What Is The Goal of Parenting?

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Pondering the question with 'Tiger Mom' Amy Chua, Bill Cosby, an expert on navigating work and family, and Rod Dreher.

Ellen Galinsky, an expert on the nexus of work and family, spoke Monday about the results of a survey that posed this question to the children of working parents: "If you had one wish to change the way your parents' work affects your life what would it be?" Most parents, asked to speculate on the answers that children gave, guessed that they'd want mom and dad to spend more time with them. But that wasn't the most common answer. Only two percent of parents correctly guessed it. What the kids wanted most is for their parents to be "less tired and stressed."

That story was offered at the Aspen Ideas Festival in a provocative panel titled, "What is the Goal of Parenting?" Moderated by Lori Gottlieb, it featured Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, early childhood educator Erika Christakis, and family therapist Lawrence J. Cohen.

Notes from the Aspen Ideas Festival -- See full coverage

Everyone on the panel seemed to agree about the following: that we're culturally prone to beat up on parents; a lot of parents feel that "average" is a dirty word, and that "being successful" is important; and that in wealthy countries like the United States, where keeping kids alive is less of a challenge, there is far more time and opportunity to grow anxious over meeting less urgent needs.

I'd like to add a cultural artifact to the conversation. Take a look at this short scene from the first ever episode of The Cosby Show:




Compare and contrast with this post from Rod Dreher (the rest is worth reading too):

Yesterday my eight year old told me that he didn't want to go to college. "Too much reading," he said.

"You might change your mind," I said.

He told me he doubted it. I told him that whatever work he did, as long as he was honest, and worked hard, and believed he was honoring God by his work, that was fine with me. I added that his grandfather (my dad) felt bad about the fact that he wanted to go to a trade school and learn how to work with his hands, which he enjoyed more than anything, but he went to college because his parents expected him to. He ended up "chained to a desk," as he puts it today, for 20 years or so in his career as a public health officer -- this because he didn't have the courage to stand up to his parents as a young man, and follow his own calling.

"I think I want to work at a grocery store stocking the shelves, or maybe run a pet shop," my kid said.

That could work, I said, but here's the problem: you have to make sure that you can support yourself and your family on your salary. "Maybe you could do that on a pet shop manager's salary," I said. "But you probably couldn't do it with the paycheck you would make stocking shelves at the grocery store."

The important thing, I said, is to do your best to do what you love, as long as you can provide for yourself and your family with that career.
"Aunt Ruthie chose to be a schoolteacher," I told him. "She never made much money, because schoolteachers aren't paid a lot. But she made enough to take care of her family, and she was happy, and she changed a lot of people's lives for the better. You should never do a job that you hate, or that's not good for you or for other people, just because you get a lot of money at it."

"I would never do that," he said.

This is the sort of subject on which I'd love to get reader meditations. "Tiger Moms," Bill Cosby, Rod Dreher - who's got this stuff right? How are you raising your kids when it comes to this subject? Send emails to the address at the top of the page and if warranted I'll publish the best in a followup post.


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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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