HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN PARENT
I’ve decided to start a blog, because I realized that I have many Deep Thoughts which need to be shared over the Interwebs. I know that those of you in cyberland will savor every word, but be forewarned, I will only post once a week or so, and may run out of enthusiasm by March. That being said, I would like to start by sharing with you on How to be a Good Parent. If I offend anybody, I apologize in advance. Maybe.
There’s been a flurry of books published lately on Good Parenting, mostly discussing how bad American parents are. Amy Chua wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, in which she proclaims that Chinese mothers are superior due to chaining their offspring to the baby grand until they perfect a Beethoven Sonata and recite the Fibonacci sequence between bottles.
The latest book is amazingly called, “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” (did this woman not have an editor?) This book extols the virtues of sort of ignoring your offspring while sipping espresso in the café, and yet their children sleep through the night, eat foie gras, and prepare for a government career of 3 hour lunches and mocking tourists. How do they do it?
My personal theory is that it is all in our genes. Americans are an amazing genetic goulash of various nationalities and disorders. Our ancestors were all losers, peasants, attention-deficit risk-takers, criminals on the lam, and starving Irishmen. My own offspring are German Irish Italian Russian Polish Czech. I’m sure the Mongol Horde is mixed in there somewhere. One of their misguided junior high teachers once assigned them to document a Christmas (oops, sorry) Holiday tradition or food based on their ethnic or country heritage. Wonder bread? Jello? All the kids, being mutts with no background, made up their traditions, which usually involved hiding a coin in a loaf of bread. An event which never happened at our house.
So American children don’t have the spunk of our various reprobate ancestors bred out of them. However, I have found the key to raising amazing American children. I count myself as an expert because neither of them have yet been in prison (that I know of).
First of all, you must be lazy. I am constantly amazed at the amount of energy American parents put into carting their spawn to various sporting events, in the hopes that they will some day get a College Scholarship and play (lacrosse rugby Jenga etc) at the university, when most of them really want to go to the university to drink beer and learn anatomy. I perfected the art of discouraging extra coaching, travel teams, year round training, and accelerated classes under the assumption that it created far too much work for me. Instead, we spent many hours lounging around the family room watching “The Real World” on MTV, where I would emphasize that these trashy girls did not have the sort of values I wanted my children to develop, and ewww, her hair is just so nasty!
Next, you should allow them to find their own way. This saves a lot of tears. Child number one decided that she “must” play the clarinet, but after a year of making sounds that caused the dog to howl, she gave it up, with my enthusiastic encouragement. She eventually chose cheerleading, and we spent many happy hours watching ESPN cheer tournaments and making fun of the teams who were uncoordinated. Now, THERE’S family values!
Child #2 decided to forego college and joined the military with our encouragement and support (Who are we kidding here? He was 18, legal, and signed up before I could go on a hunger strike and chain myself to the recruiter’s desk). He emerged 4 years later a fine young man, and will graduate from college this May (oh please please please). Thanks, Uncle Sam! We weren’t able to be helicopter parents, because the Air Force just wouldn’t let us on the helicopter!
So, in conclusion, when you have that urge to sign your child up for various enrichment activities, sports, or music lessons, first check the TV listings. What programs will you miss while chauffeuring them? Do you want to spend your nights relearning calculus? (or learning it for the first time?) Remember, they won’t listen to you anyway, because the genes of some long gone ancestor will be whispering in their ear, “Take a chance! Do your own thing! Go west! (or wherever they go now)” And we’ll have much more interesting children than those French or Chinese kids, although they will never play the piano.