The Pointless Pursuit of Perfect Parenting

Today, Lisa Belkin tackles the concept of over-parenting at Motherlode.  She cites a paper to be published later this year in The U.C. Davis Law Review by Gaia Bernstein and Zvi Triger that gently mocks Intensive Parenting (as they call it), needling at mothers for using the Internet as a parenting resource (ahem) and suggesting that over-parenting is creating a generation of co-dependent, clingy kids.

Belkin doesn’t flat-out condemn over-parenting, but she admits that modern parents often have trouble letting go of our kids.  She writes, “I think the point of parenting is to guide children toward independence. The goal, starkly put, is for them to stop needing you.”  As for how to reach that goal?  “The road from here to there is different from child to child and parent to parent,” she says.

Wait, you mean there are no answers?  There is no sure-fire method by which to raise The Perfect Child?  Then what are we all doing on the Internet?

People don’t read parenting blogs to be told, “There is no one way to get there.”  People read parenting blogs because they want to know how to parent well – they want to be told what to do when – they want to take the guesswork out of parenting.   Here at Strollerderby, we’ve written about “ghetto parenting,” authoritative parenting and idle parenting.  We’ve talked about helicopter parents and the unhappy parents in Jennifer Senior’s New York magazine cover story.  And now you’re telling us, despite all this talk, parenting is some unknowable path, an undefined journey, a murky sea of goop that we all just have to muddle through the best way we instinctively know how? 

That’s a bit of honesty I’m not sure the Internet is ready to swallow.  After all, part of the fun of modern parenting is getting to be smug about how we choose to do it, right?

Belkin is not smug about the ways in which she has tried too hard with her children, afraid to let them fall and get hurt.  She wishes she had let go more.  I understand the sentiment, and I try to give my daughter a safe space to fail, to fall, to be unafraid.  Yet she clings to me in the pool and doesn’t trust herself on the jungle gym.  I constantly encourage her in those situations, reminding her, “You can do it!”  But is this over-parenting, too?  Am I too present, even as I learn to let go?

Belkin says we find parenting success in “fighting back against the new norms, and the guilt, and the nerves, and somehow raising an independent adult.”  But it seems, part of the “new norm” of parenting is that nothing is right.  Everything is extreme.  No one is perfect.  If you’re not a helicopter parent, you’re neglectful.  If you let your kids go “free-range,” you’re shirking your responsibility.  If you parent intensively, you are ruining your kids.  There is just no way to win here.  So maybe we should stop trying to. 

What if parenting was no longer a race?  No longer a competition to see who could do it the best, buy the most, be the happiest?  What if parenting was less about Parenting and more about raising kids?  I think that’s what Bernstein and Triger are trying to get at.  And that’s probably what all the over-parents are trying to get at, too.  They’ve maybe just gotten sidetracked by all the noise.

One of the most touching quotes I’ve ever read about the prospect of raising children is this: “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”  So hold on, and let go.  Help them dig in and let them reach.  Hold on, and let go.  Parenting is that simple, and that complex.

Photo: Weird Beard via Flickr

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