Tag Archives: helicopter parenting

Tips For Adulthood: Make New Year’s Resolutions (And Keep Them!)

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, it’s that time of year again. The New Year rolls around and my inbox/RSS Feed/Facebook page is inundated with the resolutions of friends and strangers far and near: Lose five pounds! Run a marathon! Write that #$%@ novel!

I’m a big fan of making resolutions. (As those of us blessed with an overly health super-ego tend to be.) Not just because they impose self-discipline for things like leading a healthier lifestyle. But also because – if you choose your goals wisely – they can genuinely make you happier.

And apparently, I’m not alone. Research shows that 40-45% of adults make one or more resolutions each year.

The trick, of course, is following through. One study in the U.K. showed that as many as 78% of those who set resolutions for themselves in the New Year failed to stick with them.

Bummer.

I personally think that one way that you keep your resolutions alive is by saying them out loud. Because I firmly believe that if you tell other people what you’re shooting for, you’re more likely to commit to a goal.

(I’ve tested this strategy out. After announcing on this blog couple of years back that I was going to take Saturdays off for “me time,” people still chide me if they discover me lurking on Facebook or Twitter when I’m supposed to be resting. I love that they do this!)

In that spirit, I’m going to share my own resolutions for this year:

1. Get a job. Yup, that’s still top of the list. While my She The People gig at the Washington Post is fantastic, it’s just that: a gig. So I am still out there pounding the pavement: networking, sending in applications and combing job listings. I do, however, have a brand new (top secret!) strategy for my job hunt, which I’ll reveal when (God willing) the time comes. So that, at least, feels like a new wrinkle on an old-ish goal.

2. Be more romantic. While we were in Argentina, I couldn’t help but notice how affectionate, physically, Latins are with one another. It’s been so long since I lived in Latin America that I’d completely forgotten that aspect of life down there. The importance of things like hugging for marital success has long been documented. Seeing this on action in Argentina reminded me that even when you’ve been with your partner for awhile, you really need to fight the instinct to take him or her for granted. Which is why I’ve resolved to do more things one-on-one with my husband in the New Year, including the odd romantic getaway, when/as/if we can afford one. (See #1). I don’t know about you, but I want to die like this couple.

3. Ease up on my kids. Yeah, I know. I’ve said that one before too. I tend to be a bit of a control freak where my kids are concerned. Part of this is situational: I work at home so I have ample opportunity to “hover.” And part of it is just my make-up. But one of my close friends took me aside during our trip to Argentina and suggested – in the friendliest, I’ve-been-there sort of way – that I ease up a bit, particularly with my son. If I loosen the reins just a bit where he’s concerned, she convinced me – based on her own experience – that I’ll not only be doing him a favor (vis independence, less need to act out later on, etc. etc.) but myself as well. (It’s hard work trying to control other people’s lives!) She wasn’t the first person to suggest this; but somehow, coming from a close friend who herself has a tendency to helicopter parent, I actually listened. So far, so good on that one. (More to follow on this, rest assured.)

4. Eat less meat. You may wonder, after I waxed rhapsodic about the joys of eating Barbeque last week, how I could possibly now suggest that I would renounce eating meat? I’m not actually resolved to stop eating meat altogether. (Although part of me wishes that I could.) But yes, I’d like to move in the direction of becoming a Flexitarian – i.e. eating less meat without becoming a vegetarian – a new trend that’s gaining currency in the U.S. (Hey man, we all need a group!) I just think that I’d be happier and healthier consuming less flesh. (And perhaps if I substitute the word “flesh” for “meat” on a regular basis, I will become a vegetarian!)

5. Discover the United Kingdom. We’ve traveled a fair bit since moving to London five and a half years ago. But the vast majority of that travel has been outside the country. I’d like to change that. I feel like I really don’t know my adopted country nearly as well as I should and that there’s no time like the present to alter that. First stop? Wales. Because once you hear someone pronounce the name of the world’s longest railroad station, you, too, will think: I gotta meet those Welsh folks.

What are you resolved to do in 2012?

 Image: hugging by lanier67 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

New (School) Year’s Resolution: Do Less For Your Kids

Well, I’m back from my ten-day vacation in the U.S., where – despite landing about 18 hours before Hurricane Irene kicked in – we managed to have a mostly bright and sunny family holiday filled with lots of swimming and relaxation.

