The Parent Experts

I have a hard time taking parenting “experts” seriously. On good days, I feel like one myself, so who needs them. On bad days, I think I am doing it all wrong, and the other self-proclaimed “experts” out there are just going to make me feel worse.

When I agree with statements and studies published by experts, I wonder why they felt the need to spend hours of labor and often plenty of grant money to state the obvious…yet again. My reaction is a sarcastic, “No? Really?”

For example, in today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman, one of my favorite columnists, wrote about a new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in an article titled, “How About Better Parents?” The study takes a look at the Program for International Student Assessment, which tests 15-year-olds in industrialized nations, and this year, looks beyond the classroom to the affect that parent involvement has on children’s learning.

Lo and behold, they found that parent involvement is critical to a child’s academic success!

“No? Really?”

And certain types of involvement were more important than others. Reading to your children during primary school is more important, for example, than attending Parents’ Association meetings (if I didn’t read to my kids all the time, I would be upset about all that time I’ve given to our school’s Parents’ Association). Expressing an interest in how your child’s day was at school is better than going to Back to School Night.

“No? Really?”

And helping them with their homework can make a significant difference in how they score, and subsequently, achieve academic success.

“My goodness!”

This same week, it has been recommended that our school’s parent community read a book called The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine. Based on friends’  interpretations, this parenting expert seems to suggest that parents who are highly educated and economically successful tend to do too much for their children. My friends who have begun the book are suddenly concerned and depressed for their children, for whom they thought they were doing the right things. But they now fret that they are taking their children down a path that will turn them into adults who are bankrupt of a strong value system, living a life they did not choose, and feeling empty because they really wanted to pursue something that did not appear on the game plan in time to achieve it. So does that mean that kids who grow up in the steel factories of Pittsburgh or on the farms of Appalachia have a better chance of pursuing the dreams they set for themselves? Let’s ask them. And then let’s ask them again in twenty years.

I just can’t believe that we should feel guilty about giving our kids as much opportunity as we can. As long as I don’t give my boys everything they want, but rather try to give them every experience I can, am I really hurting their moral make-up? If I teach them the importance of hard work and discipline by both example and supervision (of things like homework and basketball practice), am I doing them a disservice? If I travel with them and take them to plays and museums, am I taking away their choices later in life?

It’s bad when you start a book already pissed off. I must miss the point.

I am sure once I get past the initial pages, there will be a useful lesson to turn it all around, so that a generation of economically successful parents who spend time reading every night with their children do not close the book feeling terrible.

Maybe The Price of Privilege is just part of the blacklash against Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that told us all we were not doing enough to ensure the success of our children. I remember that my crowd of moms was as upset then as they are now.

Watch your children versus stop being such a helicopter mom. Go back to work versus stay at home. Push your kids versus give them more time to play. Get the facts down first versus let their creativity flourish. Private versus public. It goes on and on.

My problem with the “experts” is that, while they are clearly well-meaning and intelligently convincing in their arguments, I believe none can claim that title. There are clearly good parents who try to do right by their children at every turn. Yet they can screw up big-time. There are those too who should never have been parents, but their child can slip through life as if under the eye of an angel. Some aspects of life and the school day are a crap-shoot. Each child comes with his or her own character and mix of interests and drive to succeed or not.

What the experts get right every time is the fact that as parents and teachers we need to make guiding them and loving them our priorities. That way, they will have a better chance at success and, as important, happiness. But like our children, each parent also has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, experiences they can leverage, and interests they can share with their children. We each have our own style.

Depending on the “expert” of the season or the latest theory being pushed by the education community, we could all flip-flop from good to bad, then back again on an annual basis.

So for me, when a book or study comes out that says “keep trying your best,” “give your children the best of you, so they find the best in them,” “sometimes the best you can do is just survive the day,” that’s when I’ll say….

“Yes! Really! Hats off to the expert!”


One thought on “The Parent Experts

  1. Someone emailed me after reading this that, while she agrees with me, she thinks I sound very bitter. I am not bitter at all. Just feeling guilty. Everyone I know reads all the trendy, hot books that come out on Parenting, because they are trying to be the best parents they can. They want to leverage what the experts have to say. I just don’t want to read the books. They seem to make parents who are trying really hard feel like they are doing it all wrong, and then the next year, the latest trend is to swing the other way. There are some consistencies, like reading to your kids. I get those. I just don’t want to feel like whatever I do, my kids are doomed!

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