The Ivy League Rules For Parenting

poppins

Just in case you were ready to accept that life is precarious, that our most important decisions are made with blinders on…along comes another reassuring reversion to The Rules. These are not the rules of dating; they are the next set, the rules of how to parent. More precisely how to mother.

The ever-burgeoning ‘science’ of parenting follows on the heels of the new ‘science’ of eating and the ‘science’ of happiness.

Americans keep looking to books for answers rather than ‘figuring it out’ or asking their elders and their peers. Whether you have ingested the pressure of The Over-Scheduled Child or participate in the backlash of The Free Range-Child, this cult of parenting has created enormous stress.  Mothers, marriages and friendships fracture and the very children whom this focus was meant to help burn like leaves under the intensity of our gaze.

Women who looked forward to leaving work, now find that the land of organic juice boxes and competitive martial arts makes raising children seem as hard as getting tenured. Detail-oriented ambitious women channel the same drive used at work into their homes: children have become a career. The joy of parenting may vanish because, ironically, parenting has become rarified and precious.

In our heads we all have an ideal mother we imagine ourselves. This new type of career mother makes that image real. Mine was a combination of Mary Poppins and Kate Spade. In my daydreams I take mother magic out of my Kate Spade bag along with my iPad. In reality I achieved neither the look nor the respect with any consistency.

Parenting is far more haphazard than I ever imagined. This is a terrifying idea for an ambitious woman used to measurable accomplishments and endless analysis. Standing in front of a playground, shuffling my frozen feet, I lamented out loud my bad habit of resorting to the BIG VOICE.  Another mother, a truth-teller, said to me “I often feel that this is not my real family. My real family is much more well-behaved.” “Aha,” I exulted, “there’s another like me.”

I also know a mother who sent vegetables to school with her daughter every day even though she knew that her daughter always brought them home. She sent them so the teacher could see “I wasn’t a bad mother.” This was, in essence her “Facebook lunch.”

What has, I hope, saved me from becoming truly mired in this conversation is a combination of my work and laziness. I don’t have time to follow the level of social intricacies required to navigate the world of  school. I can’t even be on time! And, frankly, I truly believe that my daughter’s teacher is the person best qualified to teach my child.

As Adrienne Rich wrote, we should use our energy where “it is taken up, restored and given back.” For me, being there in the morning and at night, framing my daughter’s day makes me feel connected to her.

To be continued…

 

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