Lately, I've noticed more and more parents refusing to say no, hovering over their kids' every step, and insisting on an alarming degree of codependence.
Leading the way through this emerging anti-independence movement is Alicia Silverstone. The Clueless star recently published a book titled The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning. (PS: I think this title broke the thesaurus.) And, in the aftermath of Silverstone's press rounds for the book, things are about to get tense in the parenting world — because, every parent has a point of view, and it's obviously the only correct one. When you have a kid, judging eyes are everywhere.
In Silverstone’s book, she suggests that babies should “leave their business in the grass.” Fantastic, so when I am walking my dog on the street in NYC, I’ll just make sure I have an extra poop baggie for my kid. I’m sorry, but this is insane — not to mention completely out of sync with how most people live (outside the Hollywood bubble, that is). If both parents are working full-time — or if you're a single parent working full-time — there is no possible way to constantly clean up after your kid like a pet or to be fully “in tune with your child’s cues.” Choosing to use diapers out of convenience does not make us “unkind” parents. It makes us more involved in other aspects of how our kids are raised — like feeding them, helping solve their homework problems, and creating socially sound human beings.
Growing up, I was never given a choice of dinner options. I never got in an argument about whether or not I wanted to go to ballet. You go. That's it. You eat, or you go to bed. Done. Childhood was not a democracy. And, now that I'm a parent myself, I raise my kids in the healthiest way I can, but when it comes to how they take a crap, I opt for the most convenient and clean option. Because, my husband and I need to spend our time working on more important issues with our kids, like creating motivated individuals who seek independence without feeling like the Mommy Mattress is there every time they fall. (That's why I fear for the Coddle Generation.)
Believe me, I understand niche marketing. My first book has a main character who wears Ralph Lauren and meets Coco Chanel. But, if Silverstone is going to throw around words like “kind” (and its implied opposite, “unkind”) then she should remember: Not everyone can afford the lifestyle necessary to support these methods. And, you know what? Not everyone wants to.
After any pregnancy, regardless of how many shots of wheatgrass juice you imbibe, a woman will feel a sense of grief for the loss of her former self. This is valid, and no natural remedy is going to make her feel instantly fixed. How we come out on the other end of the grieving process will define who we are. This is the foundation of Anne Smollon’s book Missing In Action: How Mothers Lose, Grieve, and Retrieve Their Sense of Self. Knowing that this book exists is a relief; I now know I’m not the only one who had these feelings after giving birth. No kale shake would have kicked them. Working to retrieve your sense of self is a project that all women who give birth will go through, to an extent, and I think Silverstone needs to be a bit more sensitive to that in her dietary proclamations and cure-all approach.
But, I think the hardest statement to comprehend in Silverstone’s book — one that makes me fear for my kids’ generation and their independent selves — is her chapter on the "Family Bed." Silverstone writes that forcing a child to sleep outside the family bed (“in a barred-in box, completely alone,” i.e. in a crib) is tantamount to child neglect. Sure, the family-bed concept works great for some parents, but those of us who choose cribs don’t do so because we don’t care about our children.
It's because a crib is what works for us, and I'm a firm believer in giving kids a little room to learn on their own. Personally, I prefer to inform my parenting ideas with stories like this recently published Atlantic article titled "The Overprotected Kid." It argues that parents must let kids fall, make mistakes, scrape their knees, eat hot dogs, and so on. Our preoccupation with safety has “stripped childhood of independence, risk-taking, and discovery — without making it safer.” Stripping our kids of these character-building processes will not encourage growth and self-confidence. But, how can a child constantly coddled by Mom and Dad truly learn his or her own strength and character? How can that child even learn to play alone if he or she grows up in the shadow of hovering parents?
I personally believe that kids are freakin’ geniuses right out of the womb. They know how to play “the game” at such a young age — the game otherwise known as “How will I get the big people who wipe my bum to do what I want?”
The negotiation that happens between a parent and child is endless, but it is up to the parents to provide the final answer. I seriously enjoy a good negotiation with my son; he’s turning it into a science. I know during these discussions he’s learning about exploring options and accepting direction without getting upset. Call it tough love, or call it something harsher. But, in the end, I want my kids to be the leaders of their classes, to entertain new adventures, and to be the most independent people they can be — without relieving themselves in the yard.