La La How The Life Goes On

Mama Magnifique

Posted on: February 27, 2012

Based on the breathless excitement in national newspapers and on the intertubes, I think we need to talk about French Parenting. And Tiger Parenting.And Helicopter Parenting. And Attachment Parenting. And Connected Parenting. And Insert Your Flavor Here Parenting.

Those of us of a certain age are left to wonder how our parents raised us without the benefit of such insight. It’s amazing that any children have turned out happy and well-adjusted over the past many millennia without all of these prescriptive theories, isn’t it?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not Sarah Palin railing against book larnin and those who engage in it. I have been helped by various elements of various approaches, from Spock to Ferber to Seuss, and some have been pivotal in our parenting experience. I believe in getting help and inspiration wherever you can find it, because raising decent humans ain’t easy. But I do not believe in swallowing some method whole, like a deranged disciple, and calling it parenting.

My issues with these Parenting Methods of The Month are fourfold:
1.  You’re Doing It Wrong.

If you don’t breast feed until the age of 5, forbid the use of nightlights, eat flaxseed, or potty train with stickers and prizes, you’re doing it wrong. Obviously there are several criminal or neglectful ways to be a shitty parent by anyone’s standard. But let’s accept that there are many, many ways to Do It Right, even if you wouldn’t be caught dead doing them.

2.  One Size Fits All.

I was pretty certain I was an awesome, insightful child whisperer….until Baby Sister came along. I thought I knew all about how to raise a kid. Which I did. But I only knew how to raise THAT kid, not this new one. Baby Sister is a completely different human with a different personality, different motivations, different everything.  So every attempt I made to parent her just like I had Bambina (if you earn five stickers you get a prize! Wheee!) was met with evil villain-style laughter (your stickers are quite inconsequential and I shall punish your insolence!Release the hounds! Mwuahahaha!) Baby Sister has not one shit to give about stickers, charts, rewards, or any other motivational gold star stuff that Bambina lives for. Baby Sister cares only about the negatives. If you don’t stop kicking, you will go to your room. If you keep bugging your sister you will see no TV. Bambina wants to Achieve Greatness Through Reward and Approbation. Baby Sister wants to Amass Power Through Avoiding Punishment. I could offer her 12 hours of uninterrupted Team Umizoomi for good behavior and she’d turn my ass down cold. Not interested. Preschooler ennui with my offerings. But if I say NO Umizoomi till Friday, well then good stuff starts to happen. Every day I have to pivot between the girls, examining my assumptions, trying to not be lazy (like having only one approach) in order to do the right individual thing for each.

3.  It’s All About Me

Have you noticed that the common denominator for most of these anointed approaches is that they are all about the parent? Which begs the question: are we drawn to particular theories and methods because they are the best for our kids or because they comport with how we already like to do things? Do you believe that a child’s room must be dark with the door closed at bedtime because there is some inherent value in that for your child–or because that is what you like? If our main goal, our desired outcome is a happy, fulfilled, well – adjusted decent human being who contributes to society, then we have to ask ourselves how or if our rules and choices are furthering that goal.  And if that is our goal, then we must also admit that these methods are long on theory and very short on evidence. If French Parenting really is superior to American or Ghanaian Parenting, then why is France not a beacon to our troubled world? Why do we not have French law and French compassion and French hospitality as an international standard? What proves that the French are superior? Nothing, is what. And, as much as we love Tiger Moms, we need to recognize that we don’t live in China, which is an entirely different culture from the word Go. Our job as parents is to prepare our kids to live in the world. Not in China. And again, where is the evidence that Chinese kids are happier and more well-adjusted than American kids? There is none, because they are not. It’s time to recognize that none of us really knows what the hell we are doing, and maybe that is okay.

4.  Rich People Problems.

Finally, my primary concern with the trumpeting of each new parenting method du jour: these are upper middle class problems. My parents were not helicopter parents. You know why? Because they had to WORK. And not, “I’m taking Tuesday off for my child’s science fair” work. The “We Are Sending Aunt Mary To See Your Honor Society Induction Because We Can’t Get Time Off” work.  Times card punch in/punch out work. My Dad–and many like him–would have enjoyed helicopter or tiger or whatever parenting, but they had to put food on the table. Many parents would love to oversee Stalinist violin lessons if only they could afford a violin, lessons,and two hours a night to practice. So let’s be honest about what we are really discussing here: not parenting methods in general, but parenting methods for people with means…even in France.

So whats my point? Get advice from any source you please and then do what works for your particular kid (notice I did not say “what works for you.”)

Then go ahead and do that thing without apology if it’s meeting the goal of raising a happy, healthy good kid.

Then please shut up. Or, more politely, recognize that I might not do that and I don’t need to apologize either.

However you do it, I wish you bonne chance, mes amis.


2 Responses to "Mama Magnifique"

Bon conseil, Maman

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