Out of Control

Over the past few days I’ve read two items that have stopped me in my fleece slipper-clad tracks.

My good pal (and talented author of the food blog, Meals Quotidian) Nathan drew my attention last week to a snippet from Andrew Sullivan’s “Daily Dish” at The Atlantic, which, in turn, drew my attention to a piece in Slate by Katie Roiphe.

In her article “Modern Parenting,” Roiphe asks, “If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable?”  She launches her piece with an anecdote about a friend who shipped rubber flooring to a vacation villa in the south of France because she was concerned that her young daughter would fall and injure herself on the home’s stone floor during their stay there.  She goes on to explore what she calls “our generation’s common fantasy”: “that we can control and perfect our children’s environment.  And lurking somewhere behind this strange and hopeless desire to create a perfect environment lies the even stranger and more hopeless idea of creating the perfect child.”

She questions our culture’s obsessions with such phenomena as raising our babies’ IQs in utero and incessantly washing and sanitizing our kids’ hands as flying in the face of the “benign neglect” of the 70s and 80s, during which many of us were raised, and wonders whether our over-scheduling our children with everything from Suzuki violin at age three to all-star lacrosse at age 17 really helps them or us.  As family life becomes more and more “overweighted in the children’s direction,” Roiphe cautions that we may be setting our children up for disappointment when they learn that the world does not, in fact, revolve around them and their needs.

And here’s the part that really got me:

Built into this model of the perfectible child is, of course, an inevitable failure.  You can’t control everything, the universe offers up rogue moments that will make your child unhappy or sick or broken-hearted, there will be faithless friends and failed auditions and bad teachers.  The one true terrifying fact of bringing an innocent baby into the fallen world is that no matter how much rubber flooring you ship to the villa in the south of France, you can’t protect her from being hurt.

A few days later, as I was reading Judith Warner’s latest book, We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication, I was reminded of Roiphe’s idea of the doomed mission of protecting our kids from all possible harm.  In her book, Warner describes, among other things, the significant cultural stigma that parents of children with mental health issues must often overcome in deciding to seek treatment for their children.  Like Roiphe, she references what she calls “the core belief of the parenting culture that reigns in our time”: “[t]he idea that, through sheer force of will, you can control your child’s every experience, create a perfect environment, and guarantee him or her the right kind of life.”

Warner goes on to quote the mom of a seven-year-old boy with Asperger’s and a speech delay:

I was on the playground once when my son had not yet been diagnosed but was just in speech therapy…I saw these other parents pushing their children on the swings and having their very little girl recite the alphabet.  And I realized that they think, They did this.  Parents of normal children have this conceit that if your child has one of these labels, you screwed up and you’re just looking for an excuse.  A lot of random stuff happens and people don’t realize it.  You invest so much in your children and you sacrifice so much and you have to acknowledge that you don’t have control.

And there it is – spelled out in black and white by Katie Roiphe and Judith Warner and an anonymous mother in Washington, D.C.

The one thing I never realized I feared the most about being a parent:

Bad stuff will happen to my kids.  And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Do you agree with Roiphe and Warner that our generation of parents is dead set on creating and controlling a perfect environment for our kids?  How do you deal with the inevitable fact that our kids will eventually be sick or hurt or sad?

P.S. After writing this post yesterday, I read a piece by The Empress reflecting on a similar idea.  Please check out her post at Good Day, Regular People.

Image: Hapis Cocuklari by Kuzeytac via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

54 responses to “Out of Control

  1. I do agree that our culture has become increasingly obsessed with creating perfect children. In part, I think this is an outgrowth of a parenthood as career/company model I’ve witnessed around me. So many mothers I know (I am mostly around mothers, but I know fathers are complicit as well) schedule and plot and plan for their kids and families like they are running small corporations. And, I guess, in some obscure way they are. But there are “rogue moments” that will befall us and our children and I think we should all be aware of this, that things will absolutely go wrong and not as planned.

    I am not sure what the solution is though. It seems reasonable that we all do what we can (within reason – and I do not see the international shipping of rubber flooring as reason) to protect and promote our children. It is one thing to be aware of the reality that everything will not be perfect and another thing entirely to throw up our hands when raising our little ones.

    Fantastic post. I look forward to the conversation that will no doubt unfold here.

