The pitfalls of parenting out of fear and peer pressure
I have discovered, much to my shock and dismay, that I am officially a Helicopter Mother. My natural tendency is to hover over my kids, micromanage their days, and if I was physically able to, I would probably be teaching them something at every moment of every day.
I know I'm not alone in this. A trip to the local play park confirms it. There are parents following their kids around narrating their every move or teaching them songs and rhymes while they play (usually loudly so that everyone knows what a good parent they are.) It seems like I am constantly surrounded by supermoms.
Adequate is unacceptable
Whether it be breastfeeding, early potty training, baby yoga, baby sign language, mandarin for preschoolers, early reading, Baby Mozart, a whole foods diet or competitive sports for preschoolers, it seems to be extremely important to have your child excel their peers developmentally.
To only do adequately for your child is unacceptable. Excellence is what's required. There seems to be a competitive spirit that is cleverly masked as "just wanting what's best for your child."
Seeing some of these competitive and prideful attitudes in my own heart has really made me think about my priorities. I'm not sure I want to swing over to the 'free-range kids' style parenting (a movement sparked when Lenore Skenazy wrote a column for the New York Sun titled “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Take The Subway Alone”). But I don't want to remain in the 'helicopter' camp either.
A wise woman once counselled me, "There is something to be said for adequate. An adequate education, an adequately cleaned house, etc.." I think she may be on to something. What are we so afraid of? Why would it be so bad for our child to be merely average in some areas of their life (as they inevitably will be anyway.)
Getting our priorities straight
There are some things that I want to do really well. For example, I want to do the best job that I can spiritually mothering my children. I want them to know that there is one thing that is the most important thing in the world–Christ's love for them in the gospel.
I want them to understand how the gospel transforms all of life. I want them to be what they were made to be. I want them to develop character that reflects the one who made them. Resilience, strength of character and love for God and others are all necessary to walk this path. They do not need to be little geniuses in one or two areas of their lives while being wildly unbalanced and unprepared for the rest of life.
I do realize that some children are given a special talent or ability that can be nurtured by their parents. Intelligence and special abilities can be glorifying to God. But something really twisted is happening in our culture. Parents seem to need their children to be special or gifted and are determined to accomplish this at all costs.
For the Christian woman, mothering is an important job, but it is not the most important thing in her life.
First, she is a child of God.
Second, she is her husband's lover, companion, friend and helper.
Third, she is her children's mother.
And there are other things, such as church, community, work and volunteering that come further down the list of priorities. If we find that all of our emotional energy is being poured into mothering, we are in danger of becoming unhealthy in other areas. Perhaps we need to lower our aspirations for our kids in terms of academics, sports, hobbies and more.
Afraid to slow down
Mothers often feel pressure to produce excellence in their children, but it may be a mistake to assume this is good. Many of us are consumed with guilt or anxiety when other parents do more for their kids than we do for ours. We are afraid to slow down because our kids will be left behind. Little kids are feeling burned out before their life has really begun.
I'm not sure the break-neck pace really makes them happier or more successful in the long run. I suppose it depends on your definition of success. At the very least I think we need to be asking ourselves if we are allowing peer pressure and fear to shape our parenting. Our kids don’t need to be extraordinary to be worth something. They are valuable simply because they are made in the image of God. No baby mozart required.