Tag Archives: over parenting

Authenticity: Life Lessons from my 18 Year-Old

tiger mom

tiger momIt’s a bit of a cliché to say that we learn more from our children than we teach them. I remember a close friend of mine coming to stay with us when her son was about six. They happened to show up on my husband’s birthday. When her son realized this, he produced a dollar from his pocket and gave it to my husband as a gift. It was one of the most touching things I’d ever witnessed. She turned to me and said, “He does a thousand things like this, every day.”

My own son is now 18. Yesterday, he finished his A-Level exams, which are equivalent to your final exams in High School. In a couple of months, he will be heading off to college.

My son has not been the easiest child to parent and we have definitely had our run-ins. He’s still not nice to his sister. And when I ask him to take out the weekly recycling, you’d think that I’d ask him to fill out my annual tax return.

But one thing he has always been is true to himself. From an early age, he would develop an obsession with a given topic and immerse himself in it. As a toddler, it was cars. He was so consumed by automobiles that when he was two, my husband and I abandoned getting him books at the local library. Instead, we took to obtaining those free, used-car supplements they used to give away in newspapers so that he could stay up to date on the latest models from Honda, Chevrolet and Cadillac.

When he was eight, he insisted on dressing up as Tamerlane for Halloween. (You know, the Turkic-Mongol ruler from the 14th century? Not a household term? Wasn’t for  me either. Can’t you just go as Batman like all the other kids?) He also began reading the Game of Throne books long before these were age-appropriate. (Though I blame my husband for that. No, honey, they aren’t quite the same as The Lord of the Rings series. Sorry.)

A few years back, as it came time to think about college, I began – in true Tiger Mom fashion – to harangue him for not doing more extra-curricular activities. British Universities could care less if you’re on the debate team or volunteer at the local homeless shelter. But American Universities eat that sh$% up. And since I knew that he was going to at least contemplate studying in the U.S., I began to entreat him to start thinking more strategically about how we would position himself to an American college audience.

He largely ignored me. Sure, he did a bunch of activities at school. But he never once did anything that didn’t genuinely interest him. Even after all these years, his main hobby remains – wait for it – reading.

“Reading isn’t a hobby!” I would shriek periodically. “You can’t list it on your application! You need to have more leadership roles!” And no, I’m not suggesting you follow my parenting lead. (Although at least I didn’t bribe someone to say that my son rowed crew or that he needed extra time on the SATs.)

I ranted and raved. And he kept on doing his thing. Eventually. I accepted that my trying to control his path in life was really about me trying to manage my own fears and anxieties about myself. So I gave up.

Needless to say, the whole college thing worked out just fine. But he also taught me a valuable lesson in my own life. Round about time that he was applying for college, I was trying to launch my own business. There were plenty of moments along that journey where I was tempted to throw in the towel and just go get a job – any job – that I *could* do. Rather than creating the job for myself that I actually wanted.

Watching my son gave me the courage to take some risks. Which in my case mostly meant creating a career that reflected my whole self, rather than just one part of it.

Which is another way of saying that my son taught me the value of authenticity. He showed me that the best path forward is always to be true to yourself. 

So thanks, pal. I needed that.

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Image: Siberian Tiger Mom with Cub by Mathias Appel via Flickr

 

When Your Child Comes In Second Place

In that competitive, fast-paced, land of over-parenting that we all now inhabit, encouraging your child to come in first place is a no-brainer. But what about when your kid comes in second? How do children – and parents – deal with that?

I had reason to confront this question myself recently when my son told me that he was a finalist in an annual reading competition at his school. Every autumn, three children are selected from each year group to stand up before a roomful of parents and teachers and read a passage from their favorite books. My son won the competition last year with a selection from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Return of the King,” so he was already the defending champion. But what if he didn’t win this time?

It doesn’t help that my son goes to a school where — because they’re all boys and because they’re 9 — the kids rank each other on everything they do: who’s the best soccer player; who can recite his times tables fastest; who can play two instruments and at what level. One of his friends even phoned me up one day to announce that my son was his “third best friend, so could he please stay for dinner?” (Gosh! I wondered. What do the first and second best friends get? Dessert? A movie?)

My son chose a particularly challenging passage to read. It was a scene from Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” one that required him to produce both a credible American Southern accent as well as some 19th-century slang. (We live in London, so neither of these things is exactly familiar territory.)

As the date approached, we rehearsed the passage several times a week. As a veteran of many high-school theatrical productions (and the daughter of an actress), I coached him on pacing, intonation and accent. We re-read the passage over and over, homing in on the really tough bits of dialogue until he got them right. The night before the finals, I felt that he finally nailed it.

Read the rest of this post at the New York Times Motherlode blog

Image: What’s this I hear about over-parenting? by Kevin L. Moore via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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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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