    • Hi, Aidan – Your point here about parenthood as a career/company model made me wonder if there’s any connection between this tendency to try to perfect our kids’ lives and environments and the increased opportunities now available to women. So you’ve got all these women – like me – who were raised to believe that any career was open to them. And then some – like me – put their careers on hold to stay at home with their kids. And they (we?) try to manage and micromanage the corporation of their (our?) families. (Like you, I’m mostly around moms; I don’t mean to let dads totally off the hook.) I suppose this is dime store psychology, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t at least something to that theory.

  2. This is my favorite type of blog post for you to write, though I would get bored even with this if it were daily fare, so keep up the wonderful variety. I love it when you ask these BIG parenting questions. In my humble opinion, it’s what you do best.

    My children have gotten hurt. Many times. Occasionally even at my hands, as I try to perfect their world. Once I tried to massage my son’s baseball experience. In retrospect, I think I tired the patience of the coach (um, that’s putting it lightly) and my son was barely used and never really seen. His baseball career fizzled and a wild passion for it died.

    I learned a great lesson there, however. Maybe I should try living my own life. Maybe I was wrapped up in my son because I lacked a bit of courage in my daily tasks. I tried pouring more energy into me and let him alone. It will come as no surprise to anyone that he now excells at basketball. I bite my tongue when it’s tempting to chat with the coach, and think of all the things in my life I could tend to instead.

    By perfecting my children’s life I send a message that they are not capable of doing it for themselves. And, really, I think that stems from an escape hatch I’m longing to find from my own life. I’m scared to REALLY live it.

    But I can try again each day, falling short of perfect. In this, maybe I am showing my children the way to live with bliss.

    • Wow, Rebecca, I think you’re really onto something here and I think that it’s brave and honest for you to write what you did. I’m thinking about your words in the context of my own life and I think I’m guilty of it too: when I’m feeling particularly disconnected from my own pursuits and passions, I find myself aggressively organizing my house or overthinking my older son’s relationships with his friends (or mine with their moms). I suppose this is another example of parents needing to put on our own “oxygen masks” first; I’ve said it before here and I’ll say it again: if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

      And thanks for what you said about my writing this sort of post. It’s probably my favorite kind to write, so I’m glad it’s your favorite to read.


  3. I agree entirely that our culture is oriented that way, but I disagree equally adamantly with that philosophy. As I’ve written and said many times, I think we over-weight our own influence on our kids, which creates both unfair pressure and too much credit. This has made me feel quite out of step with the culture at large, as you describe it, and that dissonance is really getting to me. I’m grateful for your thoughtful descriptions here and am off to go read Roiphe’s piece now (have read Judith’s book).
    Thank you!!

    • As I contemplate a balance that will work for my family as my boys get older, I often think of you and Katrina and others who have chosen a sort-of road not taken: limiting the number of activities, not accepting every single invitation.

      And now I’ll think often of this statement in particular: “I think we over-weight our own influence on our kids, which creates both unfair pressure and too much credit.” What a true – and scary – concept.

  4. I agree, the bulk of our culture is indeed attempting to refine their kids into perfection.

    But it is a total waste of time. Kids have inherent abilities, inborn flaws and serious personalities. Trying to turn them into your idea of perfection causes heartburn and burn out.

    If you let them be themselves, however, good things just happen.

  5. I agree that it is happening… but I think there’s an equal number of people who parent on the flip side of that philosophy – it’s just not really written about the fundamental belief of letting kids be kids (thank you to the Katrina Kennnison’s out there who do write and inspire about such things!) I think we live in a society where numbers mean so much, and you can wrap your head around test scores, and number of activities, where it’s harder to quantify how well our kids are just being kids for the competitive parents out there…

    And it is terrifying to think that our children will get hurt, or something will go wrong in their lives. But I completely agree that if nothing bad ever happens to our children, they will be terrors! The kids who are never told no (in whatever way you say “no” – we don’t use the word as often as the meaning… if that makes sense…) have a much harder time rolling with the punches and adapting to life.

    I don’t know where I was going with that one… eeek…. too early 😉 but very good post, lady.

    • I think you make a terrific point here, Corinne, about the need so many of us have to quantify or make numerical sense out of something as chaotic as parenting. I am such a Type A person and I get great comfort from the certainty of numbers. But you’re right: there’s no measuring stick (other than maybe Mary Poppins’s) to measure things like “adept at being kid-like.”