Re-entry? Not so relaxing.

Within the first 24 hours of landing (on a red-eye), we viewed two flats for potential purchase, got caught in a torrential downpour which soaked all four pairs of Wellies (boots) worn in our family and began the migraine-inducing, spread-sheet requiring coordination nightmare that is planning the after-school activity calendar.

I’ve written before about how best to manage re-entry after a vacation and sadly, I did not really take my own advice this time around. (Addendum to this list: do not write checks when you have only slept for 1.5 hours.)

But I did one thing right, which was to resolve to tackle one “big” thing on my endless To-Do list: having my kids take more responsibility for themselves.

I’d been thinking about this before I went away and – per an earlier post on life skills for ten-year-olds – had already begun to put them in charge of things like cutting their own food and tying their own shoes. (Yeah, I know…pathetic. But better late than never.) They are also both required to do a chore: my son is in charge of the recycling and my daughter sets the table every night.

But as summer wore on, I realized how very much I do for both of them  – things like laying out my son’s school uniform in the morning and clearing all of the dirty plates from the table – the very sorts of things that no one did for me when I was ten years old.

While in the States, I also spent some time with my brothers’ six (!) kids and noticed how all of them – even the 6 and 8 year 0ld – do a lot for themselves.

And then, upon my return, I happened to read this fabulous post on the New York Times Motherlode blog entitled A Traveling Parent’s List. In it, legal scholar Lisa McElroy shares the lengthy and detailed To-Do list she left for her husband when departing on a recent two-week business trip. It includes things ranging from asking him to buy their daughter a sparkly (but not crop-topped) leotard  to telling him how to prepare home-made tomato sauce to requesting that he obtain more food for their pet frog.

I’m sure that this post was written tongue-in-cheek. But even if McElroy is making fun of her own control-freak tendencies, I’m guessing that there’s more than a hint of truth in there.

Lord knows she’s not alone. I just pulled up a document from my own computer, plucked from a week-long trip I took a few years back. On it, in addition to the sorts of normal things you might remind a spouse to do – like giving my son his asthma medicine and being sure that the kids bathe every so often (!) – there were also things like (original formatting included):

 

–please open Isaac’s book bag and take out any relevant slips/sheets etc, and save the weekly newsletter for me when I return; also clear out sandwiches/snacks/water etc as he wont have school for 10 days

remember to wash Isaac with Green soap and for allie use 3 capfuls of white Oilatum stuff in the water

–after they’re done, coat her body with white lotion (and hydrocortisone as necessary)

REMEMBER TO LOOK IN HIS LUNCH BOX FOR HALF EATEN SANDWICH-SAVE FOR TOMORROW AND DITTO FOR FRUIT LEATHER ETC;

 

When I look at this list now, I cringe. And I know – in a way I perhaps didn’t realize even a few years back – that as with so many things involving our kids, this list is so much more about me than it is about them. My children don’t really need me to micro-manage their lives. They are both, in fact, quite independent. And my husband is more than capable of making sure that they get to school on time and eat their sandwiches.

Rather, *I* need to micro-manage their lives because it helps me to feel…in control. I’m not proud of that. But it’s true.

But that needs to change. Among other things, I’m hoping to go back to work full time (more on that later) so I will – per force – have to let go. My kids are also demanding more independence for themselves. My ten-year old wants to walk to school on his own. And if he does that, he’ll need a cell phone. (Both ideas terrify me.)

So, it’s time to cut some chords. As of about a month ago, they are both now in charge of making their own breakfasts. And last night I insisted that both of them clear their dirty plates from the table. I also let my son figure out when his violin lesson is happening this week, rather than looking into it for him.

These are small steps, I realize. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Nor is adulthood.

 

Image: 324/365 Lists by Vinnie123 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Avoid Over-Parenting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, so much for the end of over-parenting.

After a year’s hiatus from that dreaded term – “helicopter parenting” – now you can’t pick up a magazine or go Online without being bombarded by more stories about over-involved parents. They’re monitoring what their kids eat…how they do their homework…even who their friends are.

And what’s worse, over-parenting, we now learn,  isn’t just bad for the kids. It also makes adults unhappy. They set too high a standard for themselves and end up disappointed. They’re not just exhausted, but lonely.

