Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Going Against The Grain or "A Condemnation Of The New-Era Yuppie Parent"

My two year old son--not a school-age child!

In the past four days I have twice been engaged in conversation about my son and the fact that I should be enrolling him in a pre-school program as soon as possible.  During both instances I informed the other party that he had just turned two and was promptly told that I should get him into a program as soon as he turns three if not sooner.  I bit my tongue both times and have decided to transform the negative energy that has persisted into something positive by expressing my thoughts and feelings here in this blog entry.

I'm not entirely sure of when it happened but it seems as if sometime over the past decade or so there has been an inexplicable rise in interest in pre-school programs.  Well before I became a parent I can recall hearing stories of couples signing their children up for waiting lists to be put onto a waiting list for a pre-school program.  The presumption on my part is that these seemingly well-meaning lunatics want their children to be in the "best" programs around, which I can understand...I just can't reconcile that "best" with "pre-school."  Pre-Kindergarten programs are designed to help to expose the child to the structured environment that they will be entering for the next thirteen years, to assist them in their socialization and conditioning as students in said environment, and to help them to build simple skills like sharing, obeying commands, following directions, and indulging their creative sides through various art and music exercises; I didn't realize that pre-k groomed a child for BC Calculus and AP Physics.

I haven't been a parent for very long (two years and five days) but I have been a person for quite awhile (and a pretty observant one at that).  From what I have seen in terms of the people who are obsessing about their children beginning school as early as possible for the purpose of helping them to succeed presumably in life as well as school, I feel like I can conclude confidently that the majority of these neurotic parents are a part of what I am terming the New-Era Yuppies.  On the surface, a person who wants only the best for their child seems like a wonderful ideal to which to aspire...but when one digs deeper the ugly truth makes itself apparent (get it?  A "a parent.")  These Yuppies don't want what's best for their child, they want what they've been told is the "best" for their child.  This new generation of high-strung, overachieving, perfectionist Yuppie has also been imbued with a tremendous guilt complex.  If you so much as imply that they are failing their children or that something else is better than what they are doing, the new Yuppie perfectionist parents have meltdowns and obsess over this newer, better thing.  Thus the prevalence of the Mommy & Me, Gymboree bullshit that you're seeing nowadays.  Baby Bikram Yoga, My Baby Can Read, and countless other trendy and ultimately unnecessary programs have been springing up and persisting mostly because of the aforementioned guilt complex.

"Oh?  You don't take your son or daughter to Baby Yoga?"


This obsession with enrolling children into school or academically oriented programs at ever-decreasing ages seems to be symptomatic of the pursuit of perfection that this new generation of parents seems content to engage in.  When did kids stop being allowed to be kids?  Why are you making them grow up at an accelerated rate and to what end?  I hate to break it to you but putting your kid in school at three or two isn't going to help him or her to succeed in school or in life down the road!  As far as your child's academic success goes, it's called potential and personality.  Your kid can be the brightest student in the room but if he's stuck with a crappy teacher in a crappy school, his performance is going to suffer; ditto for the slow learner in the best possible environment.  Personality is huge too because if your kids are lazy or is disinterested in school...guess what?  They're not going to do well unless they have natural talent for a given subject (see: potential) or they are in the right type of school environ!

Let me make something clear: putting your child in school at an early age does have its merits but that's not what I am arguing here.  My bone of contention is the seeming need to put said child in said school.  What kid wouldn't benefit from spending time with other kids, learning how to share, learning self-discipline, and learning structure?  As much as that's a rhetorical answer, I do have one of my own: your normal, everyday kid!  Do you know why Yuppies are so obsessed on exposing their children to these things in school?  Because as parents they aren't doing it themselves!  You want your kid to spend time playing with others?  Take them to a playground.  I don't mean some time-structured, rigid "class"--I mean an outdoor play area where kids run around and be kids.  You want your kids to learn how to share and how to sit still for more than ten seconds?  DISCIPLINE THEM!  I'm so friggin' tired of hearing shit like:

"Tucker--you are devaluing that little boy by taking his organic juice box without his permission.  You need to stop and think about whether or not you are invading his personal space."