  6. I do agree that our culture is oriented that way. Parents schedule and over schedule school and after school activities that are goal oriented. I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t believe in pressuring children but I do believe in guiding them. I do believe in allowing them to be children with all the wonders of being a child. My older son excelled in his studies without a push. Growing up we spent hours reading together because we loved to. I believe that reading opened doors to many things. I think that parents feel the pressure because they want their children to be the best. The competition seems fierce. I’ve had parents come up to me and ask me how I got my son to succeed,I answered that he did it himself. That’s when he says”my mom always read to me ” He gives me credit but most of the credit goes to him for his hard work. I only planted the seed-the love to read!

  7. We are this culture. And the very fact that the this moment in our collective view of ourselves (a culture of inability to tolerate anything less than the best fueled by underlying anxiety, inferiority and fear of being left behind) is taking shape in multiple snapshots may well mean that the pendulum has reached its zenith on the individualistic side.

    Odd how that the group holds positions we bemoan, yet we meet so few individuals who truly embody such an obtuse position (even the over-schedulers are mostly harried trying-to-keep-up, give it our best parents who will readily admit insecurity in a trusting one-on-one conversation).

    Since we all love our kids, all want the best for them (and hopefully for each other’s kids), we too are part of a group that is clearly making its way back to some middle position. …And will our kids will grow up to bemoan classrooms without walls, grades, competition?

    Or will they look back at our real world and find it quaint now that they live entirely virtual lives (where no one gets hurt without getting right back up, like in a video game)?

    Thanks for being here Kristen, and sanely asking the questions we truly care about.

    • I do wonder, sometimes, where these seemingly obtuse, over-the-top parents are. I don’t really know any of them (although I did back when I was teaching at two different New England prep schools – but even there not as many as one might think). I worry that there are more of them out there, perhaps vastly overrepresented in wealthier areas, and that, with the wealth, comes the power to disproportionately influence the zeitgeist. But along with that worry is my hope that maybe it’s not as bad as it seems, or that, at least, the tide is starting to turn back the other way, toward the (re?)creation of a culture that takes care of all of our kids.

  8. Amen!
    I used to be a person who was attempting to perfect my children’s lives. I probably brought the art to a new level. It was ridiculous. It doesn’t help that I am a self-described type-A only child perfectionist. It nearly drove me mad.
    Then I went back to working in higher education, and I saw what happens to the children who are subjected to this until the age of eighteen. I knew I had to change.
    Stricter discipline, leaving the homework to their devices only– no suggestions from me (this was a hard one for me– I want them to learn so much and do so well), limiting evening activities, forcing them to entertain themselves on Saturday afternoons, encouraging them to make their own choices– even if I may not agree with it (nothing dangerous of course), and instilling a chore list (with no allowance).
    All of these things that I have done to change the scope of my parenting (changing ‘not allowing anything bad to happen to MY children’ to ‘making sure they know how to deal when the bad stuff does happen’) has shocked many of my friends and family. I have been surprised by the comments I’ve received.
    Another cool thing you may want to read (if you haven’t already) is the work Jean Twenge has been doing: http://www.jeantwenge.com/.

    • Thanks so much for being here, Sarah, and for leaving this insightful comment. (Thanks too for the link to Dr. Jean Twenge; someone I’ll definitely have to check out further.) I think your perspective is particularly interesting given the revelation of sorts that you experienced in your own life. I’m looking forward to checking out your blog and learning more about you and your family.

  9. Thank you for the shout out. Truly, what an honor to know that I made you stop and think.

    My work is done here (I kid, I kid)

    But, I was the one who tried to slay all the dragons. In every part of their life.

    And you know what? They grow up, and you cannot control what they do. They are forming their own life AND IF WE DON”T LET THEM MAKE SOME decisions (caps intentional) then they won’t be prepared to do it on their own.

    I sat and talked with my broken hearted son, and said, “you have no idea how hard I want to cry with you right now and make some calls and fix this, but I can’t…because you are now learning to deal with disappointment. Life is full of disappointments. You won’t get that job you want. Maybe the girl you ask to get married will say no. You have to learn now that just b/c you want something, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. As much as it is a knife in m heart to see your tears…I have to let this happen.”

    Yes, it was an awful night. My eyes are still blurry with tears.

    • Thanks again, Alexandra, for offering another perspective on this issue. I already know that I too am going to be tempted to be the dragon slayer. It’s just so hard to see them hurt/upset/angry/scared. But I appreciate your cautionary tale: better to allow them to learn how to battle the little dragons (i.e. eating grilled cheese when what they really wanted was PB&J – just to grab an example from our lunchtime today) so that they’re prepared when they inevitably face the bigger ones.

