I Solved Parenting. You're Welcome Parents!

Friday, May 13, 2016 | 0 Comment(s)

I always get a mini-rush before writing a piece on parenting just imagining of all the people with children who will read it and think, "This shithead doesn't even have kids, how can he pretend to know anything about parenting?" No punchline here, I just enjoy the rush.

Before I get to the heat of the meat and talk about parenting, I first want to talk a bit about marketing.  I saw this image on Facebook today.
I'm sure there is a article about how this is not a real poster, not a real train, and not a real person, but, the points still remains. 
This poster succinctly draws attention to the relationship between how bad you feel about yourself, and the money you are told to spend to correct those "problems." Of course, often it is the same companies publishing articles about thigh gaps, extra long lashes, push-up bras, and powder supplements that are stacking your money as you attempt to measure up. This profit cycle, for the most part, goes interrupted . . . until parenthood. 

While I don't mean to insinuate that men and women no longer take care of their appearance or cater to their insecurities post-baby, I am heavily implying that their is a new number one priority in the household that craves constant attention. 

And that lost revenue is how lowercase-p parenthood became capital-P Parenthood. It turns out that new and expectant parents are worried as shit about screwing up. They are worried they'll be bad parents. Or irresponsible parents. Or helicopter parents. Or strict parents. Or lenient parents. Or any number of other defective parent types. 

This ever-incereasing list of poor ways to parent grows as fast as companies can create new products to exploit those perceived deficiencies. Parents scared out of their mind are parents spending whatever money they have to calm those fears. I'm no meme-maker, but if I remade the earlier poster it would read, "In a society that profits from parental insecurity, not driving yourself crazy is a rebellious act."  Or perhaps, more on the nose, ". . . not going broke is a rebellious act."

Admittedly, neither are as succinct or powerful as the original. But they are equally true.  

This morning I read the first two parenting articles that crossed my Facebook feed. The first article was an interview piece for a parenting magazine (new parents are sooo concerned about fucking up, that the Parenting magazines are still in business and flourishing!!!), where they interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda about his parenting philosophy. 

Full disclosure. I went to college with Lin. We were casual friends, co-performing arts majors, and I could not be happier or prouder of his success. He is, in short, the man. 

Here is what Lin had to say to GQ:  
"Time alone is the gift of self-entertainment—and that is the font of creativity, because there is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom."

Is this good advice? Should parents, as Lin suggests, be less concerned with how much TV time their kids have and just make sure they leave space to create and utilize their imagination?  

Maybe. What is more clear to me as I read this philosophy is that it is a direct reaction to Lin's own experience filling the time between when school ended and when his parents got home from work. What's obvious, is that this parenting style worked incredibly well for Lin. Considering his continued success, how likely is it that Lin would turn around and NOT reflect those parenting values with his own child?  Especially considering, much like his own parents, his work schedule is exceedingly demanding.  Is "Worry Less, Create More" the answer to parenting? No. It's an answer, so don't freak out if it doesn't mesh with your personal philosophy -- cause you didn't grow up Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The second parenting piece I came across was a video clip from the Today Show of a good-looking young couple who decided to bring their 2-year-old to the husband's mother's house every weekend . . . for a year

Let's get the obvious out of the way. When you see the pictures of this couple, their faces appear very punchable. I'm not condoning violence of any kind, I am just commenting on the existence of a visual trait that could be described as punchability. And these two business-casual elites have it in spades. 

The Today show, purporting to be the voice of the people while actually stoking the flame of public outrage, said viewers found these parents to be "selfish" and "Part-Time Parents."  

Do I want to be friends with these people? No. Do I think they are horrible parents? Not from this article. They are certainly lucky as hell to have the support of grandparents who allow them this kind of "freedom." And, as (gulp) Matt Lauer poignantly points out in the video, you don't get those baby years back. Before too long, them babies grow personalities and don't want to spend their weekends with you under any circumstances. 

But this kid wasn't left alone. Ever. At all times this growing baby was under the watchful eye of a loving guardian. Will the kid probably end up strongly bonded with his grandmother? Hopefully. Will he grow to resent his parents? No matter what.  But, besides the court of public opinion, I can't find a reason to criticize this couple's decision; they didn't endanger their child in any way. 

Here's another way to think about it.  I don't ever want anyone to poop on my chest.  But it is going to take a whole lot of next level of danger, like a highly radioactive dump, for me to expend energy trying to stop the greater Hot Carl community from doing something they love. This couple just happens to enjoy pooping on each others' chests. It far from being my thing, but besides an increased potential for salmonella poisoning, I don't see any genuine safety concerns.

Why all the outrage then? Well, the machine needs the outrage. It is fueled by it. The fear of public disapproval and ridicule serves as the backbone of parental shaming. It is the haters that define the game. If the majority of new parents aren't thinking,"They're going to figure out how bad we are at this!?!?! They'll realize we're imposters!" then the marketing machine has failed. If these kid-free weekend parents are allowed to get away with a non-traditional parenting arrangement that works for them without being public shamed, then that will give permission to other parents to find creative and innovative solutions for thriving at the varied experience of being a parent.

On one end of the spectrum, you have Lin-Manuel Miranda vocalizing a parenting style that seems almost to good to be true. A parenting style straight out of a IKEA catalog where the floors are clean, the furniture is spotless, and your children fall in love with musical theater. If it works for you, huzzah, that's awesomesauce. But, if in your absence your kids shatter all the dishes when they were supposed to be memorizing the lyrics to Rent, you can still be a great parent. 

On the butt end of the spectrum you have our holiday weekend parents. Parents to feel above, better than. "I may not read my daughter a story every night, but at least I don't go away every weekend." Superiority is a temporary balm for the rash of parental anxiety. If you're concerned with doing parenting better than others, you've turned parenthood into an interactive game for adults instead of an intimate connection between you and your child(ren). 

There is no right way to parent. Parenthood is as incredible and amazing as it is a struggle. Parents are pushed to the brink of their humanity in order to feel they have earned the title Parent. Capital P.  Kids poop, cry, eat, sleep, and demand with absolutely no concern for your sleep schedule, financial situation, support system, or ability to deal with the current crisis. Parenthood isn't about winning; it's about effort. It's about sometimes surviving and other times getting to appreciate the paradigm-shifting privilege of parenting. Lowercase-p. 

In Developmental psychology, most studies show that for parenting to greatly impact your child, events have to occur to drive the baby's experience "outside the normal range." Range being the key word here. Range, as in, the Price is Right's Range Game

And, similar to the illustration above, the so-called normal range is the majority of the total range. Once again. The normal range is the VAST MAJORITY of the total range. In other words,  it is real damn hard to not be normal (in this one instance). 

To fall outside of said range you have to take away some of the child's basic needs: food, affection, response to distress, etc. For all that worrying, it's actually pretty difficult to screw up a baby. They're very malleable and adaptive. Please don't take this information as a challenge. but instead realize that the companies selling all the parent accessaries damn well know these numbers.  The research actually provides companies with a safety net, because they know the vast majority of children will turn out A-OK with or without all of their products and parenting literature. 

I'm not going to sit here, a childless thirty-something, and tell actual parents not to worry so much. That's stupid. What I want to convey is that new parents' concerns, real or imagined, are being purposely amplified and projected right back at them by Parenthood culture in order to make new customers. And you don't have to buy into that, literally or figuratively.  

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