Okay I admit it – one of my illicit joys is keeping a secret tally of other parents’ annoying, infuriating, embarrassing helicopter mistakes. From bearing my soul in Mommy Wars I discovered that other parents – in particular, other moms – proffer salvation in my struggles to be a half-decent parent. Quite often they provide desperately needed compassion, good humor, inspired advice, and sense of perspective on parenting and life.
Other times, salvation lies in shamelessly observing that I’m not quite as pathetic as they are. A tiny part of the pathologically insecure 7th grade girl I once was remains in me. Yes, even as a 46-year-old wife and mother of three.
Michel Martin, the host of NPR’s Tell Me More, recently got a bunch of us moms to fess up to all of this on air. Many complaints were about mothers who do too little. Moms guilty of neglect, of asking other adults, teachers and neighbors too many favors. Parents who leave the thankless, joyous, nerve-wracking job of parenting up to other people.
I sympathize. Selfishness can be worse than psychological suffocation. But both can kill a kid’s spirit.
In my white-bred, overeducated, private school world, my pet peeves are the moms – and a few dads – who do way too much for kids who already have way too much. I recently complained about the mom who stayed home to help her son write an English paper (he’s a sophomore at Harvard) and the parents of 12-year-olds who’ve already enrolled their children in weekly SAT classes, five years before they take the dreaded test. This is what I’m talking about: The parents who micromanage their children’s academic, athletic and social lives – often paradoxically with the best of intentions.
You childfree, or parents of kids under five, must think I’m kidding. Read on.
During the ten years that I have coached non-competitive soccer and basketball recreation teams, I have read many 1,000-plus word emails detailing what we unskilled, volunteer, amateur coaches should be doing to help an individual parent’s kid master the sport. One parent suggested I start a weekly newsletter, complete with pictures, to guide the team, reinforce key skills and build confidence. Another threatened legal action on behalf of her son if he was not included on the squad she requested. These are teams of kids younger than 12. Teams that play maybe 10 games a season. In leagues that exist for the express purpose of teaching children sportsmanship, team camaraderie and the importance of fair playing time regardless of ability.
Cue thud-thud-thud Jaws music!
And a gleeful smile from me. Cause as low as I’ve sunk, I’ve never gone that deep. When I screw up, girl I know it. I try to HIDE my hideous blunders. I cower in shame instead of putting my flaws in writing and sending them to the world via email.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a TERRIBLE parent by many measures. I yell at my kids. Motherhood did not cure my potty mouth. My husband and I fight in front of them. The kids watch too much TV. If any of them gets accepted by an impressive college, it will be through blatant bribery: I have promised (in writing) to buy them a new car upon graduation from any of the seven Ivy League schools (plus Stanford). I have never, ever cooked a leafy green vegetable for them.
But we laugh all the time, sometimes while I’m still screaming. I let them have more pets than there are people living in the house. I’m quick with apologies, saying I’m sorry as often as I say I love you. Perhaps most significant, I trust my children. They can make friends, do their homework and master their favorite sports without me getting in the way. My kids have a lot to complain about in terms of my parenting. But I hereby congratulate myself that neither spiritual asphyxiation nor negligence make that list.
Best of all, I’m grateful that all of us parents are terrible in our own wonderful ways.