I am in Minnesota this week. We are supposedly here for the national Suzuki conference. My son had to audition. He had to learn a ton of music that I screamed at him to practice. And now, after all that, he is sick in bed with a fever.
Which means I’m seeing lots of commercials aimed at moms. Here’s one I’ve seen at least five times today: Sylvan Learning. It’s aimed at rich people: moms in kitchens the size of my whole downstairs.
These moms are pitching the idea of rampant learning loss during the summer. They cite murky statistics. Of course, any statistics related to learning loss during the summer apply only to poor kids. This is well documented. Like, in a cover article of Time magazine.
So Sylvan Learning implies that these rich white kids are going to have summer learning loss, but really they won’t. Rich kids are privileged in this way. The real motivation behind rich people signing their kids up for Sylvan Learning is revealed at the end of the commercial. The movie-star good-looks mom says, “And I get some time to myself!”
The real reason rich moms put their kids in Sylvan Learning is so they can have guilt-free time away from the kids. The moms know, deep down, that the kids would be fine at home all summer. But the moms don’t want them at home all day.
Sylvan Learning is competing with day camp: both offering a way to get the kids out of the house so the mom can have a break. But Sylvan Learning isn’t fun, so they have to tell the moms that they actually would be IRRESPONSIBLE to let the kids do fun stuff all summer.
I think what really bothers me is that Sylvan Learning is smart to market this way. Parents do want time away from their kids. But if you send your kid to school, you have been programmed by society to talk about how much you love being with your kids and you don’t want to miss any quality time with them. Which means that you feel guilt sending your kids away for anything that is not EDUCATIONAL. Making the child care educational resolves the guilt.
A better way to be a parent is to say, “I like being with my kids but I don’t need to be with them all the time. I can hire a babysitter.” You can’t say that, though, if you are sending your kids to school. Because they are already at a babysitter eight hours a day, nine months a year.
In her book, All Joy and No Fun, Jennifer Senior does a great job of showing how we can both love our kids more than anything in the world and also feel like we are going to die if we don’t get time away. It’s normal to feel both those things. The question is, what is okay to act on?
I ask myself this question while I listen to the TV. My son is too sick to complain when I turn the sound down low, and he’s too tired to ask to get out of bed. So I get a whole day where I can read and write and do whatever I want. Now and then I ask him if he needs this or that so I can think I’m a great caretaker, but I wonder if I’m any better than the Sylvan Learning mom because I’m giddy from what I gain when my son is sick in bed.