As someone who’s prone to worry about, well, everything, I’m also naturally prone to over-parenting. And yet, I also know that this isn’t the person I want to be.

Here are five ways to help yourself curb the over-parenting impulse:

1. Find somewhere else to put your energy. I think that one of the reasons that people over-parent is that they don’t have any other place to put that energy. This is a criticism often levied at SAHM’s, who are criticized, rightly or wrongly, for making parenting a career. But I know plenty of working parents for whom it’s equally true. They come home from the office and channel all the adrenaline that goes into supervising staff and hitting deadlines into over-monitoring their kids. The trick – whether you work inside or outside of the home – is to have a hobby or some other activity that can sap up some of that extra energy. It might be volunteering at a local homeless shelter. Or joining the PTA. Or becoming a board member at a local charity. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that you’ve got a focus outside your kids.

2. Consult an expert. This may sound counter-intuitive, since one part of over-parenting – in America, at least – is to over-pathologize every single aspect of your children’s behavior in an endless struggle to perfect their shortcomings. Having said that, sometimes seeing an expert can also correct that tendency to do so. I recently took my daughter to see a speech therapist to re-evaluate her lisp. During the course of the evaluation it became painfully obvious that a. my daughter’s lisp is slight b. she herself has no problem with it and c. the therapist didn’t think it warranted any further therapy. Without coming out and saying so (the speech therapist was, after all, English), she basically let me know that this was really my problem, not my daughter’s. And that by insisting that my daughter’s speech could be clearer, I was actually making things worse. Lesson learned. Mouth zipped. Next?

3. Take The Long View. I’ve posted before about how all of my conflicts with my husband can be reduced to one single dimension: I go too fast, he goes too slow. But there’s a corollary to this dynamic which is actually quite useful for confronting over-parenting within…OK, one of us. Which is that precisely because I often gallop through life at breakneck speed, I’m often very focused on the short run. And so with any “flaw” that I detect in my children – i.e., they’re not reading enough, they’re reading too much, they’re not social enough, they’re too social, etc. – I tend to magnify its short-run effects. My husband is really good at reminding me that what matters is the long run. If my son is being silly and goofing off in class, my husband will ask me if I really think that he’ll go through life like that? And when he frames it that way, I realize that I don’t. It puts whatever behavior is troubling me at present in perspective and I can take a huge, much-needed breath.

4. Recognize that there’s only so much you can do. As an acknowledged control freak, I’m often loathe to throw up my hands and accept that I’m not God. I always think that if I just put in a bit more effort in dotting every i and crossing every t, I really can fix everything around me. Which is, of course, conducive to terrible parenting. Wherever you stand on the whole nature vs. nurture debate, one of the most startling – and relieving – aspects of being a parent is that you wake up one day and realize that your kids aren’t you. They have their own interests, their own personalities, their own rhythms. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that. (Thank Goodness!)

5. Move to Europe. One of the most insightful things I’ve read on this whole helicopter parenting debate was on the Motherlode blog at the New York Times. It was a comment by a reader from Europe who opined that perhaps the reason American parents are so over-anxious about their children is that they have too many choices and there is too much variance within those choices. In Europe, the commenter argued – and largely because of different public policies – child care, education and even toys tend to be much more homogeneous. And because there are fewer choices and those that exist are of similar quality, parents obsess less over getting “the very best.” This may be a bit of a stereotype, but I suspect that it contains a grain of truth. So if you’re really throwing up your hands right now and just don’t know what to do, remember: You’ll always have Paris.

*****

For those who are interested, I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign finance scandal.

Image: With Mom by MJIphotos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Why Best Friends Are Bad For Girls

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Best friends are bad for you.

So says an article published in the New York Times last week. Titled “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding,” it describes a new trend among some educators and child psychologists who are actively discouraging children from having best friends. The concern is that forming exclusive one-on-one friendships in childhood encourages cliques and bullying. Some camps have even gone so far as to set up “friendship coaches” to help campers become friends with everyone else.

The reaction to this article has been both fast and furious. Last I checked there were some 387 comments on the post, most of them negative. “God, spare us the over-anxious theorists and control freaks,” wrote one commenter. Others noted the “Orwellian” nature of the anti-Best Friend movement, decrying the “pathological adult over-thinking” that lies behind it and denouncing it as yet another version of the “Nanny State.” It is an idea “beyond stupidity,” wrote someone else.

