With school back in full swing, I’d like to take this opportunity to send an open thank you to all of the parenting advice experts who, through the internet, TV, books, and magazines, tirelessly keep me informed about how inadequate my parenting skills are. One article that particularly stands out was in the New York Times. That hallowed publication wouldn’t steer me wrong, would it? A clinical psychologist wrote that she noticed an increase in the number of lost and confused 20-somethings coming into her office. Normally she can find a despot parent as the cause of the problem. But these clients consider their parents to be friends and wonderful people. Luckily the author pointed out that in her opinion, it’s because these parents have been so nice that their kids are screwed up. Phew, I really dodged a bullet there. I had just gotten to the point in my 16 years of parenting that I thought maybe I wasn’t screwing my son up. After years of worrying and doing my best to follow all of your excellent advice, I had just begun to think that maybe my son would be OK. He has some good friends, is respectful, is an A student and got a perfect score in math and science on the Massachusetts standardized tests. But I have been rightly corrected and now understand my hubris. He is going to be lost and messed up, and it’s best that I not pretend I did a decent job.
When I first read the article, I did have a passing and erroneous thought that regardless of parenting styles, many 20-somethings are dazed and confused. Director Richard Linklater has made an entire career out of it. And wasn’t there some confusion among those young people from the 60s and 70s? But then I realized parents didn’t know any better back then, while today’s parents have a steady stream of advice. I just wish I were smart enough to understand why experts on older children tell me I haven’t allowed my child to fail enough and learn independence, while the experts on younger children create great lists of things I should be doing to prevent all kinds of physical and mental mishaps at home and at school.
There are a lot of lists and a lot of rules. Helmets, and knee and elbow pads for just being outside in general. Gates in the stairways and having the right kind of crib with the right-spaced slates, and making sure the food I fed him wasn’t too full of solids, sugars, fillers, dyes, or McDonald’s Happy Meal toys–oh wait we shouldn’t even be at McDonald’s.
I never did get around to putting those things on the cabinet doors to prevent them from opening. And even though the articles I read were very clear, I did not ask the mom at my son’s first play date if she had guns in the house. I should have, I know, even though Massachusetts isn’t really a pro-gun kind of place. Unlocked up guns are very dangerous, as are a host of other things I was supposed to check. But it was a really long list, and I was very busy following the advice of another article that said I needed to interact with my child most of the time to ensure his brains and body were properly stimulated. I take full responsibility that I couldn’t do it all. How my son is still alive is both a mystery and a miracle.
The school years bring more lists from both the schools and the articles, which all clearly state that I am to be involved in my child’s education and encourage sports and activities. Homework started in kindergarten, and I’m so very grateful for that. Since no kindergartener can do homework by himself, it helped me get involved from day one, whether I wanted to or not. As the years wore on, I confess there were nights when I was tired from earning a living, and the thought of helping with math homework, reading or reviewing schoolwork, assisting in science and history fair projects, or just having a family game night to reduce screen time made me want to sit in my car outside my house and drink. I know you experts wouldn’t steer me wrong, and my impulse to drink when I’m completely overwhelmed and stressed out proves how much I need expert advice to keep me on the right path.
I thought when my child got older, I might be able to let him do more things on his own, but the school’s requirements for my participation increased, and the child experts concurred. In fact the school often sends home your articles to help me understand. Like helpful reminders that families who eat and exercise together stay healthier. I was also encouraged to attend more things at school like “math night” and “game night” and the always popular “middle-of-the-day-inconvenient-for-working-parents assembly.” It is my own fault that I couldn’t quite figure out how to attend all these events, make a good meal, get the family to exercise, and help with homework all between 6:30 and 8:30. Many of your expert articles warned me about letting my son stay up later than 8:30—it may lead him to drugs or a bad career choice or just being sleepy. I’m not sure—I screw up so much, I get a lot of the consequences of my terrible parenting confused.
When I’m avoiding some parental duty, I sometimes think back to my own childhood. My parents didn’t do most of these things with me, and in fact they forgot my name a lot of the time because I was the fourth kid, and you can see how well that turned out; I can’t properly execute the expert advice you all so untiringly give me. It’s certainly not because the advice you give is contradictory and more based on trends than common sense. And it certainly isn’t a reflection of our society—its increased fear of nearly everything, the tendency to prevent every mishap and avoid every lawsuit, the obsession with perfection and preoccupation with blame. No, that’s just the wine and gas fumes talking. Because if it were true, we’d have to accept that each generation of parents does the best it can with the tools at hand, and that having too many tools can be just as difficult as not having enough. We’d have to accept that what each generation teaches the next is often a reflection of what society agrees is desirable in its future citizens. We’d have to accept that we are not perfect. Now THAT’S crazy. As experts, you must continue to put the blame on my child’s shortcomings squarely on me. I do thank you all for trying your best; some of us are beyond help.
Read the real story behind the funny fake and spot-on science project poster.