  10. I so agree. I am a believer in benign neglect, as you call it, not over-washing my kids’ hands and not preventing those (numerous) childhood falls onto dirt, asphalt, etc. When we visited my grandmother when Nate was a toddler, she taped oven mitts to every table corner in the house to prevent him from hitting his head. It was so sweet…but so over-the-top. And he ended up crashing on the patio bricks instead, of course.

  11. I would say that my biggest concern about raising “perfect” children (aside from the fact that perfect is annoying!) is a byproduct of what you mention here. You’re right in that we cannot protect them from everything forever. And my belief is that by trying to do so we actually damage them. With excessive nurture, protection, and guidance we have created an artificial existance that bears little resemblance to the real world.

    To raise the best possible kids we need to raise kids who can put on their big-boy underpants and function on their own in society. For every class we enroll them in because of what it will accomplish developmentally, we’ve deprived that kid of the opportunity to make his own decision. For every time we ship rubber flooring to the South of France we prevent that kid from learning how to be careful on his own. For every time we rush in to mediate a fight we keep that kid from learning how to settle his own scores. And the collective result of all this intervention could end up being a kid who has no idea how to function without an incredible amount of structure and supervision (and is possibly also a bit narcissistic). I think we’ll raise much better kids by letting them experience the world as it is, because that is the world they’ll be living in.

    (I will now step down off of my soapbox…)

  12. I love the title of this post because I feel that it so aptly reflects part of our society with regard to raising children. I also feel that it is only indeed “part” of our society. I think you find this tendency in upper and upper-middle class families for the most part. I’m not convinced that this is prevalent in the majority of our society though.

    My approach to parenting is to try to teach my kids about the real world. They have chores because in the real world you have to work. I try to teach them good study habits and provide an environment that emphasizes that, but they seem to manage to get some bad grades on their own. And taught to own that, and the consequences. Coddling a child is not helping them. It creates a culture of demanding entitlement. Yuck!

    • Great point, Cathy. I too suspect that this is a phenomenon way more prevalent among those who can afford to micromanage their lives and those of their kids. I suppose that the reason it’s written and talked about so widely these days is that it’s also those folks who are the journalists, radio reporters, etc.

  13. I do think our generation is more guilty of this than ever before. I’m sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, we seem to be struggling to prevent discomfort in the lives of our children. To protect from every chemical and bad word and…well, the list goes on. It’s not realistic, but we fight for it–control.

    I remember this being such a horrible realization when Miles was a newborn. I was paralyzed with fear in my postpartum months. So sad that I would never be able to prevent him from hurting. When you love like we mothers do, it’s just so hard to accept.

    Then everything happened with Asher and I learned how truly out of control I am. It’s a hard hard lesson but strangely freeing. To have no other choice but the faith to know that no matter what, we love each other and we’re going to be okay. Even if the worst should come, I have faith in a much bigger picture. I do because when I was brought to that kind of place, of the possibility of losing a child, I felt the peace that brought my certainty in what I believe. It happens in sobriety too, the way that suddenly it’s not so complicated to believe in even eternity.

    wow, I’m going a bit overboard 🙂
    The End.

  14. I think there are reasonable things to be cautious of. Like knives and hot ovens. Swooping in to save your baby from distress doesn’t seem overboard to me, but babies grow. And letting go of that sense of carrying their happiness in your hands is tough. The first time my daughter was treated meanly on a playground, I wanted to jump up and tell that mean little two year old off. I wanted to scoop my girl into my arms and make it okay. Somehow. But, I stopped myself.
    I do not hope for perfection. I hope my children can cope with life, real life. If she can learn how to handle falls and meanies and disappointments, sometimes with a little guidance, then I can only hope she will succeed at getting up with life pushed her down.

  15. What a wonderful discussion and a timely reminder. I, too, want to protect my children from all possible harms, though this tendency has been fading, out of necessity, as we moved from having one child to two. I certainly need to remind myself to let my little ones fall (and even fail) from time to time.

    I remember with great clarity a sleepless night 10+ years ago where I lay awake wondering how in the world people can be brave enough to have children, knowing all the terrifying things that could happen to them. How can a parent survive if something horrible happens to their child? And I was reminded of that fear again through a tragedy that took the life of a child and two adults in our community a few weeks ago.

    But one of the great many things I’ve begun to learn (with much room for improvement) through having children is to live in the moment more and worry about the future less.

