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Superior Good Parenting

Oh no, yet another culture is better than us at something!

The social media outlets are now blowing up with a WSJ article by Pamela Druckerman about how French parents are superior to their neurotic American counterparts.

… After a few more harrowing restaurant visits, I started noticing that the French families around us didn’t look like they were sharing our mealtime agony. Weirdly, they looked like they were on vacation. French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.

Shivers ran down my spine while reading this paragraph. See, none of this would have happened in the households in which D and I grew up because if you had by some stroke of ill luck lost the fear of God (our parents) and a sound thrashing, it would be reintroduced with a quickness. Act up at dinner? Too bad. You were turned away from the table and no, no plate saved for you in case you hungered later that night. In a house full of boys (D’s) or in which Indian and Arab food was prepared fresh everyday (mine), there were no leftovers. Should’ve pitched a fit after swallowing a few spoonfuls. Survival of the most strategic, baby. Act up at dinner outside the confines of home? Can you say “Dead Kid Walking?”

Be it due to low self-esteem, co-dependence issues or the need for unconditional love, Americans today, generally speaking, are way too indulgent of their children. Mine will not be raised that way. D says it’s all talk, I’m a big softie and will cater to their every whim. What he fails to realize is that authority is not my concern as much as being a good parent, and that is not being the kid’s friend or even the purveyor of morality but someone who makes him or her see that he or she is not the center of the universe. This is a very critical life lesson and lots more important than math, music, swimming, debate or religion. It breaks my heart to see my friends’ kids having kids or roped into being parents because their parents just could not and did not put their feet down to say and repeatedly, “Hey, I know life isn’t fair, but ruining yours and mine is not the way to deal with it” or “If you think suburbia is so boring, go downtown and volunteer or get a job.”

Back to French parents who

are raising happy, well-behaved children without all the anxiety.

Consistently-enforced parental discipline makes for well-behaved children but if you want your kids to be happy and have anxiety-free futures, you absolutely cannot beat the tar out of them, either. Occasional, warranted spanking is a-ok in my book, but whaling on your kid with the flyswatter, bottle of lotion or whatever is within reach is not. Such incoherence may stop the behavior but not the underlying cause and only builds resentment. (And all you white people who think spanking is corporal punishment or child abuse? You don’t know anything. Spanking! Ha! Haha!)

So, the trick is to stay cool but simultaneously firm. It’s a hard balancing act, especially with respect to this human being you created and provokes you like no other. It’s easy to indulge, relent or rage. And then I think of a certain sibling of mine and his family, in which the chill-but-rigorous approach to parenting has largely succeeded. It’s not impossible.

Another highly-effective child-rearing tool mentioned in the article is Alone Time. Except we didn’t have a term for it growing up because we were supposed to entertain ourselves for whole chunks of time while parents took care of, heaven forbid, themselves and their affairs. What ever happened to leaving or being thrown out of the house to go run around and get scraped up with the neighborhood kids? (And don’t tell me you can’t do it in the city or the America of today because I grew up among high-rise buildings in the sand-and-concrete desert of Kuwait.) Sitting in your room reading, doodling, thinking up stories and next adventures, rifling through your brother’s stuff or generally farting around the house? And, that’s just it, if you have to call it Alone Time and schedule it into your kids’ calendars along with similarly vacuous, antiseptic activities on the order of Play Dates, Tumbling Time, Mommy & Me or whatever the hell have you, you’ve discovered the root of the problem with modern American parenting. Leave the poor kid alone to build an imagination and independence. Give yourself a break, too, while you’re at it. Parenting is probably the most important responsibility one will ever have, but that doesn’t have to mean subsuming your whole identity in the Creature That Came From Uterus.

Or The Powerful Posse Of Playground Power Parents, for that matter. *shudder*

When I think of a general philosophy for any future kid, this is what comes to mind: I love you with all of my heart and will never harm your trust in me, but cross me and I will put you back whence you came. I joke and laugh with you and let a lot of things slide, but not the important things because I am not here to win a popularity contest. You will always be physically and mentally safe here, but there are things you need to hear and others you will have to figure out on your own. Everyone screws up, including parental unit over here, but please don’t do it in a bad way because your life is supposed to be better than mine, not a repetition or justification of my own mistakes. And I truly hope you become the best possible you, but even if you don’t, that’s ok. As long as you’re a good, self-reliant person and not moving into my basement in a few years. Because, sweet jesus, I want to retire in peace.

Didn’t mean to get all Kahlil Gibran on you, but if humans are not willing to think about at least some of these things ahead of time, we have no business reproducing. This is why I often think that the best parents are the ones that don’t have children.

4 comments… add one

  • brimful February 8, 2012, 8:46 PM

    I don’t mean to go all auntie on you, but this post makes me want to auntie you to death about having kids, because we need more little tots running around with parents like YOU! :)

  • brimful February 8, 2012, 8:54 PM

    Okay- all kidding aside, there is an actual observation I want to add. When I went to Europe, and when around a friend who is from Eastern Europe, I saw a key distinction with how parents interact with their children vs how I see parents interact here. Children are being increasingly raised with the sense that they are the center of the universe. That is not a joke in any way. Parents go so overboard to make sure their kids have all of the best, and that their needs supersede everyone else’s. It’s not just discipline- it’s this mentality. I think you and I were probably both raised in a household where it was evident early on that you were part of a family, not the star/lead. I get that you should want your children to have more than you may have had, but it’s taken to extremes now.

    If you think about it, babies are the most purely selfish beings on earth, and why shouldn’t they be? But then it falls to a parent to teach a child that they are NOT the alpha in every situation. I get the sense that this lesson is starting to get lost.

    • Maitri February 8, 2012, 9:20 PM

      Aaah, Brimmy, stop reading my mind. You’re absolutely right. What I wanted to add after stating that teaching kids they are not center of the universe is a critical life lesson is, “Kids are the most self-centered little turds on the planet. But this is their biological imperative, a survival mechanism. That a number of these kids turn into petulant, self-absorbed adults means they never grew up and that may be a sign of bad parenting.”

  • Michael February 14, 2012, 12:17 AM

    Thanks for the heads-up on this article and the personal anecdotes. I can relate to all of them. To your advice I would add just this. As a parent, don’t be duplicitous. Children of any age can spot a liar (even if it is just about sneaking a piece of chocolate), and will learn sooner than you think, to mimic that behavior as well. Second, there is no such thing as “quality time”. It is all about being around in huge blocks of time until a certain age: modeling, challenging, protecting, teaching, disciplining. I also believe that parents need to “pray” their fears. It is when we are afraid for our children that we make our biggest mistakes in caring for them: we say and do stupid, and often very harmful things. When we have peace without fear we are better able to understand the myriad situations and provide the nurture they need.

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