I've been reading a lot of articles lately about today's generation of parents and how we indulge our children too much, give them too many choices and too much control.
Many of these articles have awesome click bait headlines like "Are We the Worst Generation of Parents Ever?" and the like. And despite the sensationalist nature of the headlines, many of them also make a whole lot of sense and speak a crap load of truth.
I found myself nodding in agreement with many of the statements. And also feeling guilty of the failures I was clearly making as a parent. Like trying to hard to make sure my kids like me...
I've had the "can parents be friends with their kids?" conversation with many of my friends. And the conversations usually end with us all in agreement that we can't really be both friend and parent...but also that many of us are still trying really hard to make the impossible happen. What is lost in that quest is our level of authority as a parent. Our very important role as the rule setter, the boss, the one in charge...has been lost.
Russell Peters touched on this phenomenon in his latest Netflix stand up special "Notorious". Granted he was referring to "white parents" in the show but I've seen it cross over all ethnicities.
The joke was - and I'm totally paraphrasing here - about a mother asking her 5 year old son what he wants for dinner. She didn't give him any restrictions or parameters - "when you know what you want you tell me sweetie. I love you. kiss kiss kiss." Basically handing the kid all the control.
Peters jokes that the kid could have asked for a shoe for dinner and she would have said okay - that's how accommodating white parents are. While in his childhood experience he ate what dad wanted for dinner - every night, no exceptions, eat it or else. So which approach is the right one? Or are they both just a little bit extreme.
At our house there is only ever one dinner prepared and everyone eats it. No kids meals and adult meals - its all for one and one for all. Sounds like I've set good parameters right? Good ground rules?
Doesn't mean I don't still negotiate with my kids through the meal. Doesn't mean I haven't said - many a time - "just eat 5 more bites." or "okay, one more carrot and you're done."
And that certainly doesn't mean that my kids never get dessert unless they have finished every last lick of food on their plate. Often they win the dinner battles and I know I have exposed weakness. I know they have worn me down at the end of a busy work day. That they saw their opportunity and pounced.
Pick your battles right? But does picking our battles and letting our kids win sometimes really earned us the title of the "worst generation of parents EVER?"
My girls play soccer and they have one other creative class - acting for one and art for the other. 3 nights a week each for lessons. Am I over programming them? Or encouraging them to try new things - both athletic and creative?
I was happy when my oldest daughter said she wanted to get more serious about soccer and join a select team next year meaning more practices and more effort on all our parts. Am I putting too much pressure on her to succeed? Or supporting her desire to excel in her chosen activity.
I'm not ready to let my almost 10 year old walk the 4 minutes on super quiet side streets from school to our house on her own even though at her age I walked 15 minutes down a major street to get home. Does that mean I'm too overprotective? Or just cautious?
My kids have chores that they are supposed to do regularly. They don't get allowance for doing them...and they don't always do them regularly. Am I being too easy on them by not making them do them every day?
I honestly don't know sometimes. Because there are days where I would give anything to not have any damn classes at all. And then other times where I watch my kids perform at acting or on the soccer field and I swell with pride at what they are able to do. So determined and successful at such a young age.
I pretty much had no programming in my childhood. I think I must have taken a few swimming lessons and I also remember going to Brownies but that's about it. And I don't think I turned out that bad.
Often I look at my girls and am struck by how well rounded they actually are. How when they play they still use their imagination - hell...they still have an imagination. And they are able to write stories and create art and play games and laugh. And then I see them at soccer practice working on new skills and trying them out. Focused and determined.
Parenting is a crap shoot. We do our best, we make our choices and we choose our battles. And all with the goal of raising our kids right and preparing them for the world.
The thing that puts a kink in that plan is the world we are preparing them for is not the same one we experienced when we left high school. And in knowing that we as parents find ourselves forced to change the game plan on the fly. To adjust our strategy and our trajectory.
And we do so with the hope that we manage to stay just enough on target for both their sakes and ours.
Are we the worst generation of parents ever? Maybe. But I suspect that many of the follies that have earned us the label of "worst" have come from a place of love for our children, concern about doing what's right by them and also - a shit load of articles that make us think we're doing this parenting thing all wrong.
Ultimately the only judge that matters is your own kid.
Ask them if you suck at being their parent. But be prepared for the answer. Because if there is one thing you can count on your kids for...it's brutal honesty.