    • I think my equivalent of your sleepless night came in the few days of hormonal intensity after Big Boy was born. I remember nursing him in my glider, listening to a Natalie Merchant CD, and wondering what in the world I was doing, bringing this helpless creature into a fallen world. As much as I still worry – and you know that I do, all the time – I try to focus on the immediate challenges (i.e. keeping said child in his room during quiet time) rather than the big ones down the road.

  16. I believe in letting children fail. I believe in beating them at Monopoly, foot races and video games. But I believe that there has to be a balance. I don’t want to break their spirit but I do want them to learn coping skills.

    Some boy is going to break my daughters heart and I will have to handcuff myself to the radiator. Some girl will devastate my son and I will have to be careful to teach him that not all women are bad or evil.

    Already there have been rough moments where we have dealt with bullies and “bad” friends who are not friends at all. It sucks to watch and it hurts. The bullying episode enraged me. When I spoke to the other father I was not kind nor gentle.

    But these children have to learn because they don’t live in bubbles. My son has friends who are going to be in so much trouble. Their parents are crippling them emotionally. Money and help only go so far because the world will find them sooner or later.

    So, I want them to be ready. And like I said, I don’t want their spirit broken but I don’t want them to think that things come without effort or hard work.

  17. When it comes to my son, I don’t deal; I get sad, and then I try to get distracted. That’s the way I approach all unfortunate realities that haven’t yet come to pass…so I’ll be revisiting the comments section on this post. 🙂
    It feels fair to want to protect our kids – within reason. It seems fair to wish for them to achieve their potential, to come up curious and happy and assertive. But they shouldn’t have everything, and they can’t be perfect. And I don’t think we should really want either of those things for any of us.
    In my work with teenagers and recent teenagers, I’m seeing some of the almost-grown-up byproducts of this, and it can be scary.
    From a sociological perspective, most seem to agree that what we need is more diversity and more community – less of an orientation around gates and walls and economic stratifications. It’s easy to see the benefits of this on a broad, social scale – but on an individual level, it’s hard to take on.
    I think it’s very visible and difficult in small cities like the ones we live near. We’re making decisions about where Jack will go to preschool next year, and I’m choosing a “less prestigious” place in a “not special” part of town because I want him to have an authentic experience that reflects our local communities.
    I need to stop now, or I might never!

  18. Hi friends – I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to comments today. I hope to find the chance tomorrow to weigh in on this fantastic discussion. Cheers!

  19. I’d like to think I’m only guilty of over-Purelling, but more than likely, that’s not true. I don’t want my babies to hurt. Ever. For any reason. And I know that will get me as they get older.

    I just hold on to the hope that, for the big hurts, I can be there for them in the way that’s best … and that I’ll know what that way is.

  20. Very interesting post, Kristen. I must have missed out on this over protective gene or something, or maybe it was just the nearly 10 weeks my son spent in the hospital as a preemie that taught me that there was nothing I could control, not even his birth. It’s not that I let him run wild; I’ve been pretty watchful about safety.

    Both my kids have been exposed to disappointments, in sports, in not being chosen for positions for which they applied. I can’t tell you how excruciating it was for my son, stuck on the sidelines during all but ten minutes of the entire freshman season of football. But come to think of it, other kids did quit!

  21. I do see this. I totally understand wanting to protect your kids from the bad things in life. But I think that by doing this we are doing them a disservice. We need to equip them with the tool for handling these situations. That’s part of our job as parents.

  22. I do think that a lot of people are overly concerned about protection and perfection. Of course, I don’t think that way so I am a perfect mother. (Just kidding).

    Truthfully, I think some moms need to control the environment in order to feel like they’re doing their best. And that’s okay. Other moms would lose their sanity, and that’s okay too.

    • ” I think some moms need to control the environment in order to feel like they’re doing their best.”

      I think that’s a really important point, Jennie. It’s easy to laugh at others, especially when they’re doing something totally over-the-top (like shipping rubber flooring overseas to a vacation villa), but you’re right: most of us are just trying to do the best we can. And who can fault another parent for trying to protect her kid?

  23. I’ve been thinking about this so much recently, and it seems like there are several things at play, including perfectionism, competition, and lack of privacy. In a nutshell, it seems like we’re aware that our kids are constantly measured and compared (and indeed we participate in this). We want them to succeed, and we probably (consciously or not) push them to compete. And, in this era of too much information and too little privacy, we are aware of being watched and evaluated on our parenting skills and on how well our kids do.

