On (Over/Helicopter/Judgements of) Parenting These Days

Earlier today, I took the kids to the pool where the rules are so insanely many that I find it depressing. You cannot even approach a diving board until the previous diver is back out of the pool. You cannot swim under lane ropes. You cannot skip. You must get out for a safety break every 45 minutes. You cannot wear goggles on the water slide or diving board. And on and on. My god, how did my sister and I make it out of our childhood community pool alive??

While at the pool, I took a couple minutes during one infernal break to read a story shared on Facebook by a good friend. Written by an acquaintance of mine, it relayed the true tale of a mother leaving her 8- and 9-year-old kids at home alone while she ran out to pick up some take-out food. The family was staying in a Delaware beach vacation rental, and it appears that their dogs ran outside and the children followed in order to retrieve their pets.

While outside, the dogs ran into the street in front of a car. The driver stopped and ended up asking the kids where their mother was. “Out getting food,” they replied.

The driver called the police, and the mother “was arrested, charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of her children, and released on $500 unsecured bail.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I remain furious many hours after first reading this story. Sadly, it’s not remotely the first time I’ve heard of parents –actually, it’s almost always the mother- being arrested for leaving their children alone for some period of time.

Remember the single mother who worked at McDonald’s and let her 9-year-old daughter play in the nearby park while she worked her shift because she had no childcare alternative? Their house was a six-minute walk away and the girl had a key and a cellphone. The mother was arrested and jailed, and her daughter was remanded to state custody.

Recall the mother who left her 4-year-old playing on an iPad in the car on a cool day while she ran into a store quickly? A stranger photographed her license plate, called the police to report her, and she was charged with a crime. She spent a full year dealing with the after-effects.

Remember the Maryland parents who, after practicing the walk and all safety instructions, let their 6- and 10-year-old kids walk to a local park alone? People called Child Protective Services on them, and the police coerced the children into a patrol car and held them for three hours before telling their parents where the kids were. They were later reported again and are terrified to let their children do anything remotely independently. They were called Free Range as if it were worse than being a cannibalistic, satanist puppy killer.

Do you know what I think the real crimes are?

1.     Traumatizing children and parents unnecessarily. Some parents need to be called on by strangers, by the police, by CPS, but do you know who doesn’t? People who trust their children and have thought about things and made the decision to let them play outside unattended, to walk to and play in a park. People who trust their children and leave them home while running out for some mealtime food or to drop the pet at the vet or to attend an exercise class. People who trust their children and want to increasingly allow them independent moments in which they can show and prove their responsibility.

2.     Teaching children that they are incapable of keeping themselves safe and so must rely on their parents/mother to be with them all the time. Not only does this suggest to children that terrifying horrors are everywhere, around every corner but also that they are absolutely powerless without a parent around. Forget personal strength and ability. Forget any effort to learn independent problem solving and agency and resiliency. Forget feeling safe in the world.

3.     Demonizing parents/mothers who reject the belief that the only way to be a good mother is to be on call and at your children’s sides all day long. I know many good mothers with many different philosophies about time spent with their children. Having disparate beliefs about how to be a good parent should be OK. And that’s not being relativistic. There are some terrible-ass parents out there, people who should NOT be parents. But most of us are doing our bests, and constant judgment from others, from everything from nursing to thumb sucking to when a kid reads or is potty-trained to what he wears or what she eats, helps nothing. Not least our children.

4.     Not supporting lower-income mothers enough with good and safe subsidized childcare. What are they to do if they will lose their jobs if they don’t show up, can’t support their families if they don’t work, but rarely or never have childcare? That is further demonization of non-stay-at-home mothers and of poor people. What does such lack of support teach our kids about how mothers are valued and which ones are more valued?

Don’t we see how too much of these behaviors actually infantilize our kids? Don’t we see how this excessive helicoptering is playing out?

The parents who call teachers and principals and other parents every single time their kid has a bad day on the playground? They’re not helping their children understand the real world. They’re not helping their children figure out coping strategies, and what a real friend is, and how to stand up for themselves. Just like not all adults are nice, not all kids are nice. That is nothing more than fact.