"Connor--we don't want to elevate our voices in anger, do we?  What should we do with our negative energy?  Should we return it to the environment with some deep breathing?"

Part of the problem with the New-Era Yuppie Parent is the mollycoddling and ridiculous pacifism that they employ in terms of how they interact with their children.  It's become nigh unthinkable to use words like failure and disappointment--basically any word with a negative prefix attached to it.  The fear is that this next generation of children will be emotionally damaged and scarred for life, presumably because that's precisely what happened to their Yuppie parents.

Newsflash!  There is nothing wrong with being honest with your child and letting them know in a constructive way that they've failed or have done something wrong.  Giving trophies for seventh and eighth place is counterproductive.  Instead of using that result as an opportunity for edification, they are falsifying reality for those children by demonstrating to them erroneously that they will succeed simply because they tried, regardless of whether or not they tried hard enough or had any sort of success as a result of their efforts.  Sheltering children from rough language and harsh words does them a tremendous disservice because it oversensitizes them.  When it's time to enter the real world, usually in the form of public school, they're grossly underprepared for what they face.  You wonder why bullying is in the news so often these days?  It's because there is a generation of kids who have absolutely no coping skills for the realities of life.  When they've been shielded and sheltered their entire lives from the roughness of reality, their ears filled only with words of empty encouragement and their minds filled with an overinflated sense of self-worth and value, they wind up lacking the emotional toughness and mechanisms for dealing with being told no, that they're not as good as they've been told they were, and that the world in many ways couldn't care less about them.  These children, ironically enough, wind up lacking the self-esteem necessary to deal with what the world throws at them because they've been swallowing nothing but placebos of love and encouragement.  

What these Yuppie parents are ultimately concerned about and consumed with is artifice; they don't care about whether or not their children are living their lives to their utmost--achieving their ultimate potential.  Their primary aim is to make it look like they are.  They fill their children's lives with structured activities under the guise that they are enriching their children and exposing them to things that are beneficial to their growth and development...but these things are nothing more than a house of cards.  As parents, we are meant to serve as teachers and guides to our children--not travel agents plotting out the itineraries of their lives!  Kids should be allowed to live their lives in such a way that they can experience ups and downs and thus build the requisite skill sets for dealing with both.

The parents themselves seem terrified of being disliked by their children; they're more concerned about being viewed as a friend than they are an authority figure and disciplinarian.  They often fail to reprimand their children adequately for things out of a fear that their children won't like them or that they will be somehow diminished in their children's eyes.  I've always felt that there is a parallel between teaching and parenting and that is no more apparent than it is here with the parallel I am about to draw: the Yuppie parent is the same as the teacher who never yells at her class, brings them candy and treats all the time, and who is more concerned about being popular among her students.  Both the parent and teacher ultimately fail in their respective jobs because of a lack of self-confidence.  You're the parent/teacher--act like one!  Step up to the plate, take ownership of your position, and do what you have to do.  

I would never advocate spanking or raising one's hands to one's child but there is definitely middle ground between the two extremes of being violent and being passive in this new-era Yuppie sense.  It's okay to yell at your kids, to correct them when they make mistakes, to punish them when they deliberately do something wrong, and to put them in time out (if such is your wont) when they disrespect you or the rules that you lay out for them.  It's how they learn!  I see parents whose kids are literally tearing up a house or running amok in a store knocking things off the shelves and all the parents do is offer a meek "No..." or "Stop..."--a passive reaction to a very active behavior.  How can you expect your children to learn things like respect for themselves, for others, and for property not to mention self-discipline when you're not setting clearly defined limits and establishing consistent consequences for overstepping those bounds?  These things happen at home NOT in school!

