I ran across an article written by an American
cookbook author who wrote a French cookbook. She’d read the
enormously popular new child-rearing book Bringing Up Bebe, which
compares French (and other European countries) child rearing which is considerably more hands-off than the current American “hovering” method where the little darlings are waited on hand and foot, and
provided with everything. The kid’s book author lives in Paris and
was driven to write this book because she was shocked to see very little of the type of selfish, tantruming kids or kids running wild in restaurants that are so typical in America in her adopted city of Paris, as well as parents who still kept up an active circle of adult friends, and regularly left the kids at home to go out.
There’s this whole thing with modern American families that severely
guilt-trips the parents for not spending every freaking second
barricaded in their houses with their kids. “Staying home with the
kids”, literally all the time, is treated like some holy vocation here in America. When I was a kid, my parents had a very active adult life–one that I used to observe with envy as I couldn’t wait to grow up and be like them. Quite often, we would stay weekends with grandparents, or at a couple of different families who would regularly trade off keeping the kids. During summers, before I was old enough for camp, I remember spending two or three weeks with another family–the age-old tradition of fostering. (Not the institutionalized state version.) Our family would then reciprocate. Kind of like being an exchange student, living with another family greatly broadens a child’s horizons and sense of independence.
However, modern parents have been completely duped into believing that they need to be with their kids 24/7. How many times do you hear parents speaking of cutting out “unessential” things in their lives “to be with their children”, as other adults look on admirably. Is it surprising at all that American women, by and large, completely stop having sex with their husbands after the kids come?
I thought that the kind of morally dictated household drudgery and “kid prison” in which the female parent is socially railroaded into interacting only with her kids went out of fashion after the 1950s. The phenomenon of the 50s “frigid” housewife, neurotically suffering from an adult interaction-starved life is now alive and well in 2012, and it’s no wonder that so many American husbands become addicted to internet porn. If an American husband dare complain that he feels like a second class citizen in his own household in which the children reign supreme, he is quickly shouted down as a selfish oaf: “now that you have kids everything changes”–for the worse.
Parents are regaled with stories about how wonderful and transcendent child-rearing is–and how the ideal would be to be able to spend every single waking minute with the little ankle biters. (And hey–kids need solitary, adult-free time as well–even at a young age.) Sure, the bond one has with their child is indeed extremely magical and fulfilling. But to insist, with moral certainty, that the parent/child relationship should completely supplant any and every adult relationship is ludicrous; yet adults who brag of doing just this are treated like heroes and moral standard bearers of the domestic world.
For many American parents, the only adult contact outside of the marriage is “playdates”–with the kids. The married couple’s tradition of adult nights spent at adult cocktail and dinner parties with groups of adult friends has quickly become a distant historical memory–remember that this was the norm for parents in my generation! Now we have the “date night” during which modern parents tiredly force themselves into scheduling a dinner or a movie with each other (no adult friends involved) and attempt to have 2 hours of mandatory “fun” peppered with concerned phone calls to the babysitter to check on the poor abandoned little darlings. My parents went out frequently to adult restaurants and adult movies/theater/concerts without having to formally call them “date nights”, and they had a steady group of 20 or so adult friends, married and otherwise, with which they shared evenings out, weekend get-togethers, and even vacations: all kid-free. (And we got to stay at someone’s house, which we loved.) This was simply part of being an adult couple. No wonder so many marriages implode–sheesh!!
It’s no surprise that the current generation of young adults is woefully lacking in independence skills; their parents still do literally everything for them. Witness the current phenomenon of college kids living on-campus receiving almost hourly phone calls from mom and dad to wake them up in the morning, and remind them to go to the next class, because that’s how they’d been functioning when they lived at home. No, I’m not kidding. I would have killed my parents had they called me as much as current young adults expect theirs to. It’s not seen as clingy over-parenting–it’s seen as “strong family ties”. Yuck.
