Addressing an envelope and placing a stamp on it or looking up a word in the dictionary may be old-school at this point, but this is a problem:
Second-graders who can’t tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who’ve never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.
Are they a product of our society’s current weirdness- a handicap of helicopter parents, non-existent or barely existing boundaries? Just general over protection? Or is it a case of technology taking over menial tasks? Or both?
We’re looking at kids who can’t use a can opener, get ice out of the tray, who don’t have any chores around the house (and aren’t expected to). We’re creating/molding kids that aren’t able to do anything for themselves-dependent and passive:
Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter “literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else.”
It’s true we don’t have to ‘tend the farm’ much anymore, and those sort of skill sets are a bit outdated, but you can still learn to use the can opener, even if it is electronic. Although, that might be deemed ‘too dangerous’ for kids these days. After all, kids aren’t allowed to use butter knives in some schools because it could be a potential weapon. (Remember that episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution where the school kids were using spoons and their hands to eat? Yeahhh.)
Set boundaries! Give your kids chores! Say no if you have to! Tell them to put down the phone/game/etc., go outside and learn stuff. Or clean up their room. Or the dishes.
(For the record, my kid can use a can opener, uses a real-deal butter knife and fork to eat-gasp! the danger!-and she’s starting to get chores. We’re starting small, though, since she’s 6)
Today’s topic of discussion comes courtesy of Lenore Skenazy, who’s recent book Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry came to my attention this morning. Ms. Skenazy feels that the constant 24-hour barrage of news on cable television has turned this generation of parents into helicopter moms and dads afraid to let their kids go alone to the corner store. Skenazy first got attention on this subject last year when she wrote a column about letting her 9-year-old son ride home alone on the New York City subway. This was apparently a travesty akin to chaining her kid to a radiator while she went on vacation to Mexico, and a shit storm ensued with some dubbing her the “worst mother in America.” She even got the attention of Penn & Teller:
So what do you think? Should we let our kids be kids and roam about the neighborhood like most of us probably did when we were young, or is it our job in this day and age to try and protect them 24/7/365?
I am not a Super-Mommy. I’m not ashamed of it, either. I don’t want to be a Super-Mommy. Heck, I don’t even like Super-Mommies. I’d say I’m an Imperfect Parent, however, that might be implied since I’m writing here. But, I venture further, I dare to say I’m NOT an Imperfect Parent. Ha! There, I said it! You might ask, if I’m not an Imperfect Parent then does that make me a Perfect Parent? Thanks for asking, and yes, it does. Now, hold on a second before running off to call the Slap-The-Bitch hotline on me, let me explain myself. I’m not perfect, but I am a Perfect Parent, and my unique and individual imperfections are what make me so. Not getting it? I’ll try to clarify and maybe in a bit, you’ll boldly declare that you too, are in fact, a Perfect Parent–not despite–but because of your imperfections.
Let’s get the nonsense out of the way at the start. I don’t beat my kids, I don’t neglect them. I don’t lock them in a closet and feed them dog food on paper plates slid under the doors. None of those things are “imperfections” anyway. They’re criminal behaviors. Punishable sins against our dependents. So, now we’ve cleared that up, we don’t need to go down that route again. Imperfect does not go anywhere near abuse. Mmm’K?
Now, on to the so-called imperfections. Helicopter parenting is so popular around here, it’s hard for a mom to keep herself on the ground and not feel like a loser. Kids in my neck of the woods are like conjoined twins—one grubby little kid attached to a full grown woman, who does most of the work associated with being alive. Somehow, this has become our local ideal of what a mother should be. Her success as a parent is defined by how much she does FOR her kid. That’s not me. I’m there to help if my kids need me. I drive, I schedule, I pay. But, I’m not going to DO it. I check homework, I don’t walk though it problem by problem. My kids carry their own book bags and put their own coats, boots and gloves on. The Super-Mommies tut-tut me from underneath the mountain of their children’s belongings while I stand sipping a latte, but I don’t feel bad about it. See, in my world, doing everything for your kids teaches them nothing. They need to fail sometimes to learn how to succeed. The goal is to get your kids able to fend for themselves and move out to live functional lives away from you and provide you with grandchildren to coddle, not to make your kids dependent on you for everything for as long as you live. No grandchildren option in that second scenario.