And thus we return to the pre-k situation.  Most of the things that my kid will supposedly be benefiting from by enrolling early in a program are things that my wife and I already address and take care of now.  The most important difference will be exposing my son to the school environment and schedule...but he's two right now and I intend fully to allow him to enjoy this time.  He's going to be in school for almost a decade and a half not counting any higher education, why should I rush him into it?  The presumption is that a kid who starts school earlier will be more successful.  No offense to the kids that I grew up with that went to Nursery School but I turned out as good or better a child as they did and I developed into an arguably more successful and better prepared adult who started school at four and a half than a number of them who began at three or earlier.  Again, it's all about potential and frankly I do not believe that that potential can be tapped or be manipulated at such an early age.  Your kid's eighteen months old and he can read?  Great!  Come back to me in another eighteen years and let's see how much further ahead he is than the kid who starts reading at four or five.  Your kid can add and subtract at two?  I'd love to see how that head start helps her with calculus in another fifteen years.

The bottom line is that my son is going to be a great student or he's not going to be.  I'm not going to obsess about putting him in the "best" schools because if he's meant to be academically successful, he'll turn out that way whether he's in the worst school or the so-called best.  Don't believe me?  How many Macaulay Honors Students came from Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, and Bronx Science?  A bunch.  And how many came from schools with less illustrious reputations like Curtis and Townsend Harris?  A few as well.  Now for the million-dollar question: which batch of kids is more successful?  The answer is: there is no collective answer.  It depends on the individual students.  Two of my friends who were members of the Macaulay Class of '10 attended one of the schools of diminished stature and now they are tremendous successes not just in a professional sense but in a human one; they have truly become citizens of the world and are more civic-minded than many of the most academically talented students produced by schools like NYU and other prestigious educational institutions.  They thrived and continue to thrive because of themselves, not because of some dopey new age propaganda or toddler-education programs.

I'm sure that I'm coming across as disgruntled and in many ways I am but my disdain for this new wave of parents and my seething misanthropy stems from what I view as a generation that has lost its sense of self and sense of respect.  Communication--arguably one of the most important aspects of our humanity--has become so distant and desensitized as a result of our ever expanding virtual presence on websites like Facebook and through the use of devices like smart phones that people seem to have lost sight of what's appropriate and what isn't.  People are quick to offer unsolicited opinions on things that we post online or through text messages and that lack of a filter seems to have found its way into our interpersonal communications in public.  For example, I'm tired of being given unsolicited parenting advice from anyone other than my parents, my family, and my friends who have children and with whom I have already talked about different parenting situations.  The two words that fill me with increasing ire every time I hear them are, "You should..."  I hear them from the register woman at Met, from the people my wife and I see in stores or at the mall, and from the people I encounter when I'm out on my walks.  I'm not sure of what compels people to offer unsolicited advice or to make corrections to things that they seem to think need correcting but they clearly do not take into account that when you approach someone and immediately begin telling them that they're doing something wrong, you're being both obnoxious and presumptuous.  You have no idea why I'm doing or not doing whatever it is and you can't possibly know whether or not you're more qualified than me to reach such a judgment or conclusion.

Here's a list of things that I am tired of:

People adjusting my son's zipper on his jacket if it's slightly open or closed all the way.  When you do that you're implying that you know what's better for him than I do and you're wrong.

People touching my kid.  It's slightly less obnoxious when it's an elderly person but when it's someone between the ages of thirty and sixty?  It's grounds for me getting my scream on.  You wouldn't appreciate it if I walked up to you and patted you on the head, squeezed your cheeks, or tugged on your hands, right?  So stop doing it to someone's child that you do not know!  Ironically enough, people under thirty seem not to engage in this behavior and, surprise surprise, neither do people who have toddlers and young children, themselves.