    We definitely set out kids up to fail if we don’t allow them to struggle and face consequences. As a therapist who works with teenagers, I am frequently alarmed by how coddled some kids are and by how few skills they have. As a parent, I understand the urge. But I think we have to pull back a bit.

  24. YES! I do agree that we try to mold and protect and create these beings in our society now…For goodness sake, now Happy Meals will be banned in Florida because they are hurting our children??? And this was the government’s doing AFTER people protested and pushed??? Happy Meals are an enemy, too??? I mentioned in a post a long time ago about that whole in utero thing and these crazy waiting lists for prek and and and and…The worst part is that even though I believe it’s that way, I have to be hyper aware of it b/c sometimes I find myself getting sucked in, feeling the pressure, believing the myth.

  25. Yes! I see parents trying so hard to protect their kids from things I do not feel they need to be protected from. Adversity, while challenging, is one of the best things for your child to learn to overcome.

    While our daughter is admittedly spoiled, my husband and I have a pact not to over schedule or be over-the-top with anything when raising her, although I do see how one could fall into that trap without even realizing it, trying to keep up with the proverbial Jones’. If we send her to public school where she will encounter a lot more diversity, what if she falls behind Suzy Jones whose parents chose the private school, etc.

    It’s tough. I like reading blogs to see what/how others are going about raising their kids.

  26. I try to protect my kid from as much as I can, but over the past year or so (she is 7), I have finally started to let go, which often means I let her play with others and by herself without my having to watch her most of the time (something I realize most parents do when their kid is 2 or 3). I also let her make mistakes while doing homework and projects, something I did not do last year.

    My kid loves to go the park and swim, which we do a lot, but she has little interest in organized activity like dancing and sports, so I have not pushed her. I figure she has time to get involved, and hopefully she won’t be any worse for it (but, oh, the peer pressure).

    I really don’t think there is a “right” answer, because every child and every parent is different, although I (and others) could probably stand to be a little less hands-on and to push my kid a little more.

    • Hi, facie. Thanks for stopping by Motherese and taking the time to leave a comment.

      As a former teacher, I really related to your example of allowing your daughter to make mistakes on her homework and projects. My boys are still too young for homework, but I know I will have to fight the urge to correct every little mistake they make. I’m all for parents helping kids with their assignments, but I have vivid memories of seeing kids’ homework come in with their parents’ handwriting on it and I think that’s taking it too far.

  27. It is hard to deal with! Let me tell you. I am living it, unfortunately. It definitely changes your perspective as to what is important. Perfect attendence suddenly seems less important that taking the whole family on a trip to play together. Boundaries at bedtime seem less important than cuddling and letting my children share the bed once in a while. I listen to the mother conversations on the playground, and suddenly they seem trivial and I feel like I am watching a world that I no longer belong to. It is a hard reality to face that we cannot keep our children safe the way we want to. It is so hard to live out, but trying to remember that EACH day is precious, and doing what I can to make my kids feel loved, are at the top of my list.

    • I am so sorry, Julie, that you have to face so frequently the impossibility of keeping our kids safe all the time. I’m hoping and praying that this Christmas brings Andrew and you and your whole family the greatest gift of all. xo

  28. We can try to protect our children, but ulitimately they will experience their own hurdles in life. I’ve seen parents go to extreme means to create a perfect environment for their children. A part of me understands it, but doesn’t agree with it. Much of life is unscripted and I believe that working on my child’s reaction to unexpected surprises is the best thing I can do for her. I will never be able to control what happens around her, but at least I can offer her some guidance on how to deal with unexpected situations. Thanks for raising this question Kristen.

  29. I don’t know how to begin to comment, Kristen. I don’t know how you put together these posts. I am in awe. I can’t so much as complete one article without articulating its importance and relation to the bigger picture of our lives. As I type my son is at an oral surgeon and I am not with him. This pains me. I have somehow failed him. It happens. And it will happen again. We all do the very best we can. But somehow it’s never enough. Even just saying this is just not enough.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Jen. My dream job would be something like Lisa Belkin’s at Motherlode: distilling all the chatter about kids and parenting and trying to make sense of it. So for you to think I do that well means a lot to me.

      I hope your son made out well at the oral surgeon. Poor little man. (And poor mama.)