And regarding college, mommy and daddy have already moved heaven and earth and the SAT bylaws to get them there in the first place–it’s the high-holy ultimate goal of every modern parent. My parents, both educators, provided me with a value system that education was very important, as well as a love of reading from a very early age. But when it came to actually getting good grades, applying to universities and taking standardized tests, I was on my own. So were all of my peers. There was none of the current hi-jinx of pestering teachers for grade inflation, hiring professional college application consultants and expensive SAT tutors–to say nothing of the current trend of finagling learning disability status to weasel a time advantage on standardized college entry exams. It was unheard of. Kids now think this is the way to achieve success–through puppetmaster-ish manipulations. Where does it cross the line into actual cheating???
When I went to school, and I went to UC Santa Cruz which had the highest parent income of any of the UCs, most students held some kind of part-time job, and contributed to their own upkeep without question. (And you’d better believe that I, the daughter of two public school teachers, held down my share of jobs–and it was really no big deal at all!) The current norm and ideal for the modern parent of a college kid is to be able to lavishly provide everything for the little darlings, often at the expense of such “niceties” as 401K plan contribution and multiple mortgages. When did this all change?
Back to the cookbook author. She provided a few French recipes designed to appeal to American kid palates, and reminded readers that French kids (and most other Euro countries–heck, the rest of the world) eat what their parents eat. I found myself scratching my head at this–we always ate what our parents ate–duh! Was there another way?? Even my picky brother had to choose his meat and bread diet from whatever was on the family dinner table.
There were lots of pissy comments from American parents who very
strongly defended “just giving the little darlings what they
want–chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese” because otherwise the kids won’t eat at all, or will behave like stubborn donkeys. Hey guys: you are the parents!! But I guess it’s easier this way. . Even more shocking was this: with almost every single one of the commenters, and there were 54, they spoke quite casually of cooking their kids completely different dinners than what they themselves were eating. WHAT??? All of these moms were used to cooking dinner for the adults, and then throwing chicken nuggets in the deep fryer and mac and cheese in the microwave for the kids, AND THEY WONDERED WHY THAT’S ALL THEIR KIDS WILL EAT!!! Aye yay yay.
These aren’t particularly lowfat or healthy foods and they are highly processed, full of extra added sodium, fat and high-fructose corn syrup sweeteners, so I’ll bet a lot of those kiddies are little porkers. Eating together at the dinner table is also totally passe–lots of moms commented that it was so much easier for the kids to plant themselves in front of their computers or video games than fight them to “make” them come down to dinner. The very idea of a family dinner table was treated like a quaint olde custom from another era; they’re all so busy. Wow. Am I really that old?? I can’t imagine not having dinner that my mom cooked most every single night at the kitchen table, in the same places, and then doing the dishes afterwards.
I think the current parenting and adult married lifestyle trend is a travesty. And I have certainly noticed the way modern kids behave. They are kept expensively quiet with portable video games and iPods or smart phones–you now see kids ignoring polite public manners in favor of endlessly texing or disappearing behind a game or headphones. And if they aren’t distracted with an expensive toy, they can be unbearable, and their parents won’t do a thing about it.
I’ve worked in restaurants for 20+ years, and it’s no imaginary thing that kids have gotten worse. It’s now OK for the precious darlings to literally run amok in a restaurant. I remember having to remove a 6 year-old from beneath an occupied table who was playing a raucous game of hide-and-go-seek, and return the now screaming brat to his parents who weren’t apologetic in the least. In fact, they behaved like most modern parents do if their spawn are criticized: they ferociously berated me with that old chestnut, “don’t tell me how to raise me child”. And keep in mind, this was at a sophisticated restaurant that, 20 years ago, would have been considered an adult refuge. These establishments no longer exist as parents imagine their little darlings to be extravagantly welcomed everywhere they go. And order off-menu chicken nuggets and mac’n’cheese.
And people wonder why I never had kids…
P.S. I really like this article, Do Your Kids Eat Fast Food? Might As Well Hand Them Cigarettes and Whiskey!. The author explores how parents allow, even encourage their kids to develop a craving for fast food and junk food because it’s easier to let the little darlings have what they want. The picture of the 130 pound 5 year-old stuffing fries into his fat face tells it all.