Thursday, November 1, 2007

How to Raise a Perfect Child

Helicopter parents? Us? Guilty as charged, I suppose. Or at least half-guilty. Raising our only child, my husband and I traded off the hovering duty, actually. First I would hover over her while he cautioned against it, and then we would swap.

It's annoying when you are following what you believe to be your own unique bent, and some lifestyle journalist comes along and identifies it as a generational trend and gives it a catchy name. I'm sure we baby boomers are more protective than our parents, but that's not necessarily bad. It sometimes seems to me that the post-war approach to parenting was laissez-faire to the point of negligence. I mean it's a miracle we're alive considering some of the things we got up to unsupervised.

What is going on here is a case of generational dialectic. One extreme begets its opposite. I was sure I was doing the right thing when I was being, as my father once cautioned, "too nice" to my daughter. We were visiting the zoo at the time and he got tired of watching me cater to any and all of her whims. I remember feeling indignant over his remark and I failed to consider that there might be a point beneath the provocation.

I still don't want to consider it. Parenting style is made up of hundreds of minute, seemingly insignificant choices every single day. It's hard to imagine that you might have made many of them differently -- might have said no to a second souvenir or soda; might have let your child take the tumble instead of preventing it. You do what you do and things turn out the way they turn out.

Following expert advice does not guarantee that you'll be free of second thoughts. My mother often spoke to me of her regret that she heeded the dictum of a briefly popular childrearing authority who believed that babies should be fed and cuddled on a strict schedule. It didn't matter if they were screaming their heads off and all you wanted to do was pick them up. It was important not to for the sake of their future characters.

Hearing this story, I promised myself to avoid any such regrets. When I became a parent, I would read the current advice books, but I would follow my own heart in child-raising matters. And that is what I did. Until the Zeitgeist shifted, and someone came up with a pejorative term for it.

We boomer parents are now charged with having been narcissistically over-involved with our kids, and having coddled them to the point of undermining their independence. On one level I understand that this is just another swing of the pendulum. On another, I worry that the description fits. In any case, by the time a child leaves for college, the job is done. The choices are adding up as they will. You do what you do, things turn out the way they turn out. You might just as well regret that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

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