  30. I can honestly say that I have more laissez-approach to child rearing and have spent countless hours worrying that I wasn’t stepping it up, teaching them their abc’s, keeping them from touching things that perhaps they shouldn’t (within reason), focusing on all the baby/mommy activities we could do together. I prefer to parent in a more fluid way. Society doesn’t make that approach easy and I’ve often felt inadequate because of it. All this to say, this discussion is important. So important. We need to talk about this more.

  31. I still can’t get over the rubber flooring story. Seriously? That IS too much. Of course this is coming from the girl who grew up on concrete floors.

    I still do worry (too much sometimes) about my daughter’s well-being but I am also realistic. I don’t believe in hand sanitizers (and sometimes I forget to wash her hands or mine when we get back from wherever we were) and I don’t really childproof my home. I also don’t read parenting books on how to help our kids grow up smarter/happier/braver, etc. because I’ve decided earlier on (after reading a couple in the early stages of parenthood), that many of them may have good intentions but end up making us feel inadequate and that we’re somehow doing something wrong when we’re not doing the recommended X, Y and Z with our kids. I suffer enough from the “guilty mom” syndrome that I don’t need to add to that burden.

    I try my best to parent by instinct and hope that my kids will learn from their mistakes or from “rogue moments” that the universe throws at them. As much as I want to sugarcoat life for them and wrap them up in a protective bubble, I know that will only do more harm than good. It’s easier said than done of course when my first instinct is to run to their rescue.

    I think it’s important that parents not only prepare their kids for impending hurt and disappointment and help them find ways to cope, but that we should do the same for ourselves. Knowing that your kid WILL hurt someday and finding ways to deal with that is better than fighting any and every possible scenario that could cause damage to them, because we will never win that one.

    • I think your last point is an especially important one, Justine. I know I need to think more about that myself: how to steel myself for the inevitable “rogue moments” rather than trying to forestall them.

  32. Creating the perfect child is a lot of pressure — even more than attempting to be the perfect parent. And through the years, instead of learning to slow down and relax, the pressure only multiplies.

  33. I can’t believe I missed this post! I think it’s disgusting the way some people think that children can be made to be perfect. Dude. They are kids. They are bound to screw up. They smell and are germy. They have no filter when they speak. And they have to be ALL those things in order to grow up and not be screwed up forever. Otherwise, you have people who don’t know how to fail, are constantly placing blame on other people if they themselves are to blame. And for the most part, they are miserable. They have no idea what makes them unique, they have no concept of how to pick themselves up and begin again.
    As for me, I am perfectly content with dealing with the pitfalls of childhood if it means that they will be happy, seemingly well adjusted grownups, in spite of having me as their mother. ‘Cause you know, I still make them bathe and brush their teeth…

    • This comment made me laugh out loud this morning: “Dude. They are kids. They are bound to screw up. They smell and are germy. They have no filter when they speak.” It’s so true! Can you imagine an adult with these qualities? We probably wouldn’t find them quite as adorable. 🙂

  34. Ah, how to make our children perfect… in such an imperfect world. You can and should take precautions to avoid child injuries (helmets and car seats are a good start!) but no matter what you do, they’ll still get hurt somehow. And yes, you want them to stand, walk, talk, know all of their letters, numbers, words before playmates the same age, but kids will learn at their own pace, no matter how hard or easy you try to make it for them!

    As for the goal of perfection, that would make for a very boring world, trying to fit all of our kids into the same mold. I reflected on this topic a few months ago in a blog post called My budding artist (http://perfectingmotherhood.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/my-little-budding-artist/). While being proud to see my son’s drawing skills evolve, I want to make sure his creativity is encouraged, not oppressed. Something all parents need to work on…

  35. Wow. What a great post. I unfortunately am guilty of trying to create the perfect environment, of trying to make my children perfect so that I look that way as well. And I really don’t want to be doing this. What a great reality check this was!! My boys will get hurt and will get their hearts broken no matter what I do or how I deny it. Such a great wake-up call that all I can do – what I am meant to do – is help them navigate their own journeys.


    • I’m glad you appreciated this post, Pamela. I think it’s one that I’ll have to revisit again and again as my boys face bigger and bigger challenges as they grow up. I know I’m going to have to resist the urge in my heart to rescue them from any potential harm. After all, isn’t that what mamas are wired to do? But I know in my brain that allowing them to fight their own battles – within reason – is teaching them a very valuable lesson for living in this crazy world.

  36. Pingback: Peace « Walking on My Hands

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