There’s an article in the New York Times about the relentlessness of modern parenting. Americans love hearing about how hard parenting is because we all know it’s over the top. This article had some good statistics, though. For example, mothers today who work outside the home spend as much time parenting as stay-at-home mothers in the 1950s did.
What strikes me about the article, though, is that we all believe parenting should not be so exhausting. Yet we constantly celebrate the fruits of relentless parenting. Americans love reading about super-successful kids. But behind each of those kids is a relentless parent, doing way more than a typical parent could do to clear a path for success:
Science contest winners who all have parents who are scientists doing the experiments right alongside the their kid.
The 13-year-old op-ed writer who had her mom’s organization to help her craft the message and write to proper format for the New York Times.
The 9-year old basketball star whose dad not only coached her but spent years convincing boys-only basketball clinics to let his daughter sign up.
The 8-year-old nonprofit founder who had parents who could not only do all the paperwork but also provide the seed funding.
This is the relentless parenting that we would like to wave a wand to make disappear. But it’s also the relentless parents we celebrate. Each of these kids’ profiles is sort of a Cinderella story for the new millennium: the parent is the fairy god mother making sure that the young, nondescript child turns out to be something really special.
And I think the real relentlessness is the worry, the personal conflict parents feel over how much is enough parenting and how we will judge ourselves when the kids are all grown up.
My own parenting has been a mix of being very hands off at the beginning, and increasingly helicopter-y as the kids got older. My boys are teens now, and the pictures I most love looking at are the ones where the boys are in their own world, doing whatever they please. And I think I should probably cherish that unstructured downtime more now, instead of worrying I’m not doing more to help my kids do more.