. This is where my mind goes when I think about it though.
Onwards to the other article. It’s an opinion piece by Amy Morrison, encouraging mothers to not worry so much because there are some unrealistic standards about what a good parent is/does, especially in the context of how previous generations of mothers did their thing.
On the whole, I agree with the central points she’s making: “nobody’s perfect; don’t stress yourself by trying to be; do your best; parenting is hard work.” She has written a positive, encouraging article. Like the last one, I came away from this one a little annoyed too. She is addressing mothers exclusively. Recently I’ve become very sensitive to attitudes about the capabilities of full-time fathers. Don’t get me wrong, I see no disparaging of fathers here. It’s more the assumption that SaH mothers need encouraging with no mention of SaH dads. It really shouldn’t bother me so much, after all almost everything she’s written can apply to me too. But it does.
Leaving that aside, and ignoring any problems I have with her assessment of previous generations of mothers, we can see the same fundamental problem I was bitching about just above: too much pressure and emphasis on achievement. Parents are told all kinds of things that they need to make sure they take care, because the future well-being of their child is at stake.
Your kids need x amount of reading time and x amount of exercise play and balanced amount of x & y &z in their diet. If not then they won’t be as smart and as strong as all of the other kids whose parents are taking the time to do these things. Also, here are a bunch of products you can buy to make sure you reach these arbitrary goals.
And remember, if you don’t you may end up writing a disappointed email to your kids someday.
Okay, that’s enough rambling and complaining for now.