Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bringing up Bebe (with a shotgun)

Two big parenting stories have hit national headlines in the last two weeks. One, “Why French Parents are Superior” was published in the Wall Street Journal. Author Pamela Druckerman extolled the parenting virtues of the French, that avoiding tantrums, saying ‘no’ with authority, and teaching children patience was what was needed to set American parents back on the track.

On the other side of the spectrum, Tommy Jordan took some shotgun justice to his daughter’s laptop after she made a “disrepectful post” on Facebook. Jordan posted the video to YouTube and by the next morning, some 21 million people have viewed it.

As you can imagine, views on each story are mixed. Many Americans don’t even like hearing the French are better at something than us, while others wish that France would come occupy the US. Similarly, manyparents think that Jordan’s daughter got a dose of the right medicine, while others screamed child abuse.

But no matter where on the spectrum the response fell, all conversation seemed to revolve around a common topic: are Americans parenting their children correctly?

It’s not a new topic. There are literally hundreds of parenting methods out there. All have been scrutinized, and many parents subscribe to any number of them. But are “methods” really anything of the sort? Aren’t methods, really, just a result of social environment? The “French” method at best is nothing more than a reflection of its society. It’s not as if the French hand out a parenting book to all new parents and say, “this is how you will parent your child.”

Similarly, “American Parenting” is nothing more than a reflection of its society. America, on the whole, is more eclectic, and frankly, less top-down than French society. France is an old society. And while maybe less formally now than previous, it still has an oligarchical structure. Personal mystery is cherished. And silence seems to be more appreciated.

On the other hand, there seems to be a sentiment, even among Americans, that American parents are too permissive with their children, not stern enough, and raising children who “don’t respect”. Perhaps this, then, helps shed some light on the 73% of Americans who (albeit unscientifically) agreed with Jordan’s method of taking a shotgun to his daughter’s laptop. Jordan said, “If I did something embarrassing to my parents in public (such as a grocery store) I got my tail tore up right there in front of God and everyone, right there in the store. I put the reprisal in exactly the same medium she did, in the exact same manner.” Parents overwhelmingly agreed with him, saying it’s time that “someone stood up to these spoiled kids.” Many others were critical of our society’s tendency to involve ourselves too much in our childrens’ lives and therefore offer them too much leniency without corresponding discipline.

And perhaps that’s true. I work in higher ed. “Helicopter parent” is an extreme I deal with on a regular basis. But there are–at the same time–children who get ignored by their parents, who lack any basic parenting. And perhaps the best answer is the simplest, that there’s some middle ground there. Maybe, just maybe there’s a method of getting through to children of the post-millennials that’s more than being completely permissive and taking a shotgun to a laptop–without necessarily becoming French.

One of the quickest things I learned about parenting was that parenting guides are just that, guides. I’ve yet to meet a newborn that knows how to conform to a manual. Parenting is combination of understanding things that contribute to a healthy upbringing and adjusting them to fit the needs of your child.

And as much as it may be hard to realize, our children are being raised in a different society than we likely were. Complaining about your parents used to be something you did to your friends over the phone or in person. If Terry Jordan caught his daughter being disrespectful in 1995, he still could have taken the phone out back and fired buckshot into it. But it’s unlikely he could have had 20 million people watch him do it by the next morning. And perhaps it is there where reality exists: that parents and children often have to learn to navigate society together. Maybe we’re not raising “spoiled brats”, but simply children that have access to things that we didn’t. We parents like to think that our children have it easy. That they didn’t have to worry about this or that, and the world they live in makes it so easy for them. But couldn’t it also be overwhelming? For a teenager, Facebook serves as a way to connect more easily to others, to broadcast their lives in ways we weren’t able to do. But when they do something like every teenager does–complain about their parents–their parents ultimately find out about it, too.

Maybe the happy medium, then, is an understanding that our children–and therefore our parenting–are products of society. A progressing society. And one that might be best served with children and parent as partners. I was raised in a family where I got to steer my own ship. But my parents were the captain and navigator. They helped me keep it between the buoys. And the result was a self-dependence supported by parents who would never let me run ashore.

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Does Valentine’s Day change after becoming a parent?

It’s commercialized, expensive, and time-consuming, dictated by tradition. Parenting, that is.

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How much should a man do?

Household and parenting roles have changed drastically in just a few generations.

“Stay-at-home dad” and “working mother” are more common than ever. But nevertheless, there seems to be a great quandary over who does what and how much should they do?

Being a man, I don’t even want to presume to know anything about the female experience, so I’ll stay far away. But husbands and dads are in a constant flux over what and how much. In the past year, I’ve read dozens of blogs and articles (mostly female writers) talking about the fatherhood experience. One particularly troubling article was “My husband, the perfect mom” that was published on CNN.com in early January (it has since been taken down). The article detailed the jealousy of a mother over her husband’s relationship with their children. Not know the writer’s specific intentions, the article came across that Dad was simply doing too much.

Other articles have been opposite, saying that Dad isn’t doing enough to help in parenting and household obligations. Frankly, what’s a dad to do?

One thing is for sure, no matter what the expectations are outside the home, the demands inside the home haven’t changed. Children still need parenting. Food must still be prepared. Chores must still be done. Logically, if there is now an expectation for women to hold jobs outside the home, so it is the expectation that men do more inside the home. My wife shouldn’t be expected to work an 8 hour shift, and then come and handle all the household obligations.

Parenting, though, is still different. Household chores don’t provide emotional attachment. When I put away dishes, it’s not because I love the dishes, it’s simply that the dishes have to be put away. I helped dirty them, I can help put them away.

Being a dad, my commitment to my son is–quite plainly–biological. There’s a human connection there that whatever he needs, I’ll do. Not because it’s an obligation (though it certainly is), but because I’m his parent and I love him.

So when a dad is criticized for helping too much in something so purely wired, so evolutionary, it hurts. Dads shouldn’t be encouraged to do more, it’s hopefully already there. But we certainly shouldn’t be encouraged to do less.

But the ball is in our court. The expectation of fathers should be to go above and beyond was has been ‘traditionally required’ of us. A dad doing simply what he is wired to do shouldn’t be so much an outlier than an article is required of it, it should just be the norm.

Why it’s good to have the funny kid

A sense of humor is good. Sure, there’s the obvious reasons, like keeping you from taking things too seriously, the ability to bring laughter to others, and ‘a good sense of humor’ is usually top-3 in every woman’s “lists of things I desire in a man” (which is especially important, because otherwise, I’d likely not be married).

But is a sense of humor important in the development of your kids?
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How the Kindle Fire is a great ‘toy’, and how we all need to learn childhood is changing.

We all talk about the good ol’ days. For my generation, it involved gaming systems, our parents remember the significant expansion of the television, and our grandparents, I don’t know, played with paper dolls and pushed wooden hoops down a dirt road with a stick, something like that.

Anyways, as much as we may lament ‘the kids these days’, we have the tendency to forget that children are products of the world in which they live.

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