Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Come here, honey; let Mama help you be more self-sufficient."

Saw an interesting news feature Thursday night on parents who just can't let go. Over-parenting is no revelation in and of itself. We already know volumes about stage Moms and soccer Dads. More recently, we've heard a fair amount about so-called "helicopter Moms" who, most notoriously, get ultra-entangled in their kids' college lives. Aside from acting as their children's business managers and social secretaries, they'll try to micromanage affairs (as it were) in the dorm, sorority or frat house. They'll get on the phone with the profs, department chairs or even deans to secure a better grade for Brad or Heather. They'll inject themselves unashamedly into college elections. And so forth. Well, now it's progressed to the next stage: Seems they keep this up even after their kids go off into the world "on their own." The report I saw, on World News Tonight with Charles Gibson, focused on the growing number of parents—usually mothers—who get involved in their kids' lives at work, too. And we're not just talking about meddling in friendships or putting in their 3 cents regarding workplace romances; we're talking about the Mom who dials her kid's boss, or even someone in HR, to complain about the way her precious little progeny is being treated. These Moms will pester bosses about the workload, take it upon themselves to say the kid could use a (paid) day off, play an active role in office politics, and generally make a damned nuisance of themselves. Yes, they'll even ask for raises on their kids' behalf!

Helpful hint to any Moms who may be reading this and wondering if they're a little over-the-top when it comes to their grown kids: If you have your child's boss's phone number in speed-dial (or in your "Five," as that current cell-phone commercial puts it), it is a very bad sign.

Joking aside, it should be clear what's happening here. Parents who raised their kids in the era of self-esteem ("You are special!") and entitlement ("Don't let anyone rob you of your dreams!") have determined that they're going to ensure a smooth ride for Junior or Missy all the way through. And I'm betting that Junior and Missy—though they may put up a front of whining about it, just for show—are active accomplices in most cases, happily accepting whatever assistance Mom may wish to provide, and even dropping little hints about areas where Mom's intervention might be useful.*

I would ask only this: Is there not something slightly screwy about the kind of "self-esteem" that results from Mom pulling all the strings? And how "special" can a kid feel when he knows that Dad was cleaning up his mess every step of the way?

Just a thought.

P.S. Keep in mind also that this generation of Moms and Dads is the first to have read all the parenting books and watched all those touchy-feely parenting segments on the morning shows (e.g. with T. Berry Brazelton). Unlike their parents, who generally believed in greater discipline, this generation believed more in sparing the rod and spoiling the child. This spirit of super-indulgence, too, I blame on self-help's gurus: All those books didn't write themselves, after all.

* Remember the subtitle of my book: "How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless"? This is as good an example as you're apt to find.


Anonymous said...

What's even more amazing is that even with all these privileges and with mom and dad constantly backing them up and fighting their battles, this generation is the whiniest group of crybabies you'll ever see! I say that as a teacher with 25 years experience, and thank God I get to retire soon! You hit the nail on the head with this one.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, I wouldn't paint the entire generation with one brush-stroke, but the phenomenon you describe is no surprise; it's really all part of the syndrome. Often, the more people get, the more they want; let one single thing fail to go their way and they feel cheated, like life is "rigged against them" somehow. This is really a more benign form of the persecution complex that I was commenting on in my posts about the Virginia Tech shooter. As the psychologists point out, "there's no such thing as a 'slight' anymore." To a trained and conditioned narcissist who's used to getting it all--often without putting forward a whole lot of effort--every minor setback is a catastrophe.

It should've been clear from the post, but let me say it forthrightly here: Moms and Dads who raise their kids in this manner are doing them no favors, but rather are leaving kids ill-equipped to face "real life."

Anonymous said...

My boyfriend is "Daddy Dearest" in this scenario, actually taking his 19-year-old son to the library so he can do his homework (the kid of course has Dad's old car and a license, but what the hay?) and typing the kid's finished assignments into the computer, then dropping them off at school the next day in case the kid doesn't feel like showing up. Dad recently registered the kid for SATs. I asked him if he plans to accompany his son to college so he can do his homework for him there, too. Otherwise, I don't see how the kid could possibly manage!

dr_dredd said...

Steve says: "And how "special" can a kid feel when he knows that Dad was cleaning up his mess every step of the way?"

You mean like George W?