People offering my son things in front of me.  I am his parent and I make the decisions for him at this stage of his life.  If you want to give him candy, ask me first.  If you want to offer to clean his hands (the single oddest thing I've seen yet), ask me first (or, preferably, don't ask at all--just go away).  When you offer something directly to a two year old you're simultaneously disrespecting and devaluing me as a parent and calling into question your own judgment because, well, you're offering something to a two year old and are expecting that toddler to have the faculties necessary to make an informed decision.

People offering me parenting advice.  Though there's an outside chance that you actually have some sort of Master's or PhD in parenting, I'm going with the safe bet that you're just an overbearing, obnoxious asshole who thinks that a) you know better than me and b) that what you have to say is worth hearing.  I've never offered unsolicited advice to another parent even if I felt that what they were doing was wrong because, in the end, it's really just a matter of preference; whatever they are doing might not be how I would do it but that doesn't make it incorrect.  Parenting is an organic endeavor; what works for one kid, individually, might not work for another and what works in one instance or situation might not work in the next.  It's not only pompous to think that you know better than the child's parent when you offer that advice, it's pure idiocy.  You couldn't possibly know whether or not what you have to say has any merit because you do not have the information necessary to draw a reliable conclusion.

People who insist on specifying which parent the child resembles most.  This started literally the day we brought Timmy home and, fortunately, I was able to tell right away that you cannot put stock in what anyone else says about your child.  Some people said he looked only like me, others that he looked only like my wife Heather, and a few (the smart ones, truthfully) who said he looked like an even mix of the two of us.  It doesn't annoy me so much when people say "Oh, he definitely looks like his dad/mom" it's the people who insist on it--the ones who press the issue and say such asinine things as, "SORRY MOM BUT HE LOOKS 100% LIKE HIS FATHER.  HE DOESN'T HAVE ANY OF YOU IN HIM AT ALL!"  Now this has happened both to Heather and to me so it doesn't bother me at all (if it happened only to one of us I'm sure that person would have developed a complex about it) but it does annoy the piss out of me when someone makes a comment like the one quoted above, which, sadly, is precisely what happened at a supermarket a week or two ago.  How blatantly rude can you get?  First of all, when you're saying shit like this in front of the other person, how do you think that they feel?  Second of all, are you that unaware of how awkward you make the situation when you say something like that?  And lastly, who gives a shit which parent a child looks like more!?  My answer is: he looks like Timmy.

I swear, I wish I had the balls to have looked that woman square in the eye and say something like, "This woman isn't his mother" or "His mother left shortly after the birth.  This is my cousin" just to see what her reaction would have been.

So to tie this whole thing together, I must share an epiphany that I had earlier in the day while thinking about this entry.  I've always gone against the grain, throughout my entire life.  I've never been a rebel in any sense of the word but have been unconventional or eclectic in my approach towards and personal view of life.  People who love me understand and accept this, and, in many ways, fuel it with their own eccentricities.  I do not like following the status quo, especially when I feel opposed to it.  I keep my mouth shut when it comes to the affairs of others and offer my input only when asked for it.  I keep my hands to myself unless I'm invited to do otherwise.  I offer encouragement whenever I can and I always make sure that it's constructive and genuine; if my son fails I can still support him by helping him to see the positive in the experience and to suggest that he use the situation as motivation to try harder the next time and to learn whatever he can from what happened.  I don't sugarcoat things and I don't spew sycophantic platitudes simply as a way of endearing myself to another person; I'd rather that person respect me for my honesty and objectivity than for my hollow attempts at kissing their ass.  I disagree tremendously with what I view as the Yuppification of the next generation of children but I would never out-and-out tell someone that what they are doing with their child or how they are parenting said child is wrong because it's not for me to say; my acerbic venom here is a reaction to people telling me to my face how I should be raising my child.  To these people--the ones with a preternatural preoccupation with staying on top of whatever the latest trend is, the ones who value artificial perfection over the realization that perfection is divine and is unachievable by mere mortals--I offer the following in conclusion:

"Fuck off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns.  I say never be complete.  I say stop being perfect.  I say...let's evolve--let the chips fall where they may." --Tyler Durden