Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How NPR and Blue's Clues changed my life

Not actually my child

I think it was a combination of the stress of Tim - my partner - being away for a week and this amazing report I heard on NPR about parenting. The report was partly inspired by that new anti-Tiger-Mom parenting book by Bryan Caplan that's been getting a lot of attention - the one with the tagline “Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun than you Think.”

From what I've heard, the book is directed towards all the Type-A overachieving parents who obsess over educational toys and organic food and run their kids back and forth from violin practice to conversational French lessons....and the message to them is -- CHILL OUT!!

The thinking is that all this running around and over-scheduling, while intended to enlighten and enrich our children and help them grow into culturally sensitive little geniuses, ACTUALLY tends to make both kids and parents exhausted, stressed out and occasionally miserable.
But according to this book, even FURTHER reason to chill is that apparently, not only is all this stress no fun, but there is evidence which shows that all these trips to the museum and horseback riding lessons have NO major influence on how our kids turn out.

How can that be?

Well, on the NPR report, a pair of economists (who also happened to be parents) conducted a study on predictors for children's success as adults, and they found that -- get this -- parent's education, personalities, and income levels actually had very LITTLE proven influence on kids’ future successes. They looked at twins raised in different homes and adoption research, and it seems that genetics is much stronger influence than upbringing. In fact, the only major factors in childhood that were shown to have significant impact on children’s futures were these 3 things: 1 - smoking, 2 – drugs/drinking and 3- no, not organic veggies - LOVE.

As a Type-A overachiever myself and also a new mom, this message really hit me. My daughter is not even a year old, and I have already spent an unspeakable amount of time obsessing over types of plastic in baby items. And I shop at 3 different markets to find the right organic teething biscuits. And I never let her play with my phone or watch any TV for fear of radiation or brain damage. And I buy books about trucks and give her toy hammers and screwdrivers to play with in an attempt to endorse gender equality. I mean, I'm ALREADY exhausted and fairly convinced I’ve done irreparable harm by accidentally saying the F-word in front of her and letting her eat non-organic pizza that one time. And it's only just begun. I may have scoffed at the Tiger Mom's insanity, but I've already had it in mind that it's important that she learn to play an instrument and I would really like her to learn to speak a little French -- oh, and play chess of course. Not that I can do any of those things!

And WHEN exactly will she be a kid?

And if all of it turns out to be mostly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, WHY do it? Because becoming a glorified and underpaid event planner/chauffeur is what I had in mind when I decided to have kids?? Because it will make my children so happy?? What about spending time together as a family? What about watching a silly movie with no educational value? What about going out for fatty non-soy ice cream just because?

THESE are the kinds of things that make parents AND kids happy and the things that they'll likely remember.

Also not my children

The message is: stop spending so much energy trying to mold children into perfect human beings and start having fun. Because if you ARE the type of parent spending time and money on jujitsu and ballet lessons, then more than likely, you are ALREADY a parent who loves and cares for your kids!! And the good news is -- it turns out that that's all they need!! We don't have to work as hard as we think. And some of that hard work could be set aside for a little more FUN!

SO-- after thinking about all of this -- and after almost a week of full-time work and temporarily single motherhood – I was facing yet another afternoon outing with the baby that I needed to pack up for and I was feeling overwhelmed at the inevitable stress of simultaneously taking care of my daughter and getting us ready….And so -- inspired and relieved by this new information, I did something I said I’d never do. I turned on the TV and plopped her down in front of it. I found an episode of Blue's Clues and lo and behold, she was riveted. I was able to leave the room. I was able to pee by myself. I was able to pack up her food and diaper bag. I was able to get her clothes on and clean her face without her having a fit! I even wrote a few emails and wiped up the mess from breakfast. And I got us ready without feeling like an insane person.

And it felt GREAT.

Did one half-hour of basically educational children's television rot her brain and give her attention deficit disorder? Would one half-hour like that EVERY DAY cause irreparable damage? I really don't think so. And what it did do was give Mommy the chance to collect herself and take a breath – and thanks to NPR, NOT feel guilty about it.

Look, don't get me wrong. I don’t think the point is to say "screw it" to all our parenting values. I’m not going to start giving my daughter Froot Loops anytime soon, or skipping bedtime stories for cartoons, or buying non-organic milk (let's not get crazy!) I plan to still make sure she does her homework and doesn't spend her life on Facebook. And I will even put her in a few classes before I'm done.

But when she gets old enough, she can choose a class she likes… and if there's an extracurricular activity she really is NOT enjoying, she doesn't have to do it. If playing the piano 2 hours a day is something she HATES, and it's not proven to make her any smarter really -- despite what Tiger Mom's brainwashed children say -- then she won't have to do it.

What's the point if we aren't having fun? We all want our kids to grow up to be successful, sensitive, and smart people, but apparently, we are already doing a lot for them on that score, simply by being stable, healthy and conscientious people who love our children and treat them with love and respect -- something that a lot of children in this world sadly grow up sorely lacking.

So, my new motto is to have fun and cut down on the obsessing -- at least until a new study comes out that says that fun leads to low test scores....

This one's mine : )

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