Without a doubt, parenting is proving to be the hardest job that I have signed up to do to date. This, mind you, coming from someone, who spent 4 years studying child and developmental psychology and has taught educational psychology at the undergraduate and graduate level for years. But as you probably can attest to yourself, knowing something and doing it are two different things altogether. Moreover, there is a current backdrop in social circles that has taken to labeling different kinds of parenting styles with acclaim for some and disdain for others as deemed appropriate. For example, you would have to be from another planet to have not heard the terms: “helicopter parenting” or “Tiger mom parenting”. Without casting aspersions at anyone, because my motto is “to each his own”, I refuse to be labeled by any other terminology than the one I choose. So although I have read, or rather skimmed an article here or there about the definitions relevant to these types of parenting, I remain blissfully ignorant about the descriptions aligned to any one approach. What I do know is that at the intersection of my professional calling, my faith, and my socialization, I am on a mission to be an Intentional Parent. (Yes! I know, as if we needed a new parenting term). What do I mean by this? Well, I am glad you asked. However, before this posts develops into a rant (trust me that can happen quite easily), let me set a few organizational mile makers to keep me on track– the context and intentional parenting.
When I think about the sociocultural context in which young children are being raised, the words of Michael Jackson’s song come to mind: “All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us!” I have come to accept this as a truism about the cultural and commercial ethos in which we live—this includes music, entertainment, television, books, movies, food and even supposedly educational services and products.
A few years aback, I walked into my 4 year old daughter’s preschool classroom and was shocked to find them doing warm up exercises to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”. And no, I don’t think it is cute! Of all the songs to choose for preschoolers, what is the mindset that would allow an educator to choose this one? I am clueless! On another occasion, just around this time of year, my daughter was crying because she did not want to walk through the hallways and be greeted by ghosts and vampires with blood dripping from their teeth etc. This was more than I could bear. I approached the director to explain that although I did not celebrate Halloween, I respected others’ choice to do so. However, when I told her that I was not in favor of the developmentally inappropriate choices for decorations, she was oblivious that anything was amiss. Could they not use spider webs, or pumpkins, or corn stalks or scarecrows? Am I alone here? Well, needless to say, that facility soon saw our backs.
Television viewing has its own perils. During the last Olympics, our family sat down to watch the games. My husband and I thought what a great opportunity to educate our 5 and 3 and 1/2 year old about good sportsmanship. Unfortunately, the lesson was not to be had because the kids were almost scared out of their teddy bear pajamas! During the commercial breaks, graphic and violent content assaulted our senses about up and coming movies targeted at mature audiences. Moreover, my husband and I could have been sitting on a bed of hot coals instead of a sofa—given the level of discomfort we felt about what commercial would come up next, what sexual innuendos would be projected at them in the name of savvy marketing.
If you think books are better, think again. I am appalled at the content that is being marketed at even kindergarteners in the name of literacy. At a recent book fair, one parent said to me: “You have got to check out this book. It is so funny!” The book was entitled “How to get a girlfriend” and was written by kindergarteners with the help of some, I am sure, suave book editor. And wait for it, this book had also won a coveted award. I was not amused. A+ for application of the idea of helping youngsters become authors but an F for the choice of content for this age group. In fact, this tongue in cheek maturity for youngsters in popular books is now the vogue. If you are interested in a good chapter book series for your aspiring reader, you will realize that more often than not the hero and/or heroine of many popular series is the bratty, rude, obnoxious kid who calls people “stupid” talks about “bashing in their brains” and talks back to parents and teachers. Like really, this is supposed to be cute? Don’t even get me started on the clothing, technological gadgets, supposedly kid movies, sugary, nutrient empty foods etc. etc that are marketed to children. I think you get the point.
I do not presume to tell anyone how to raise their kids. However, after reading some of the works of my learned colleagues in the field of developmental psychology, I have to say that I disagree that much of this is “all harmless fun” and “they will grow out of it”. What I can say is that “As for me and mine……”, we have decided to become VERY intentional about our parenting. We have decided to think carefully about where and how we choose to live and be deliberate models for our kids about what we value. Shortly after the Olympic fiasco, we cut the cord—cable I mean. We decided to take control of the media content that we allow “them” to expose our kids too before they are ready for it. So “NO Disney!” you do not get to define the standards of beauty with your commercial and never-ending onslaught of princesses and their limitless assortment of gadgets designed to empty parents’ pockets; my kids are not dollar signs waiting to be realized. Furthermore, you do not get to define what is age appropriate viewing for my kids. I can do that all by myself, thanks to Netflix, Amazon prime etc. etc. What is more, television is SO overrated!! What do my kids do for fun? — play in the yard, explore in the creek, have a stick adventure, collect and sort leaves, find bugs, plant tulips, help out in the garden, paint, draw, color, read a book, play a board game, complete a puzzle, play the piano, learn to make a cupcake, play dress up, plan a concert, write a short story, play hide and seek, swim, kick around a soccer ball and on and on. In sum, be actively engaged in the world! Be CREATIVE! Now there’s a novel idea!
I do realize that one cannot raise a child in a bubble, and seriously that is not my intent. But I agree with David Elkind and his central thesis in The Hurried Child that our culture seems bent on a mission to have kids grow up too fast and too soon. So I am going maverick here! First, I refuse to let the status quo dictate a frenetic pace through childhood for my kids. Instead, I am on a mission to provide my children with an unhurried childhood. Secondly, my goal is to teach my children that in a world buffet of endless choices of food, clothing, media, and entertainment, they do not have to pile everything onto their plate. They can learn to make discriminating choices based on sound principles and values. And I know that you are probably thinking it is an impossible task. And perhaps you are right. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a tough job. But hey, I have always been one who rooted for the underdog. Moreover, it’s just not my nature to back away from a worthy fight—especially one as important as raising my children well. So all I can say is “Game on!”