Those parents who do their kid’s homework? They’re not teaching their children anything but laziness. Good luck in college, kiddos. Oh but wait, maybe you can still call upon your parent to help (we’ve all heard of the parents who get apartments in the same town as is their child’s college. Just in case.) Do we really want to teach this sort of work ethic? No! Hard work is a critical skill and should be something we expect and support. We cannot stand in the way of our kids working hard simply because we care for them. Precisely because we love them is why we should let them fail, learn from failure, succeed, learn from success, and work hard.

Read: Former Stanford Dean Explains Why Helicopter Parenting Is Ruining a Generation of Children

Those parents who swoop in to fix everything? They’re not teaching any resilience whatsoever. What these parents are teaching is that their children can’t really cut the umbilical cord. They shouldn’t because then what would they do? Rely on themselves? Egads! Do we want to undermine our children’s sense of agency? Their trust in themselves? No!

It’s like the older our kids get, the more we baby and coddle them. We pressure little kids to be reading at 5 and mastering an instrument or sport by 10 and we don’t let them do anything that doesn’t have a “point,” like simply walk to the park and play with sticks because those things are entirely too dangerous, don’t get you into Best College, and we’re learning that we’ll probably get arrested, or at least reported, for being so negligent.

But then we’re surprised that our children are anxious? That they can’t figure out how to live on their own? That they surround themselves with people who think just like they do instead of folks with a diversity of beliefs and ways of thinking? 

This is not a good way forward, y’all. I beseech this country to calm down, chill out, try to worry a bit less, and let our children grow up. They are so capable and cool, and most of them really will be fine.

Teach them about safe sex, and the perils of smoking, and that they must NEVER drink and drive or even text and drive. Teach them about being part of a community and looking out for each other with smart trust and love. Teach them how to respect, love, and stand up for themselves. Show them that they can work hard and accomplish great things, that you will support them and love them but you won't strip them of agency or the hard times during which they'll learn about grit and work and what success from failure feels like. Show them how to ask for help when they need it and how they can also dig deep and find strength within. Help them become the kind of adults you'd want to know and work with and love.

Another very valuable article: Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids at Perceived But Unreal Risk? 

 

 

All the things: Olympics, summer, libraries, hilarity

Did y'all know that (apparently many years ago) the USPS officially decreed that they would no longer put a comma between city and state on address labels? I did not know this, and recently, when a friend and I were drafting invites for a bridal shower we're hosting, I said "Doesn't there need to be a comma between City and State?" and she said, "Honey, the USPS stopped doing that decades ago. Librarians know these things."

And I was and remain appalled because that's just not right-like visually, that's just NUTS. I mean, I adopted the damn Oxford comma, but NO COMMA between City and State? Ain't no way. And so T looked it up for me, and fortunately this nonsense is ONLY a USPS thing, not a worldwide grammar thing, and I am just so grateful I could weep.

I just wanted to share that.

Anyway, tomorrow marks Day 1 of no camp but seemingly infinite time before school resumes, and the boys are sleeping in another fort that uses all of our kitchen table chairs (6) plus two TV trays and 90% of the sheets in our home plus sleeping bags, light sabers, glass water glasses and more.

I would say that this arrangement doesn't bode well for a restful tomorrow, but then again, does it really matter?! We have little planned. At least they fell asleep before I did so that I could tuck a pillow under each of their heads and make sure they weren't suffocating in their sleeping bags. 

Summer is starting to feel long. We've been sweating for a lifetime, and I've set a new record of pizza for dinner in any given week: 4 times. The me of ten years ago is quivering with vexation and perceived failure. The me of today is holding up a gold trophy bestowed upon Self for including multiple fruits and veggies alongside each and every pie.

In my defense, the pizzas came from four different places, including two gold star joints. We are now totally certain about which pizza sucks and which pizza doesn't. A+ in pizza study.

The Olympics were, by and large, delightful, but I cheered the closing ceremony tonight because I simply cannot stay up through the 11pm - 12am hour for even a single additional night. I'm 40 people; that time has passed. 

I believe that other than Ryan D'bag Lochte and his misguided posse, our athletes comported themselves in lovely fashion. Really, the Olympics is such a grand coming together of talent and sportsmanship. I love the Games. Until next time!

