When mother takes professional skills home

The social pendulum perpetually swings to extremes. First, you have children being raised by no one. Then you have children whose every minute is micromanaged by MBAs.

November 15, 1999|By Froma Harrop

THEREs been much criticism of parents who do not devote enough time to child rearing. Such adults leave the kids for long hours in day care while they give their all to the workplace and health club. No one knows if the youngsters are doing their homework, who their playmates are, or what they are building in the garage.

Shocking reports of an unsupervised generation turning savage has generated a backlash. Social scientists now urge parents to allocate more time to being with their children, even if it means giving up a well-paying job. Such exhortations resonate especially well with parents in higher-income groups. As a result, more educated women are leaving high-powered careers for full-time motherhood.

Swinging pendulum

No one in America ever does anything by halves. The social pendulum perpetually swings to extremes. First, you have children being raised by no one. Then you have children whose every minute is micromanaged by MBAs.

Be assured that the latter are good, hard-working women. But at times one wishes that a fairy godmother would hit some of them over the head with a rubber mallet and send their children to an undemanding day-care center for an hour or two.

Give the kids an opportunity to circulate without intense instruction, encouragement and, when indicated, the hiring of experts. Even the famed stay-at-home mom of the 50s made serious efforts to get the kids out of her hair. In this era of 24-hour stock trading, a never-ending news cycle and supermarkets that stay open all night, the professional full-time mom is always, always on the job.

Actually, these trends may be part of the same story. Americans live in a time of economic abundance and relative world peace. Yet instead of relaxing, they persevere in a state of hyper-vigilance and suffer from a deep sense of inadequacy. They view themselves as contestants in a monumental struggle for survival.

For the children, life is a game of musical chairs. Every time the music stops, one child gets thrown out of the game. Their child must be smarter and faster or they will fall into the abyss.

Parental anxieties

It would follow that parents whose world view is shaped by extraordinary demands for performance would pass their anxieties onto the next generation. I know parents who, in the course of one summer, enrolled a boy under the age of 7 in tennis, art and introduction to sailing classes.

Others take little kids barely 4 feet tall on carefully coordinated trips through Europes Gothic cathedrals. They sometimes participate in fund-raisers for competitive private schools before their babies are out of diapers.

An acquaintance who teaches music in a Texas public school tells of parents who force their children to study not one instrument, but both violin and piano at once, and to also excel in soccer and French. They drive the young ones from tennis tutoring, to cello lessons, to the museum. An hour of play means putting the child in a room full of educationally stimulating toys. Every moment of the waking day is dedicated to creating the superhuman.

I speak of moms instead of dads, because it is almost always the mother who decides to devote every ounce of energy to child rearing. However, the dad is often highly involved in establishing the training routine.

Spend a few hours around these families and observe how the childs every question gets answered, even if it interrupts an adult conversation. Praise flows like Niagara. Discipline is never sharp. After being kindly asked 10 times not to slam the screen door, the little one slams it for the eleventh time. The parents response is to reason with children. Dont you know how doing that annoys me? the mother asks without raising the volume of her saintly voice.

What the future holds

It will be interesting to see what happens to such children when they fly the coop. My music-teaching friend remembers a promising cello student who came to a complete standstill once she left the pressure cooker that was home. Sadly, the girl abandoned music altogether in college.

One suspects that some of these mothers were themselves driven to meet unattainable standards.

Rather than leave the rat race in the business world, they simply brought the rat race home to the nursery. Pity the child whose stay-at-home mom doesnt have a hobby.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal editorial writer and columnist. Readers may reach her in care of the Providence Journal, 75 Fountain St., Providence, Rhode Island, 02902 or by e-mail: fromaharrop@projo.com.

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