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Be Careful About the Things You Do

Giving nutritionally balanced snacks to Little Leaguers (who engage in actual exercise for about ten minutes). Creating elaborately themed birthday parties for children who would be happy with a whoopee cushion and a pizza. Dressing a little girl as a miniature Mae West. What do these, and many more slightly wacky things, have in common?

When asked, the majority of adults will explain this behavior (or variations of the above) with the following: “There’s such pressure.” Such pressure from their child? Visions of a pigtailed girl a la The Bad Seed dance in my head. There she is in the middle of Gap Kids/Gymboree/Children’s Place, her $200 doll held aloft prepared to swing: “Buy me the fur shrug or the latte gets it.” I don’t think so. If so, someone call Willy Wonka and have him rustle up some oompa loompas. I think what these parents in fact mean is that there is perceived peer pressure. That’s right; peer pressure. That plausible excuse for the pack of cigarettes your parents found in their car, the explanation for shoplifting that forty-five (a small disc that emits prerecorded sound when placed on a turntable), and a plausible excuse for kissing that boy in the basement. But peer pressure in adults? How does that work? How does one even keep a straight face? I suspect that it is not peer pressure so much as it is herd mentality. Semantics perhaps, but defined as “group think,” it makes just a bit more sense.

Very few of us, no matter how many times we’ve done it, feel like professional parents. Every child, every developmental stage—in fact every day—presents new challenges. Yes, there are some whose very nature is laid-back. They feel confident that their child is well fed, healthy, happy, and curious. They don’t grasp at enrichment programs as if they were life preservers or buy every latest geegaw and gizmo. Their confidence might be innate or might be a reflection of their diverse portfolio. Perhaps all their identity eggs are not in the parenthood basket. They might have a paid job or not. They might be married or not. The diversification is more internal than that.

But these are not the parents hiring aerialists and face painters. They are not the ones baking for the school/church/scouts/karate class/soccer club every week. The parents staying up to create bespoke goody bags for their six year old’s birthday party are hearing different voices in their head. They want desperately to get it right, and like the creature in the strange land (that all parents really are), they take every cue and piece of advice to heart. A cycle is created of external reinforcement. Where the trouble might lie (if you consider hovering parenting and spoiled children trouble) is a sense of unease. Look around. How much of the media noise is about “stressed moms,” “mommy wars,” or far worse, “the hidden drinking life of moms.” How long do you think it will be before we have a psychological condition known as “stressed mother?”

Feeling exhausted and strained is nothing new. Mother’s little helper, anyone? But the angst which comes from losing one’s internal compass is. What would happen if we tried something new, yet very old, for thirty days? For thirty days, let’s not visit any parenting websites, chat rooms, or magazines. Let’s only talk to our friends and acquaintances about what’s going on in our own lives, not our child’s. Let’s plan weekly dates with our partners (and hire babysitters). If something comes up in those thirty days which really warrants guidance, call a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent. Look to the elders—the survivors if you will—for guidance, reinforcement, and comfort. For thirty days, do not look to the others floundering in the sea of parenthood for help.

Let me know how it goes.

Children Will Listen–Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim (1986)

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