Well, call me a stupid, Orwellian, pathologically over-thinking adult (it’s OK, I’ve been called worse), but I found myself nodding in agreement while I read this article. So let me go out on a limb and tell you why I think the New York Times story has it right: Best friends aren’t great for kids. Especially for girls.

Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Best friends dec 1999…and forever by Irina Souiki via flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Over-Parenting: We're All Getting It Wrong

There’s been lots of chatter this week in response to Lisa Belkin’s Sunday Times article announcing the end of “over-parenting.”

Her basic point is that after more than a decade of fetishizing, second-guessing and micro-managing our parenting, we seem to have hit a new phase marked by slow parenting, bad parenting and free-range parenting. Even the once sacrosanct area of breastfeeding is now open to question.

And at least some people are cheering this news.

For some, like Salon’s Amy Benfer, the so-called helicopter parenting trend fostered competition between kids of affluent parents while ignoring the basic needs of the rest.

For others, like Free Range Blogger Lenore Skenazy, over-parenting  infantalized adults while at the same time rendering them nervous wrecks.

I know that at least one friend of mine will be jumping up and down with joy. This mother of three recently wrote me a note saying that while she objects to book burning in principle, she’d make an exception for What To Expect When You’re Expecting…in fact she’d host the barbecue in her own back yard.

I myself will own up to having read the odd parenting manual over the past eight and a half years. I’ve also indulged in the occasional bad parent essay.

But the single best piece of parenting advice I ever got came from my first pediatrician. I went into his office one day stressing out for the 695th time about something I was sure I was doing wrong with my (then) newborn son.  He looked me in the eye and said, “Of course you’re doing it wrong! We all are. We just won’t know it for another 50 years.”

I liked this advice so much that I asked my husband if, God forbid, something horrible should ever befall him, he’d be OK with me marrying this guy. He said yes. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of telling this to the good Doctor, who wisely responded: “OK, but we better not tell my wife.”

*****

Love the Life section at Salon.com. I’m a regular.

Image: Mommy Sandwich – Week 2 my kids and me by Photogra Tree via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Helicopter Parenting: Is it OK for my daughter to marry a girl?

I’ve been thinking a lot about helicopter parenting lately.

It started when a friend of mine with two school age children ages 8 and 11 told me that she’s begun letting them walk home alone without the babysitter. My first reaction was to suppress a gasp. Mind you, when my brother and I were roughly their ages we regularly walked to and from school on our own and our house was at least ten minutes further away from school than theirs is. There was even a period when my mother went back to school and we had to come home and – gasp – make our own lunch! (The thought of this now with my own kids, ages 8 and 5, makes me tumble over with laughter…) But I still had trouble believing that this friend would let her kids do this at such a tender age.

Then a close friend of mine, whom my husband and I both agree is a model where parenting is concerned, confessed that he and his wife may encourage their 17 year-old son to attend the state university in their home town next year when he goes to college. They’d like to help him navigate course selection and the like.

Again, I suppressed a gasp, but this time for the opposite reason: Really? Isn’t finding your own way what college is all about?

But then I read this post on the Motherlode blog. Turns out experts are actually divided on how much independence you wish to foster in children and at what age. (If you haven’t already, it’s also well worth spending some time over at Free Range Kids, a blog devoted to the idea that we smother our children with our over-protectiveness.)

As someone who still struggles with the appropriate degree of independence/dependence in my own life, I must confess that I’m not sure where I fall on this one. On the one hand, I hate the idea of my kids ever getting hurt because of some stupid lack of oversight on my part. On the other hand, I feel like I practically raised myself as a child, and that independence has proved invaluable to me as an adult, giving me the confidence to take chances and experiment in life.

But maybe it’s a moot point. Maybe kids figure out for themselves how soon they’ll make their own choices, and whether and when we decide as parents to cut the proverbial chord isn’t really the deciding factor. See below….

***
I thought I’d share a recent conversation with my five year-old daughter, who sprung the following on me at roughly 6:58 a.m. this morning:

DAUGHTER: I’ve decided that I’m going to marry another lady when I grow up and she can have my children.
ME (still half asleep): Ok, honey. Why do you want to marry a lady?
DAUGHTER: Because having babies hurts.
ME (Unable to articulate a sufficiently sound counter-argument): Good point.

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