Do y'all know that during the past two weeks, a dream of mine has come true? My darling husband agreed that we could turn our formal living room (never used for that purpose) into a library!! As the incredible construction has taken place, Jack and I have been nerding out to beat sixty. We ordered a one million pound Oxford dictionary and were literally chagrined when it was not delivered yesterday as promised.

UNTIL a kindly neighbor who had received said tome walked it over, and we cheered. 

Literally. Look at Jack's face!

"Jack, do you want to look up the first word?" I asked, hoping he'd say no.

"Oh yes, Mom. I will look up.....Indonesia." 

What the hell? Why? I mean, great but where did that come from?

Anyway, if you don't know, Indonesia is part of the Malay archipelago. And so marked our foray into the kazillion page book, a tiny, tidy J eternally ticked by Indonesia. We have all taken a pact to mark our initial, IN THE NEATEST HANDWRITING POSSIBLE, by each and every word we look up forevermore.

I'm so thrilled with and proud of this new room that we will all love but especially Jack and me. Oliver's primary response so far has been, "I don't love the knobs you chose. Why couldn't you have gotten neon green ones?"

OMG, I feel SO lucky. We weren't really supposed to put anything on the shelves until Tuesday, but for the love of patience, we waited five whole days and the paint has simply got to be hard enough by now. It's going to be so much fun to fill these.

OMG, I feel SO lucky. We weren't really supposed to put anything on the shelves until Tuesday, but for the love of patience, we waited five whole days and the paint has simply got to be hard enough by now. It's going to be so much fun to fill these.

I love these little family traditions. They're the glue, really, the threads we weave together over the years that make family durable over time, even when times are tough. Like possibly the coming weeks.

We have also resurrected Pi Guy and Roach and the games we play with them.

Pi Guy, in case you've forgotten, is a wire man clothed in a Pi jumper and trousers that Jack made in art a couple years ago during his preoccupation with Pi. Periodically, he'll put Pi Guy somewhere ridiculous, like suspended from my shower head or from a shirt in my closet, and I'll counter by seating Pi Guy on Jack's toilet or hanging precipitously from his headboard. 

This is an utterly delightful game.

In true Oliver fashion, he plays this game with an entirely too realistic rubber roach that my aunt Renee sent him. She knew exactly how much Oliver would adore this roach, and adore it he does. I awoke recently to find said roach sitting on top of the water glass on my nightstand. I put roach on Ol's bathroom faucet. He tossed it onto my rug. 

revolting and, mercifully, fake

revolting and, mercifully, fake

Tonight I made the boys dinner and then T made us dinner, and then he and I watched two episodes of The Americans (we are slightly obsessed), and now we're going to bed, and all is well. 

I cannot tell y'all how much I love okra. And shrimp. 

On figs and cats and torches and summer coming to a close

Tonight Jack convinced me to drill a small hole through a stick he'd found so that he could insert a match and light it, thus making an Olympic torch. As you may not be surprised to hear, a match burns pretty quickly, so "torch" was an ephemeral status.

"No, Mom, I've got it! We need gasoline!"

"No, Jack, we're not pouring gasoline into a handheld twig. Thank you. Goodnight."

"Moooooooooooom."

"No."

30 minutes later, T and I are presented with this.

Another 60 minutes later, I check on the children to find that both have drawn red marker and black ink pen beards on their faces and are wearing Italia hoodies. Oliver is drooling onto his pillow-whilst gnawing on corn last night, another top tooth dislodged and so he is now minus his front four which is really pretty significant- and Jack is still awake which does not bode well for tomorrow, the final day of camp.

The good thing about camp ending is that I do not have to pack another lunch until next summer.

The bad thing about camp ending is that camp is ending and we have three weeks left until school resumes. LAWD! SO MANY HOURS IN A DAY!

I will seek refuge in the Nut who continues to be adorably imperious and delightfully plump, and I will continue to encourage anyone listening to vote not only Donald Trump off our island but also Ryan Lochte. At least he hasn't resurrected his grill.

Today I admired and photographed figs and also cooked the boys a lovely dinner that required no more than three teeth to eat and then made a rainbow carrot and raisin salad. The evening light glows so becomingly this time of year; if you can avoid the mosquitan bandits out for all your blood, you will be rewarded with beautifully lit, no flash photos. 

As an added bonus tonight, I leave you with this truly HYSTERICAL Ode to Synchronized Swimming