Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and '80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second-hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. And, as I remember it, those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves.I remember similar things, as a child. Getting home from school and hopping on my bike, and riding wherever I wanted until dinner time. I remember dad setting me down at the farm with a .22 rifle, a box of shells, and telling me to have fun while he went and mowed the pasture. "Only kill it if you are planning to eat it," he'd say. I remember, as Katie does above, being dragged to adult parties and set loose in the backyard, told to stay out of the way unless called for.
Mark Oppenheimer agrees with Katie:
More to the point, I think these [overbearing] kinds of parents are striving to rule out eccentricity. Nobody, after all, is striving to engineer a lovable nerd, or a spacey dreamer, or an obsessive collector. But the world needs such people; in my life, I need such people. What is more, until we have a perfect science of happiness, which seems not to be coming any time soon, we have no right to assume that the Ivy-educated, well-rounded over-achiever is necessarily the happiest type; what if the chess geek is? Or the comix collector? In the meantime, over-controlling parents are just acting out their own best hunches, or, more likely, their own failed fantasies.Too right. Where would the world be without a lovable nerd like me?!
These articles run with what appears to me to be fair regularity. Someone writer gets irritated at a parent feeding their child organic applesauce or sees a parent put anti-bacterial goop on their kids' hands every five seconds or hears about a mom who is still breast-feeding her three-year-old and thinks "back in my day..." and writes an article like this. I suspect the backlash we see here is similar to the backlash we saw amongst men a few years ago.
All of a sudden, "metrosexual" was cool, and dressing like a pansy seemed to be very popular. Manly men rebelled, and wrote articles about dressing "retrosexual" i.e. whatever Connery wore in the 60's and drinking hard alcohol. Then you got Mad Men, which basically is a huge retrosexual diatribe against modern male femininity. I imagine parents, myself included, who do not like constantly watching their child will not embrace over-parenting. A hands-off approach seems good enough to me.
And frankly, I just don't have time to constantly stimulate my daughter. She's great. Really, she is. And I love spending time with her. But I have work. I have to cook dinner. I have to clean. And then I have the things I want to do, like finish that sous-vide cooker or those Steampunk goggles. And work out. And watch football. And maybe go fishing. I have proposals to write. My own future to plan. My dreams to accomplish. My friends to hang out with.
Yes, my daughter is a priority in my life, but hey, if once in a while I can get her to zone out to an episode of Little Einsteins while I get a little more "adult time" then I'll just take the rap as a modern "bad parent" and we'll see in a few years just how horribly 'ruined' she is. I have a feeling that her over-supervised, over-stimulated peers will not have outpaced her. So I drag her along to the river once in a while, and let her get filthy. She gets cuts on her knee. She almost falls in. So what? Sue me. When she's 20, and her appreciation for nature (having been immersed in it for her entire life) makes her a better conservationist with no fear of mud or ticks or murky water than her coddled, suburban peers...we'll see how awful it was for me to "risk her life" in order to get her a little counter-culture. Maybe I'll sign her up for Scouts soon. She's three now. About time to start learning to make a fire.