Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of blog titles that have caught my eye (isn’t that the point?) but have disturbed me as a parent and as a human being in general. In the past few months, I’ve seen variations of the following titles: “I swear in front of my kids and I’m F*ing proud of it!” “This mom didn’t watch her kids at the playground and that’s awesome!” and “I told my kid he’s a failure and I don’t care that he cried.” Okay, I might have made that last one up. But still.
I get that we writers and bloggers and journalists draw more attention to our writing when we sensationalize our headlines, but in these cases, the headlines weren’t just bait. They accurately reflected the stories that followed, which is intriguing, to say the least. These sentiments speak to a trend in parenting of indulging kids less and moving away from a kid-centered focus, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But it’s disheartening to see today’s parents suffer from the very mistake they’re attempting to avoid – parenting in extremes.
Hear me out. For the past 20 or so years, we have watched parents, en masse, embrace a whole new philosophy of parenting. Gone are the days of spanking, yelling, and Because I Said So. We criticized corporal punishment for sending the message that a violent act, spanking, could effectively teach a life lesson. Instead, we held discussions with our children, we reasoned with them, we explained our rules – over and over – as many times as our kids demanded it. We did it all with the best of intentions, using Time-Out as a disciplining method, giving stars and trophies to everyone who participated, and doing everything in our power to protect our children’s increasingly fragile self-esteem.
In a nutshell, we got carried away. We involved ourselves in every aspect of our children’s lives, catching them before they fell, preventing failure, and calling out other adults who attempted to hold our kids accountable for their actions (teachers, coaches, cub scout leaders, etc., etc.). “Helicopter parent” joined our daily lexicon. Kids became entitled. Good teachers left the profession, throwing up their hands and fearing for the next generation. Corporations began training their managers in how to hire and work with graduates who expected six-figures and two-hour lunches, and who, by the way, couldn’t take an ounce of criticism.
And now, for the first time in 20 years, we’re looking across the dinner table at our 30-year-olds who still live at home and seeing the error of our ways.
So I’m right there with you as I usher in a new dawn of understanding and eagerly search for better ways to parent. This brings me full circle to parenting bloggers with their salacious headlines followed by diatribes about how important it is to not lose yourself in your kids, to be yourself – always – regardless of the people around you, to “Treat yo self” and let everyone else be damned. Is this a healthier perspective? Will it create responsible, respectful individuals who will contribute positively to society? Because if that’s what we’re aiming for (and my multiple conversations with parents suggest it is), I’m not sure modeling the opposite behavior is such a good idea.
People, there is a happy medium between keeping your teenager on a 16-year-old umbilical cord and telling him exactly what you F*ing think of him. And guess what? You can have kids and still have a life outside of your kids. You’ve ALWAYS been able to do that. The only one who ever took that away from you is you. Needing time to yourself is a given, but the time to take it isn’t when you’re spending time with your kid. For the love of God, get a babysitter, go out on a date with your significant other, and cuss up a storm while you’re doing it! But when you’re with your kids, be with them. And don’t lie to yourself: They’re watching you and they’re learning from you, every word that comes out of your mouth and every action you take. Is the pressure on? Absolutely. But you signed up for this and you’ve got them for 18 years, so deal with it.
Parenting is not an either-or proposition. You can be both a parent and a lover. But you know enough to keep those roles separate, right? So why are we suddenly advocating for blurring those lines, for anything goes in front of your kids? Because anything does not go in front of your kids. There are parameters, there is such a thing as appropriateness, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where that wasn’t the case.
Arguably, one of the greatest skills you can hone to be successful in life is the ability to adjust your message and delivery depending on your audience. Think about it. Do you speak the same way to your grandmother as you do to your friends? Would you openly voice the same opinions to your minister as you would to your cocktail crowd? Even the most sincere among us adjust or adapt the way we present ourselves in various venues, around various people. It’s our way of showing respect for someone’s age, position, or personal beliefs. We don’t want to have contentious relationships, so we modify our language or message so we can get along with others. We’re not two-faced; we just know that in order to work and live effectively with other people, we have to be adaptable. It is truly a life skill. If you’ve been happily married for any length of time, ask yourself how many times you have checked yourself before speaking. Thank goodness the tongue heals quickly, for all the times you’ve probably bitten it.
So parents, the solution to overprotectiveness is not to stop protecting. The solution to Pollyanna parenting is not Pulp Fiction parenting. We don’t have to swing from tree to tree in the jungle of parenting philosophies. Sometimes a happy medium is the ultimate solution. Let’s do our future generations a favor and find it.