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Fear of Parenting Won't Make the Job Any Easier

4 years ago
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As I finished my sixth ten-year stretch, I came to recognize that we grow up as the objectives of one generation's double decade of theories, habits, and epiphanies and then, as adults, we inflict our own experimental intuition and resources, over the succeeding several decades, on a new crop of unsuspecting little guinea pigs.
The Wall Street Journal last week ran an essay by Erica Jong, who 37 years ago wrote the iconic first novel, "Fear of Flying," -- inspired by "autobiographical elements," -- that became a clarion to liberated womanhood (and introduced a zipless but still unprintable catchphrase to describe a woman's right to pursue anonymous sexual encounters with strangers). Jong, along with the rest of my generation of sexually free baby boomers, has matured and moved on to more grandmotherly concerns of second guessing the challenges of the current generation of young women and their offspring.
Decrying a currently popular standard of childcare called "attachment parenting," a philosophy that dictates "you wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs," Jong questioned the notion that "hyper-attentive parenting" actually helps children "to become independent adults."

Jong's own daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, is now an adult and novelist herself but, when Molly was small, Erica writes that as a "single mother and full-time bread-winner" she "hired nannies, left my daughter home and felt guilty for my own imperfect attachment." (An accompanying essay from Molly proves that despite her mother's remorse, whatever feelings of neglect she may have suffered, she has comfortably recovered.)
Most of the ubiquitous child-safety and infant-transporting equipment that one finds in baby supermarkets today were invented by and for my cohort of parents whose children, like Molly and my daughter, were born in the 1970s. As they grew up, the culture became ever more child-centric. New parents today have entire stores in Brooklyn dedicated to the nuances of breast feeding.
I don't recall that my own loose attachment style of child raising in the same era provoked so much guilt as a sense that everyday I managed to not mislay the baby was a victory. My daughter's big deal 4th birthday party in 1976 was at Ferrell's Ice Cream Parlor where striped-aproned and straw-hatted wait staff took entertainment responsibilities off my weary shoulders. (By the time I had my subsequent child, the concept had upgraded to Chuck E. Cheese.)
When I was a child in the 1950's (and I suspect this was true for Jong as well), our parents paid very little attention to us. My post-WWII-born contemporaries and I were cared for, but not so closely monitored as the children we subsequently brought up ourselves (or anywhere near as assiduously as those being raised by them).
The young mommies I know now are warrior women who bring home the vegan bacon and cook it up in a convection oven better than any feminist role model boomer girls like me ever saw. I'm wildly impressed by the 30-something mothers of babies -- and 40-something moms of teens -- today, who amazingly, manage to have satisfying professions while simultaneously raising staggeringly awesome youngsters. These exemplary children of highly functional households have access to good schools and a plethora of stimulating experiences. They shine with good manners, good grades and great potential. These handsome and lovely young people are the reward of much hard work and sleep deprived effort whether their parents' attachment is loosely or tightly defined.
What makes this perfect picture worrisome (apart from the horrible certainty that we cannot, even with dual-belted harnesses, always protect them from catastrophe) is the difficulty in keeping the whole enormous college-focused collage in focus. The cornucopia of resources for growing families can add additional stress to the whole middle section of newly realized grown-ups' lives.
Since at least 1937, when Thornton Wilder wrote "Our Town," each generation's demands on family has required great strength (There you see your mother getting up early cooking meals all day long washing and ironing and still she has to go out in the back yard and chop wood). Today's unprecedented abundance of electronic devices, intellectual opportunities, lifestyle options and available activities are designed to make today's parental ideal more efficient and productive.

Unfortunately, the privilege allows our grownup daughters to worry about their darlings to the extent of near paralysis.

A mother of an 8- or 9-year-old told me a couple years ago of finding a prized eyewear status symbol accessory to put in goody bags for her daughter's lucky birthday party guests. The sunglasses were not only scarce but pricey, I gathered, because the mother drove to three different Costcos to score enough bling for the entire guest list. I congratulated her on her successful struggle and did not ask her, the burning question: Whatever happened to Chuck E. Cheese?
Filed Under: Woman Up

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I feel like there is some confusion between "attachment parenting" and overindulging children/helicopter parenting. They are not one in the same. Ms. Goldstein's commentary, and Erica Jong's original piece, make some good points about catering to children in a way that, I believe, is not doing them, nor their parents, any good. Ensuring a child's existence is emotionally and physically pain free, and solving all of their problems or not even letting problems exist for them in the first place, is not teaching them to be strong individuals. My son is 3.5. He still nurses once or twice a day. He still sleeps in our bed. Once in a while I still wear him in a child carrier. To me, attachment parenting is about being connected and in tune with my child, and respecting him as a person. It's about encouraging independence, but not forcing him to become independent when he's not ready, which can certainly be a difficult balance to find. I expect my son to be learning every day that there are consequences to his choices, decisions, and actions, and respectfully trying to help him learn how to deal with those consequences in a responsible, mature way. I expect him to solve his own problems, and at this age I am here to help him but I expect him to be involved in the process. I expect him to be kind and respectful to himself and to others, and I feel like that is currently my job to teach him. Respecting, supporting, teaching and encouraging, giving space to make mistakes, and being there to comfort him through the consequences of those mistakes. That is what I believe attachment parenting is. Not driving around all day to find the perfect party treat bag item. Not hovering on the playground to make sure he never gets a bump or bruise. Not giving up my entire life so I can make sure his is perfect. That is also a difficult balance to find, but no one ever said parenting was easy.

November 10 2010 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What ever happened to a sleepover with movies? The only time I have ever spent more than $100 dollars on a birthday party for my daughters was their Sweet 16. Otherwise they could invite a bunch of friends to sleep over watch movies and have chips and popcorn.

November 09 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Perhaps those women who are fearful of parenting shouldn't be a parent. Even though times have changed, people change, but the basics of who is the parent hasn't changed. You, the parent, still should have your wits about you in order to maintain authority over your children and how they grow up to be strong adults. It's not easy, but, like everything worthwhile in life, is not easy. So, don't have children until you are ready.

November 09 2010 at 10:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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