'Calm Down': The Best Advice for Parents, or the Worst?

Examining the CTFD school of child-rearing
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Twice a month, a panel of dads discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, they talk about a new philosophy that tells moms and dads to chill out.


Ross: Every so often, I get the sense that the world doesn't love me and my kids quite as much as we deserve. Walking the streets of Park Slope, Brooklyn, my son and daughter sprint-weaving in the vanguard, bowling over little old ladies, menacing small dogs, and visibly irking the hipsters who conspire with us married folks to drive up real estate prices, I suspect some people genuinely don't find us irresistibly cute. Just a feeling.           

Another example. Earlier this summer, my wife, Tomoko, and I took the kids on an international flight to Japan, where her father lives. It's a long way to go with young ones, and at the last minute, Tomoko decided to upgrade our seats to business class. It was expensive, but we'd have ample legroom, and the chairs recline all the way back, like beds, so the children would be able to sleep. Made sense. Once onboard, though, the stylishly dressed Japanese businessman seated next to us immediately summoned a flight attendant and arranged to move. Again, just a feeling, but I think he didn't want to sit next to us.

I mention all this in the context of a story I came across on Jezebel last week called "The CTFD Method is the Greatest of All Parenting Trends," by David Vienna from the website, TheDaddyComplex. Here's a sampling of the wisdom:

●Worried your friend's child has mastered the alphabet quicker than your child? Calm the fuck down.

●Scared you're not imparting the wisdom your child will need to survive in school and beyond? Calm the fuck down.

●Concerned that you're not the type of parent you thought you'd be? Calm the fuck down.

●Upset that your child doesn't show interest in certain areas of learning? Calm the fuck down.

●Stressed that your child exhibits behavior in public you find embarrassing? Calm the fuck down.

What strikes me about Vienna's humorous take on parenting is how focused it is on externalities. The parent in need of the CTFD method wants young Johnny to learn the alphabet not because he's anxious about the child's intelligence per se--though there was that incident at nine months where he fell off the bed--but because he's concerned that some other budding Mensa at the daycare has already done so. Wisdom-imparting? Most parents don't feel they've failed in the Leave it to Beaver aspects of childrearing; no one believes in wisdom anymore, even parents, so there's nothing at which to fail. The concern comes from knowing that if your kids are unwise, or even foolish, everyone knows where to apportion the blame. That would be you.

CTFD, then, funny as it might be, has nothing to do with the actual concerns that roil parents' bellies in the middle of the night or when we check our bank balance. It's just that no one wants to look bad.

More seriously, though, the anxiety that Vienna skewers is real: a byproduct of the tension-filled life of America's YOYO (You're on your own) parenting world. It may take a village, but only if we're talking about one with barbed wire fencing encircling the huts, crappy afterschool care, astronomical college costs, and no one to mind the goats in the afternoon.

We parents worry, in short, because we understand that resources are limited. It isn't just ego or the pursuit of success through our offspring. It is the certainty that in an overcrowded classroom (28 in my son's first-grade class) only so many kids will be educated properly. If yours won't or can't hit the tenor notes on those ABCs, someone else's will.

The perturbation stems from the sense that no one will take care of your child but you. There is no help, no safety net, no community, and if these things ever existed, they don't today, at least not in the world in which we live. I know that I can depend on my direct relatives, the money my wife and I earn, my love for the children, and that's it. Faced with this apprehension, you shouldn't calm the fuck down. You should look both ways when you cross the street, and be afraid.

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Matt Gross & Theodore Ross

Matt Gross and Theodore Ross write for the website DadWagon. Theodore Ross is the author of Am I a JewMatt Gross is the author of The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World.

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