I was browsing the New York Times over lunch today when I came across a debate about parenting styles. Amy Chua, a Yale professor, published an article talking about a very strict, regimented parenting style that was effective, which has spurred debate.
I know that I come from a generation that is constantly needing hand-holding and guidance, because we were raised in a very everything-you-do-is-wonderful-and-so-are-you sort of environment. We’re incapable of self motivation and are nervous and shy about approaching authority figures. We have a sick sense of entitlement, but that entitlement isn’t deserved.
But at the same time, some of us flourish in that free-space. My creativity and self-awareness stems from having the opportunitites to grow on my own and being given the space to test and define limits and boundaries.
I may have tattoos (read the text below), but they weren’t gotten because of the need to be rebellious or the need to expose myself as an individual. Thanks to my parents (Mom, mostly), I already knew who I was as an individual and I already knew how to get myself in enough trouble without having to go too far.
In high school, during those few rough years where boundaries blurred with angst and self-esteem was below low, my mom was consistent with her actions, supportive when she needed to be and mean when that was required, but she was never unfair.
She never took away something necessary (like a ride to school) because of something I’d done to upset her (like talk back or fail to clean my room). She did take away my car when I snuck out, but even then, I was allowed to drive it to work. I was able to keep work and school away from punishments, something Dad never figured out how to do.
You can take away earning power and expect your children to grow up as successful, independent adults capable of entering the work force.
It was up to me to flex my independence within the set boundaries, and in doing so, I was able to “live dangerously” (every teenager’s real desire) without actually putting myself in harm’s way.
That, my friends, is expert parenting.
I graduated from a private college in four years and have entered the moderately corporate world with no arrests on my record and no major slip-ups to report.
When Parents Feel Out of Control
Updated January 14, 2011, 02:01 PM
Karen Karbo, a novelist and memoirist, is the author of “The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman.”
When my daughter was born in 1992, the late great Portland cartoonist John Callahan made her birth announcement. It was a drawing of her father and me peering into her carriage and exclaiming, “Maybe she’ll be a doctor, a lawyer, or Japanese!” We liked how it poked fun of our parental expectations, which were so ridiculously high they included our kid’s possible transformation into a different (stereotypically driven and successful) nationality.
It’s true that we, as parents, have erred in downplaying how competitive life is, and how difficult it is to truly excel..It’s hard to accept that by bringing a child into the world we’re creating a hostage to fortune. We live in impossibly difficult times. I don’t think I need to make a list. Amy Chua’s child-rearing manifesto speaks directly to this fear. It claims, in essence, that if we follow her draconian regimen — refuse sleepovers, enforce hours of violin practice that makes elite Romanian gymnasts look like nose-picking slackers — we, too, will manufacture happy, secure summa cum laudes who never rebel, suffer an existential crisis, or spend their allowance on an unfortunate tattoo. It presumes that we can prevent our kids from hurt, harm and disappointment. It’s a fantasy of control and protection in times that seem out of control and scary.
That said, a pragmatic philosophy offers some much-needed correctives to a culture of parenting where our children’s every random scribble and shoe box diorama is lauded as pure genius, where trophies are awarded simply for showing up. We have erred in downplaying how competitive life is, and how difficult it is to truly excel. One of the toughest lessons I tried to impart to my daughter is that you need to work as hard as you possibly can to achieve excellence, and sometimes even then you fall short.
Our daughter has not shown any interest in becoming a doctor or a lawyer, but she’s attending a college she loves where she gets good grades and has made good friends. Recently, she said, “I’m so happy. Even the worst day is the best day.” That’s about as good as it gets in my book. But then again, since I was the mom who hosted the aforementioned ruinous sleepovers, my standards are pretty low.