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How to Wake a Drowsy Bear

In this second of two articles, the author takes a stand against the craziness of the southwest Connecticut lifestyle.

 

Following , readers across southwest Connecticut commented, emailed and approached me on the street to share their views on the Time magazine cover and attachment parenting in general.

Most who commented and emailed agreed with my story and shared their thoughts and experiences. Others felt it was too judgmental and let me know in no uncertain terms. 

The central point, which is that attachment parenting reduces the role of the father and places unrealistic expectations on pressure-packed new mothers, got lost. One very insightful reader, BJ Forlenzo of Naugatuck, noted that using the term “help” to describe what fathers do is demeaning to dads. She wrote, “It gives the appearance that they are doing something ‘for’ you instead of ‘with’ you.”

Right on, and duly noted!

As we all know, life in southwest Connecticut has its plusses (great schools and wonderful family oriented communities) and its minuses (intense pressure and extraordinary materialism). And many parents (not just moms), anxious to see their children succeed and ready to do whatever it takes to ensure that success, extend themselves beyond what’s appropriate and – yes, I am attempting to persuade you because that’s what opinion columnists do – inadvertently put more pressure on themselves, their marriages and their kids.

We see it on the field and in the classroom and on stage. Parents don’t coach soccer anymore – we hire professionals to do it for us. Little Sally got a B in English and didn’t make it into honors math? Time to bring in the tutors!We hire college admissions consultants for Ivy League prep and attorneys when school administrators’ decisions don’t suit our desires and insist on special treatment for ourselves and our children.  

We hover over every decision, every homework assignment and every missed opportunity with the quiet admonishment I just want to make sure you’re trying your best.

And then we wonder why kids act spoiled one day and anxious the next.

The notion that children are a reflection of their parents has never been more fully realized than today. And while I believe that’s essentially correct – haven’t we taken our competitive parenting tactics a bit far?

I’ve heard parents stammer and offer explanations because their children were placed in grade-appropriate classes or because a child doesn’t eat, sleep and breathe soccer, as if it’s not ok to have interests that extend beyond our society’s traditional predictors of achievement. 

I bet you have, too.

When are we going to wake up and smell the coffee? Moms and Dads – but Moms especially – bear the emotional brunt of their children’s accomplishments (and failures). Why are we putting so much pressure on ourselves? Is it because – like the attachment parenting conundrum – we spent years educating ourselves and working up the corporate ladder only to have children and discover that we won’t be happy  unless we compete at that, too? And what about our kids, who may just want to sit around in their pajamas on Saturday morning and watch Spongebob instead of meet the new oboe teacher (because the old one wasn’t good enough)?

The problem is this: when we measure our success as parents by the grades our children earn or the number of goals they scored at lacrosse last Saturday we do ourselves a disservice. We have lost our perspective in our race to nowhere (have you seen the movie? You should). And yet, while most moms I speak with agree that we let our quest for achievement get in the way of common sense, none of us are getting off the treadmill. 

Well, we’re getting off right now. No more chasing – one sport per kid, per season. One extra activity if they so choose, and we will encourage creative pursuits. We will enforce limits on scheduled activities because kids need free time. We eat together every night no matter what, even if it’s at 8:30 because everybody got home late. No college advisory services – that’s what my husband and I are for. My kids may not have the fanciest resumes or the most elite backgrounds, but they will know love, hard work, respect, discipline and honesty.

And their accomplishments will be their own. 

Kendall L Owott May 24, 2012 at 02:44 PM
This is a much better column than last week's. Last week's was somewhat unfocused and seasoned with stray hand grenades of unrelated controversial subjects. Either the author or the editor deleted the rhetoric-free label. The author admitted to being guilty of persuasion, too. All good. There are two kid stressors in addition to what the author mentions. First, some kids will stress themselves and other students without outside coercion. Second, some teachers pressure kids to move up to advanced groups they may be teaching. It's not all parents.
Lisa Bigelow May 24, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Hi Kendall -- I laughed out loud when I read your comment because I wrote the "yes, I'm trying to persuade you..." because of your comments from last week. Opinion columnists persuade. Period. I do disagree with your second paragraph, though. It is a parent's job to tell a kid enough is enough. If your child loves pizza, do you let him eat the whole pie or do you let him have a slice or two? Parents should set limits. And if that means refusing to let you child take 5 AP courses because she's up until 2am every night studying and melting down at the dinner table, then so be it. So -- I don't really buy the notion of self-imposed stress. I also don't really buy that teachers "pressure" kids into taking advanced courses. My oldest is a rising junior at Weston HS. While his teachers may make recommendations, that is a far cry from pressure. We discuss his schedule together with my husband and the three of us determine together what choices are and are not appropriate. We also take his outside activities into account. Thanks for reading and keeping me honest! I look forward to your comments every week. -- Lisa B.
Kendall L Owott May 25, 2012 at 03:38 PM
You yourself can be pressured by other parents if they feel you are too strict. You obviously believe in self-motivation, so why do you think teens are immune? There are parents who want students to follow school guidelines for weekly study hours and set limits. NCHS at one time recommended 15-25 hours per week. If students put in the maximum time of and feel bad about the results, why do you think some students won’t pressure themselves in spite of what their parents want for them? It is a flaw in logical reasoning to deny a behavior outside your experience because you see something different in your world. Many teachers like classes where everybody grasps concepts quickly and the whole class moves at a rapid and interesting pace. If a slower student is struggling with upper level work, the teacher may recommend the struggling student drop down a level for the student’s good and also to relieve the need for extra teacher involvement outside of class. In place of the struggling student, the teacher may want to move someone up from a lower level class. So, in a parent-teacher meeting, the teacher may “motivate” or “recommend” that a lower-level student move up. If parents question why, the teacher may say, “There are parents calling me all the time about moving their child up, so why wouldn’t you want to offer your child this opportunity?” So the whole system of teacher-student-parent-administrator is filled with pressure.
Lisa Bigelow May 25, 2012 at 03:53 PM
I think you're missing my point and I'm not entirely sure what yours is -- teens DO feel stress. It's up to parents to say when enough is enough. They may be old enough to drive a car and do all sorts of grown up activities, but they still need limits and guidance from us. The parent is the stressor gatekeeper. Not the school. Not the child. Children may beg and administrators can suggest, but in the end, it's up to the parent to decide what is and is not appropriate.

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