I really enjoyed this article/book review from the New Yorker (thank you Kara!). The discussion of the perils of overparenting resonates with me. I am so opposed to doing this that sometimes I think I overcorrect, to Grace and Whit’s detriment. I especially like the reality check at the end of the article, where the author’s call to arms is calibrated against the much more real urgency (in my view) of one in six children in America growing up below the poverty line.
I love this line: “It may be that robbing children of a positive sense of the future is the worst form of violence that parents can do to them.” Many of my instincts about parenting strive from the deep desire to raise children who are hopeful and not afraid of the world (to me these two things are inextricably linked). This is precisely why the allergy diagnosis in Whit bothered me so much (well this and my tremendous guilt that my lackluster nursing performance visited this onerous responsibility on him): to carry an epipen, to read labels, to know you are one bite away from a 911 call and the ER is to live in a world that seems scary. Anybody who knows my aversion to vacuuming (I do not own a vacuum cleaner and never have) will know that the hygiene hypothesis is not at work in my son’s case. My Lord that child ate more dirt and boogers (he often, to this day, tells me how yummy his boogers are) than most – and somehow he’s still allergic.
Feeling safe is something I crave profoundly, so I am not surprised that this desire to help my children feel at ease and not at risk is a priority for me. It is the reason I put Grace on that airplane by herself (the parenting decision that has caused me the most insecurity, bar none). Of course if she had not wanted to go I would never have done that. I think one can only support and promote qualities and inclinations that are already there; I think pushing a child to do something that he or she is uncomfortable with is by far the wost offense.
As I drove this morning I thought more granularly about my parenting, about where I am strict and where I am lax. I believe in the notion of a few, firm rules. This is my current thinking:
Things I am strict (rigid, inflexible, Nazi-like … pick your adjective) about:
– manners (please, thank you, look adults in the eye)
– treating all other people with respect
– not behaving in a spoiled or entitled way
– safety (hold hands crossing the street, in parking lots, etc)
Things I am loosey-goosey (cavalier?) about:
– food (you want string cheese for dinner? breakfast as bag of Kix in the car? fine)
– baths (routinely skipped bc I am lazy)
– cold (you want to take your gloves off? fine by me)
– being away from G&W for work travel (more than fine, awesome by me)
– germs (share toothbrushes? cool. bring 4 week old into the MGH ICU? sure.)