Excessive Parenting, Mother Mania

Parents Behaving Badly is Time's cover story about overbearing parents who harass their children’s teachers -- in contrast to apathetic parents who never show up for conferences.

Time writes:

If you could walk past the teachers' lounge and listen in, what sorts of stories would you hear?

An Iowa high school counselor gets a call from a parent protesting the C her child received on an assignment. "The parent argued every point in the essay," recalls the counselor, who soon realized why the mother was so upset about the grade. "It became apparent that she'd written it."

The Myth of the Perfect Mother is Newsweek's cover story, with a piece by Judith Warner, the author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. Warner suggests the modern mother is driving herself and her children crazy in a quest for perfection. Another story features Muffy Mead-Ferro, author of Confessions of a Slacker Mom, who suggests a mellower model. Slacker parenting is a lot like '50s parenting, except Mom has a paying job.

Newsweek writes:

Mead-Ferro decided to keep her job and, ignoring all conventional wisdom, simply lowered her standards. She chucked out the books on intensive parenting along with the anti-bacterial soap. She hired babysitters and used local day care. She chose her kids’ pre-school based on which one was closer to her house. She refused to buy electronic toys — even the ones touted as “educational.” As her children Belle, now 7 and Joe, now 5, get older, she isn’t offering them a smorgasbord of activities but is letting them discover ways to keep themselves entertained. She whittled down the time she spends on housework and has given her kids chores.

. . . She wants her kids to tolerate frustration and setbacks, to be self-reliant and conscious of the needs of others, and above all to grow up to think for themselves.

James Lileks, house husband, father, columnist and blogger, thinks the supermoms should chill out and take a few tips from slacker moms.

The story complains that women must be control freaks "because they are unsupported, because their children are not taken care of, in any meaningful way, by society at large."

Lileks writes:

Imagine that. You have to take the responsibility of your children on yourselves. The day I expect "society" to take care of my child in a meaningful way is the day I give society the right to take her away and do a better job if I don't schedule daily flash-card phonics sessions. I suspect that we are talking about two different groups -- those mothers who genuinely need help because they made some horrible decisions and find themselves with many children and no fathers, and those who can't quite strike the perfect balance between Corporate Warrior Princess and UberSuperPerfectRoleModelLove-GusherMom, and hence get, well, excessive and control-freakish. I think the former group needs our help, and the second group needs a big frosty glass of chill-the-hell-out with a kicky pastel umbrella.

The Newsweek author presents the tragic tale of a first-grade supermom organizing a pre-Christmas class party.

This meant shopping. Color-coordinating paper goods. Piecework, pre-gluing of arts-and-crafts projects. Uniformity of felt textures. Of buttons and beads. There were the phone calls, too. From other parents. With criticism and "constructive" comments that had her up at night, playing over conversations in her mind. "I can't take it anymore," she said to me. "I hate everyone and everything. I am going insane."

Lileks, who admits he’s a guy, doesn't think small children require color-coordinated paper goods or uniformity of felt textures. As a woman, let me say this: cupcakes. Bring chocolate cupcakes for the party and all will be well. Chocolate chip cookies work too. If someone else is in charge of cleaning up, let the kids have construction paper, glue and glitter. Children don’t demand perfection. They want cupcakes.

The Self-Esteem Bubble

What happens to overparented children? When the going gets tough -- in college or on the job -- young people with inflated self-esteem fall apart, says a USA Today story.

Overall, research shows that self-esteem scores have increased with the generations, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who compared studies on self-esteem of 66,000 college kids across the USA from 1968 through 1994. Such studies are typically based on self-ratings.

She also has noticed that the undergraduates she teaches tend to have an inflated sense of self.

"When you correct writing, they'll say, 'It's just your opinion,' which is infuriating. Bad grammar and spelling and sentences being wrong is not my opinion, it's just bad writing," she says.

So when the criticism flows, some college students are increasingly seeking counseling.

Sam Goldstein, a neuropsychologist at the University of Utah, likened some students to bubbles: On the surface they seem secure and happy, yet with the least adversity they burst.

Employers complain that young workers have an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They've heard "good job" too many times from Mom to realize that they're not always doing a good job.

Don't Play on the Playground

Kimberly Swygert posts an elementary school handout on safe playing that bans just about everything that's any fun. No pushing a friend on the swings or jumping off. No sliding in unapproved ways. Games of tag must be organized and supervised.

Kimberly lost her heart to a guy when he demonstrated, at the age of 31, a back-flip swing dismount he’d perfected in elementary school.

Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at JoanneJacobs.com. She's writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.

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