As a parent, and a parent who writes about parenting at that, I devour journalistic pieces on the subject when I come across them. And, oh, in this age of mass hysteria regarding a range of subjects, child rearing certainly one of the most prominent, there are plenty.
So when I was rifling through the Sunday New York Times this weekend (lazy weekend newspaper reading, mercifully, one of the habits from our childless days that my husband and I have held onto) and spotted Frank Bruni's column, "A Childless Bystander's Baffled Hymn," I read it immediately, and immediately, it resonated.
No doubt he's received his fair share of criticism for suggesting that we parents are, perhaps, overthinking the age-old process of raising children. Perhaps being a bit too wishy-washy. Perhaps being a bit too lenient. Or...a lot too lenient.
Not to mention he isn't a parent, certainly a contributing factor to his views, which he has no qualms admitting; indeed, it's in the title.
But - and maybe this is his child-free point of view in play - I thought that his column, in which he suggests parents, for instance, stop lavishing their children with meaningless praise, was beyond refreshing; I know there are those who will disagree (read this Slate piece for an example).
I say cheers to Mr. Bruni, however, whether or not I wholeheartedly agree with his each and every point, and I'll tell you why. I often find the modern parental landscape nervewracking; a never-ending state of reflective analysis in the media and in among parents themselves; every parenting choice is just fine, to each his own! (But really, mine is the best way).
A non-parent willing to boldly state an opinion? To express annoyance that parents offer their children too many choices, don't follow through with ultimatums? He has that right, and I like hearing it.
Plus, he's funny:
Why all the choices — “What would you like to wear?”— and all the negotiating and the painstakingly calibrated diplomacy? They’re toddlers, not Pakistan. I understand that you want them to adore you. But having them fear you is surely the saner strategy, not just for you and for them but for the rest of us and the future of the republic.
But it's Bruni's final point - that while parents ought to lead with a guiding set of principles, teaching manners and other good behavior, their children are likely to grow up to be themselves, no matter what - that I liked best.
The point spoke to what I find the least enjoyable parenting moments: when I don't know what to do. When I worry that what I do do isn't the right thing. That there will be lasting consequences. That's when the figurative hand-wringing begins.
This morning, dropping off my four-year-old daughter at school, I was putting her backback away in her cubby when I heard whines - near tears - coming from her seat at the breakfast table. I bent down to ask what could possibly be wrong and found she hadn't yet been offered milk for her cereal.
It was one of those moments. Where were the manners I thought we'd carefully instilled? Should I outright ignore this disproportionate response? Should I raise my voice?
But this time, just as quickly as the concerns arose, I swatted them away, reminding myself that I could trust my gut; that the most appropriate response (in this case telling her to stop the whining so that both of us could get on with our days, followed by the usual kiss and "I love you") was to ensure that I didn't exhibit a disproportionate response, either. Sometimes relieving ourselves of all those "what-ifs" feels so very freeing.