Wednesday, August 08, 2012

'Now send my boys to Harvard...or I'll shoot!'

We've talked before about so-called helicopter parents. (See, e.g., here and here.) However, Diana Zhou (not shown), is what you might call a one-woman bomb-wing parent. Zhou's two sons are both gifted in math, while one has Asperger's, a mild form of autism—and to her, no amount of accommodation is ever enough. Over the past few years she has cost the cash-strapped Bethlehem School District, about five miles east of me, nearly a half-million dollars in legal fees and related expenses as she attempts to bludgeon the District into sending her two sons to a costly private school. It appears that Zhou even admitted filing certain lawsuits and/or making outrageous demands in order to intentionally drive up Bethlehem's costs so that the District might relent and give her what she wants. (Zhou disputes that allegation). As an example, according to the school board's litigation, "Zhou also demanded the district pay for a Mandarin interpreter for her children at the special education meetings, even though the family speaks English."

We all want the best for our kids. But too many parents translate that natural desire into a sense of entitlement amid the past few generations' climate of uber-coddling and parental intervention into every facet of a child's life. To parents in this category, a level playing field is insufficient; they want to rig the outcome of the game itself. (In fact, people like Zhou seem to conceive a level playing field as one that by definition ensures a favorable outcome for their children.) Fortunately very few moms and dads take their obsessive parenting as far as Diana Zhou...and imagine if even 10 percent of them did! But I wish all parents would realize that they do their children no favors by attempting to micromanage their young lives and ensure kid-glove handling every step of the way. For that is the surest path of all to the sort of helplessness I had in mind when I chose the subtitle for my book.


Jenny said...

Hi, Steve. I've been thinking a lot about this topic lately. Not helicopter parenting so much, but rather the difference between guidance and help. Maybe "the fine art of good parenting" would be an appropriate way to put it.

With a daughter who just this week moved to a city several hours away from home, I'm caught between resisting and giving in to urges to call her. Don't want to be overbearing; don't want to ignore her either. Want to help, not harm. Be here when she needs me, not impose myself on her.

I think you'll appreciate this: Perhaps you've read George Carlin's Last Words, written with Tony Hendra and published the year after his death. He talks about his relationship with his daughter, Kelly, and how he'd always taken a pretty laissez faire approach to parenting until suddenly, when she was in the midst of trouble, he realized she needed his guidance and appreciated him (finally) taking a strong stand on her behalf. The incident he describes is powerful and if you haven't read the book already, I won't give it away. Just wanted to say that his words had an impact on me.

I feel fortunate that my husband and I didn't have the kind of "special needs" struggles described in your posting. Still, going to such extremes makes you wonder about how those sons will actually fare in life, later, once they are grown. They'll have all that legal history initiated by their mother, plus the ire of other families affected (everyone in the school district), along with the consequences of all that media exposure. Guess it'll all sort of fade away in time; but, of course, the fact of it will never go away.

Reminds me again of Carlin and his opinions about that sacred cow, "the children."

Steve Salerno said...

Thank you, Jenny, for your (typically) thoughtful comment. I've fought these battles with and about my own son as well--in a somewhat more vociferous manner than you describe.

Finally, just as acerbic as Carlin on the subject of "the children" is comic Dennis Leary. Had me--literally--ROFL first time I heard it.