It has also somehow come to pass that we all are supposed to have the patience and tolerance of the Mother Mary on valium. No yelling, no throwing tantrums or irrational reactions to whatever the little monsters or er, little darlings do. We’re all supposed to admonish bad behavior with carefully rehearsed child-psych approved vocabulary in a gentle sing-songy voice so as to not dent their delicate self-esteem. That’s not me either. I think that’s actually bad. See, I do throw fits when I’ve been pushed over the edge. I’ve been known to over-react when I’m pissed. I’m not ashamed of that either. I’m human. To the best of my knowledge, the world my children live in is inhabited by humans. I don’t see how being some saintly automaton would help them learn to navigate the nuances of human personalities, or how to smooth over an angry person when you’ve done wrong. I think it’s good for them to know that their mother is a human (that in itself is kind of important on so many levels) and secondly that humans react in a variety of ways when they’re shoved over their particular line in the sand. Could be mom yelling, could be a crazy fuck with an automatic weapon. Bottom line is, when people say STOP, they mean it. When my kids are adults and they screw up at work, their boss isn’t going to consult the guru du jour for sympathetic phrasing before letting loose on them. If the kid hasn’t experienced making anyone truly mad and suffering some uncomfortable consequence, how will he not crumple into a fit of tears when he’s yelled at by someone else? Part of building self-esteem is giving kids confidence to handle situations. You’re doing no favors if you don’t teach them how to deal with real people and turn yourself into some Stepford mannequin instead.
I’m not Mommy The Entertainer during all waking hours. I have things I need to do in order for the house to run efficiently. I have chores that need doing during the daytime. Heaven forbid, I know, that my children be forced to run errands with me when they’d rather be doing something else. It’s unthinkable that little kids might have to endure a tiny bit of monotony for the benefit of the rest of the family. I mean, Lord knows I just live for grocery shopping and doing laundry. It’s what I hoped I’d get to do all the time when I grew up. Bad me for not putting them in an environment where they can just play in a ball pit or watch TV while I do the grunt work. No, I drag them along. They learn compromise and negotiation though. You behave at the store and we’ll play a game afterwards. Works for everyone. I also expect that my kids will learn to work through boredom. I do play with them, but most definitely not all day long. They can, and do play by themselves, which is unheard of by my peers.
And finally, I’ve waged war on all things that call themselves educational. It’s the custom here to start at birth in preparing your kid for Yale. I guess before birth, really since there are those headphones you can put on your belly that are supposed to teach foreign languages and classical music. I don’t do flash cards with my toddler. No video games to sneak in learning the alphabet or pre-calculus. I like my kids to play with the cheap dumb toys, like blocks and dolls when they’re little. I guess it’s a wonder they ever learned to talk or write their names, since I held them back so badly, insisting they be children for a while. It drives the Super-Mommies nuts when you do this, try it, really. Super-Mommy slides over to you at the library (with her arms full of coats and snacks) and starts the small talk. You discover your daughters are about the same age (say around two and a half), and she asks if your daughter knows her letters, because, well, they’ve tried everything but her kid still gets half of them wrong and she’s thinking of hiring a tutor, or that Kumon program, do you know anything about that Kumon program? You look at her, and say, “Huh. I don’t know if she knows her letters or not! Hey, Liz, what’s that letter? Yeah, that red thing you’re using as a hammer, it’s a magnetic letter, honey, do you know which letter it is?” And your child responds correctly because she’s somehow learned letters through osmosis. Then you say, “Hmm, I guess she does know them.” Shrug and walk away.
No, I’m not perfect. I’m a human in charge of raising up smaller humans. My imperfections make me the perfect candidate for that job. My children come first and I lead my life in a way that I believe will make them well prepared for life without me. I aim to balance building up their confidence while giving them tastes of reality, to further build up their confidence. I’m not racing for some medal. There is no Best Super Mommy prize at the end. My reward will be when my children are self-sufficient adults, happy, productive and living in a clean house I can visit. So, if you’re like me, then shed that guilt. Embrace those imperfections and hang up that phone, I’m not the bitch you want slapped. I’m just a Perfect Parent, and you probably are too.
In response to the Columbine shootings in 1999 as well as the recent attack at Virginia Tech, two dads came up with an “interesting” solution to protect their own kids and are now marketing it to others — the bulletproof backpack:
“It was after seeing what happened in Columbine that we started thinking about this. I’m a parent and so is [co-owner] Joe [Curran] and we wanted a way of keeping kids safe at school and this is what we came up with,” said [Mike] Pelonzi, co-owner of MJ Safety Solutions which produces ‘My Child’s Pack’.
The backpacks, which will cost $175, have a super-lightweight bullet-proof plate sewn into the back which weighs no more than a bottle of water. Pelonzi said the material used is a secret.
The plate material meets National Institute of Justice safety standards, said Pelonzi, and during a three-year testing phase, stood up to bullets as well as machete, hatchet and Ka-bar knife attacks.
Good to know my kids will be safe from the all-to-often hatchet attack. Doesn’t this seem, I don’t know, a bit overboard? While school shootings are widely publicized when they happen, they are still a rare phenomenon. Why not send your kid to school with bear repellent, too, since they have as much chance of being attacked by a grizzly? What’s next, Abercrombie & Fitch full body armor? This takes helicopter parenting to a whole new level.
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