Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Death-grip parenting

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This week, adding to the detritus in our house, are two artworks done by the two and a half year old.

They are, supposedly, of a pirate ship, although with all due respect to my budding genius, they could just as well be anything.

I'm not one of those parents who declare my son a genius at everything he does. I do not laud his every scribble, or frame his every smear. However, possibly I am in the minority of parents of my ilk, because where my son goes to kindy there was an art exhibition and parents came from far and wide to celebrate their children's various works of brilliance.

I don't mean to sound grumpy about it. It was a lovely evening and nice to see what kids get up to while they're away from home. But I was definitely torn about what to do with the artwork from the exhibition. As lovely as it was.

I was heartened to see that I'm perhaps not the only one to think we've become a bit lavish with the praise of our offspring when I read an article in the New Yorker this week.

In it, Joan Acocella sifts through a raft of books currently making waves in the States - books about how over-parenting (otherwise known as hothouse parenting, helicopter parenting and even death-grip parenting) has turned a certain class of US kids (mainly middle to upper-middle class) into neurotic wimps.

In these books, a number of sacred cows of modern parenting are slaughtered. Many point out the strange pairing of overly permissive parenting and the (mainly parent led) pressure to achieve academically.

The tricks parents resort to to propel their children further up the academic ranks are interesting.

Aside from cheating and doing most of their kids'school assigments themselves, there are also the thousands of dollars in tutoring, hiring lawyers to argue with the school to allow their kids more time to sit tests, insane after school activities schedules, and "application boot camps" to get high school grads into college.

The authors of this new wave of books pull no punches about the "industry" that's grown up to fulfil parents' often insane demands.

They declare the baby DVD and video market (Baby Einsteins and the like) a "scam". They detest the "self esteem movement" that began in the 1970s, citing thousands of studies that found high self esteem in kids does not boost grades, career prospects, or even resistance to adult alcoholism.

One is particularly worried about producing a nation of wimps, while another expresses concern that the robotic children of over-parenting will make it, and turn the world into a "rude, heartless, and boring place".

Another worries that the new breed of men take longer to settle down and have children and so remain "boy-men" - playing video games, indulging in casual sexual hook-ups and the like - for far too long. They no longer have to look out for others like their forefathers did - their primary concern is for themselves.

As usual, it is women who get the blame for almost all the social ills. Feminism is blamed for the boy-men situation - the women's movement has eliminated the rewards for being "manly" according to the authors.

As for over-parenting, working mothers cop quite a bit of flak, but it's actually women like me who shoulder the bulk of the blame; Career women who leave their careers to raise young children and become neurotic, over-controlling, over-protectors.

The types who structure all their days around their children, take them to every class on offer, and plan their lives to within an inch.

The type of mother who will pin every scribble on the fridge and show it off proudly to bored friends with a tear in her eye!

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