Jennifer Ginsberg: What's up with all the praise, parents?
You see, I grew up in the 70s and 80s, where an accomplishment was ... well, an actual accomplishment. Kids had to try out for choir, and not everyone made the Drill Team. Along the way, I had the opportunity to learn important life lessons, like how to deal with rejection. I also got to feel intrinsic joy and pride as I set about my daily tasks, without needing applause and a standing ovation from my folks.
Now, everyone who tries out for a sport has to get on the team. God forbid someone should feel rejected for even a moment! Parents further supplement this coddling by providing their children with a steady stream of inflated encouragement.
And what's up with fetishizing your child's every move with all the photo ops? Whenever I take my kids to the park, I see parents interfering with their unstructured play time by constantly trying to get their child to pose for pictures. Worse yet, they follow their kid around the park with a video camera, like they are filming a documentary on a fascinating and rare topic. Why is there so much hyperbolic exuberance over normal behavior, like going down the slide or across the monkey bars? If I hear one more, "Good job!" when a kid does a regular kid thing, I am going to unceremoniously barf in the sandbox.
It seems as if the parents of my generation are projecting their narcissistic wounds over their past feelings of disappointment onto their children. Their attempt to remediate these feelings is evidenced by their enthusiastic over-reaction when their child performs the simplest of tasks.
Today when I dropped Shane off at his Tiger Tots karate class, most of the parents of the other children were poised outside of the dojo, with their cameras and video devices in hand. You would have thought that Brad and Angie were making a surprise appearance as guest teachers for the day! Bear in mind, this was just your average class, not even one of those horrible tournaments where every kid wins a trophy.
As the kids lined up to enter the room, Shane noticed all the other parents excitedly gathered around, as if they were about to witness the Millennial Solar Eclipse. "Mommy," he said, "please don't leave and go for a run. Stay and watch me today!"
Busted! Bad parent alert. I lowered my head in shame as I felt the other parents' judgmental glances. There was no denying my agenda -- I had my workout clothes on and my iPod was all set to go. You see, I am one of those disgraceful parents that doesn't have an orgasm when I watch my son do an X-block. One of the main reasons I chose this class for Shane is it affords me the rare opportunity to both drop him off for an activity he enjoys and get a break for myself.
I faced the jury of other parents who had already decided I was guilty of the egregious crime of not wanting to watch a bunch of preschoolers reenact "Kung Fu Panda." I offered my plea: "I need to get some exercise now. This is the time for both of us to take care of our bodies." The concept of "mommy time" is not a new one to Shane, so while he probably felt some disappointment, he tolerated it well.
As I ran around the golf course, I wondered how all this unwarranted praise and attention is impacting our children. Some of my happiest memories as a child occurred when I had the opportunity for spontaneous and unsupervised play in my community with my friends.
Kick-the-can and ding-dong-ditch on hot summer nights. Practicing backflips with my brother for hours in our community pool. Making up a fully choreographed dance to "What a Feeling" from "Flashdance" with my best friend in her bedroom. No parental scrutiny, no video cameras capturing our every move, no attempts to get me to smile and pose for a picture. Just the pure pleasure of unstructured play, without the expectation and interference of parental approval.
I also remember the disappointments. Not getting the coveted lead role in the school play. Not making the volleyball team the first time I tried out. Not winning a trophy at the gymnastics tournament. While these seeming "failures" were painful to cope with at the time, I had the opportunity to grow through them, and ultimately learn to get tougher.
Thank you Mom and Dad for allowing me both my small and large triumphs, and teaching me the difference between normalcy and achievement. Thank you even more for allowing me to stumble and feel the consequences of my fall, for it was those experiences that provided me with the opportunity for character development.
I rest my case.
|Jennifer Ginsberg is a Los Angeles writer and mother to three, surprisingly angst-free children. As a former actress/waitress, turned clinical social worker specializing in addiction, turned full-time mother/part-time psychotherapist/writer, Jennifer is particularly well-versed on the topic of angst.|
Find out more about her life at angstmom.com