Wednesday, September 07, 2011

the unseen hornets' nest

Years ago I was at a public park watching MadMax on the playground.  I struck up a conversation with another mom I'd never met before.  We (of course) talked about our kids, because that's what parents do in that situation.  After we'd exchanged a few stories, I said something about how we'd had to change our parenting style for MadMax, because he is so entirely different than Nell.  It was immediately apparent that I had pushed some kind of hot button with her.  She practically bristled.  She muttered something about parents being in charge and moved away.  I was mystified.

I discovered not long afterwards that the huge (well, huge for our town) Evangelical church on the hill had sponsored a parenting class, the general theme of which was that Child-Centered Parenting=BAD, Parent-Centered Parenting=GOOD.  In their view, child-centered parenting means the kids are in charge, and the parents are chasing after the elusive goal of making them "happy"; parent-centered parenting is about stability and respect for authority.

In spite of the my initial suspicion, I don't necessarily disagree (although it's a bit too much about control for my taste).  But I had no clue what was going on when I launched blindly into what I thought was just a friendly conversation at the park. The whole issue sort of took over in our town for awhile.  For about a year, I kept running into it in the most innocuous, unsuspecting conversations.  For example:

Other Mom: mentions something about her kids being in bed by 8 the night before
Me (not really wanting my kids in bed by 8, but impressed nonetheless and trying to make friendly conversation):  How in the world do you get your kids to go to bed by 8 o'clock?
Other Mom (staring at me as if I were 15 and had just uttered profanity in her presence):  The parents are in charge.  Our kids go to bed when we tell them to.

and so on.  I even had a conversation where a young woman, single and childless, lectured me on the parents being in charge.  I will admit to being slightly evil and actually baiting people after awhile to see if I could get them started on the topic.  It was great entertainment. 

But this isn't about parenting styles, although if one of them was here, they would want it to be.  My point is how easy it is to step on someone's pet ideas without the faintest idea that you're doing it.  Or to walk blindly into a situation where you are innocently using words in a general way, only to discover that the words have a coded meaning to the other person.

In that first conversation at the playground, I wasn't even talking about our overall style of parenting.  I was talking about my two kids and how different they are, and how the same approach doesn't work for both of them.  You could send Nell to her room and she would be devastated; send MadMax to his room and he will happily entertain himself for an hour.  Turn off MadMax's electronics and he goes through withdrawal (and don't worry, we make him do it on a  regular basis), take away Nell's electronics, and she doesn't care.  Well, she would now because she lives for her phone, but this was when she was in grade school (and long before the era when kids in grade school had phones).  Even if we were devotees of the parent-centered parenting thing, we would still have to adjust our style for the differences.

Well, this was going to be the first of this semester's posts about what I'm learning at grad school, but it's already long enough.  I'll save that for another day.  Have you ever walked blind into someone else's pet peeve?  Or had someone walk into yours?


  1. You know, it occurred to me while I was out watering (great time to think, that) that this post might inadvertently offend someone who feels strongly about these parenting issues. Which really was not my point. I know some people who are adherents of this style of parenting and they are terrific parents. In fact, it even sort of works for me if I tone it down a little. But that wasn't the point I wanted to make, and I may have been a little too flip about their style of parenting in making my point. Apologies if so.

  2. No no no no.... no need to apologize for the post, or what you may have inadvertently said. THAT is the topic!

    Yes, it happens to people around me tons, because we're just odd and fit almost no categories. Cops? Witches? Body ink and piercings? Strange foreign cars? Credit card debt? Pro choice/pro death penalty? We are all over the damn board, hardly a safe conversation to be seen sometimes. Lol, which is highly entertaining actually. And wow, I totally would have gone around baiting those folks too!

    I don't really get the whole idea of putting emphasis on a "method" where kids are concerned. Love them. There, they are taken care of.

  3. Barb - I know I've had this happen. I've raked my brain for a few days and the particulars aren't appearing.
    Also, the parenting stuff didn't offend me. There's only one word for anyone who thinks all children should be oppressed and treated the same way. Wrong. They're just wrong. That may not be politically correct but that is the correct word.
    Julie - No wonder we're friends. We're on the same side of sooo many concerns.

  4. @julie-- I know what you mean. I occasionally found helpful parenting advice in books or from "experts," but usually we just went by feel, so to speak, and tried to do the best we could. You can't love them too much. And anyway, the fact that our two are seven years apart (8 years in school due to how their birthdays fell) made our situation a little different than most. In some ways, Nell grew up in a different world than MadMax-- nobody had game consoles or cellphones when Nell was in grade school.

    @judy--lol. I know what you mean. Some things just feel wrong.