Step Away From Your Children


Katie Roiphe wonders if parenthood has gone too far:

Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and '80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second-hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. And, as I remember it, those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves...

One wonders if family life is somehow overweighted in the children's directionwhich is not to say that we should love them less, but that the concept of adulthood has somehow transmogrified into parenthood. What one wonders, more specifically, is whether this intense, admirable focus is good for the child? Is there something reassuring in parental selfishness, in the idea that your parents have busy, mysterious lives of their own, in which they sometimes do things that are not entirely dedicated to your entertainment or improvement?

Mark Oppenheimer concurs:

I think these kinds of parents are striving to rule out eccentricity. Nobody, after all, is striving to engineer a lovable nerd, or a spacey dreamer, or an obsessive collector. But the world needs such people; in my life, I need such people. What is more, until we have a perfect science of happiness, which seems not to be coming any time soon, we have no right to assume that the Ivy-educated, well-rounded over-achiever is necessarily the happiest type; what if the chess geek is? Or the comix collector? In the meantime, over-controlling parents are just acting out their own best hunches, or, more likely, their own failed fantasies.

(Photo by D Sharon Pruitt, who captions: "Girls Rock Climbing Antelope Island, Utah")