We need more helicopter parents

It’s fun to make fun of helicopter parents, but we need more of them, writes Brink Lindsey in The Atlantic.

Today’s hyperventilating “helicopter parents” are comic fish in a barrel. Playing Mozart to their babies in utero and dangling Baby Einstein gewgaws over their bassinets. Obsessing over peanut allergies, turning school science fairs into arms races of one-upmanship, and hiring batteries of private tutors to eke out another 10 points on the SAT.

But better too much parental attention than too little, Lindsey writes.

College-educated parents are spending significantly more time with their children then they did before 1995. Less-educated parents spend more time too, but the “parental attention gap” is growing.

There’s also a class divide in parenting styles, according to sociologist Annette Lareau.

 Among the poor and working-class families she studied, the focus of parenting was on what she calls “the accomplishment of natural growth.” In these families, “parents viewed children’s development as unfolding spontaneously, as long as they were provided with comfort, food, shelter, and other basic support.”

College-educated parents have taken on a much more ambitious role – one that Lareau calls “concerted cultivation.” “In these families, parents actively fostered and assessed their children’s talents, opinions, and skills,” Lareau writes. “They made a deliberate and sustained effort to stimulate children’s development and to cultivate their cognitive and social skills.”

In addition, college-educated parents are much more likely to marry before having children and much less likely to divorce.

As of 2011, 87 percent of children who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher degree were living with two married parents. The corresponding figures for high school grads and high school dropouts were 53 and 47 percent, respectively.

. . . since the ’70s, divorce rates among the highly educated have fallen significantly; among non-college grads, by contrast, they have stayed high. Specifically, only 16.7 percent of women with at least a college degree experienced a marital dissolution within 10 years of a first marriage between 1990 and 1994 – a 31 percent drop from 20 years earlier. For other women, though, the marriage breakup rate in the latter period was now 35.7 percent – 6 percent higher than 20 years before.

So most children of the college-educated — about a third of the population — grow up in stable, child-centered families with two parents determined to cultivate “the skills they will need to thrive in today’s highly complex knowledge economy.” It’s not really the violin, karate or Kumon classes that give them an edge. It’s Mom and Dad.

‘Stop smiling’

“Stop smiling,” says the photographer in “School Portrait,” a short film made in England.

“No, stop smiling, we’re going to do something different today,” the photographer says as the first student sits down. “It’s called a reality check. I want you to repeat after me: university tuition fees.”

After the student says it back, frowning, he keeps the ball rolling.

“Banking crisis means I’ll never afford a home,” he says.

These reality checks keep coming, with topics ranging from divorce rates, to climate change to how hard the young students will have to work.

There’s no such thing as “pocket money,” the photographer says. You have to work for a living.

School Portrait (2011) from Michael Berliner on Vimeo.

Adult kids can’t sue for ‘bad mothering’

If Mom buys you a dorky birthday card or makes you come home from a party by midnight, you can’t sue for “bad mothering,” an Illinois court has ruled.

Raised in a $1.5 million Barrington Hills, Ill., home by their attorney father, two grown children have spent the last two years pursuing a unique lawsuit against their mom for “bad mothering” that alleges damages caused when she failed to buy toys for one and sent another a birthday card he didn’t like.

The alleged offenses include failing to take her daughter to a car show, telling her then 7-year-old son to buckle his seat belt or she would contact police, “haggling” over the amount to spend on party dresses and calling her daughter at midnight to ask that she return home from celebrating homecoming.

None of the mother’s conduct was “extreme or outrageous,” Cook County Judge Kathy Flanagan ruled in dismissing the case.

In 2009, the children, represented by three attorneys including their father, Steven A. Miner, sued their mother, Kimberly Garrity. Steven II, now 23, and his sister Kathryn, now 20, sought more than $50,000 for “emotional distress.”

Miner and Garrity were married for a decade before she filed for divorce in 1995, records show.

Ah! The perfect divorce revenge!

Among the exhibits filed in the case is a birthday card Garrity sent her son, who in his lawsuit sought damages because the card was “inappropriate” and failed to include cash or a check. He also alleged she failed to send a card for years or, while he was in college, care packages.

On the front of the American Greetings card is a picture of tomatoes spread across a table that are indistinguishable except for one in the middle with craft-store googly eyes attached.

“Son I got you this Birthday card because it’s just like you … different from all the rest!” the card reads. On the inside Garrity wrote “Have a great day! Love & Hugs, Mom xoxoxo.”

Judge Flanagan did not sanction the lawyer dad for bringing the case. Public ridicule will have to do.

I used to tell my daughter that if she wrote a Mommy Dearest account of her upbringing, I would present her with the bill for all the cookies purchased for her at the Italian bakery. No book, no bill. So far, this has worked.

Update: Just got an e-mail from my daughter saying she’s decided not to sue me for bad mothering. “Your birthday cards were always top-notch.”

I started being nice to her when I realized she was going to be taller than me — four inches taller, as it turns out. Planning pays off.

Is marriage obsolete?

Sandra Tsing Loh is getting divorced after 20 years of marriage and two children, she writes in The Atlantic. In Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, she suggests that most of us should give up on lifelong marriage too.  Keeping romance alive is too much work for the modern woman.

Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance. Sobered by this failure as a mother—which is to say, my failure as a wife—I’ve since begun a journey of reading, thinking, and listening to what’s going on in other 21st-century American families. And along the way, I’ve begun to wonder, what with all the abject and swallowed misery: Why do we still insist on marriage? Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?

Tsing Loh, who wrote two years ago that women prefer food to sex, also shares the details of her friends’ sexless marriages. The hubbies cook, remodel the kitchen and chauffeur the kids but prefer internet porn or cooking magazines to sex with their wives. The wives are inspired by Tsing Loh’s divorce to consider dumping their “male kitchen bitches.”

The kids will do almost as well raised by a single parent as in a two-parent family, Tsing Loh argues, as long as there’s “domestic stability,” i.e., no new boyfriends and girlfriends moving in and out. Divorce is OK if you stay single?

Laura at 11D says Loh lacks credibility on the subject of marriage.

She breaks up her marriage and then writes a magazine article about why people weren’t really meant to be married. Hello! Credibility problems here!

Loh explains that she had an affair, which ended their marriage. However, people weren’t really meant to be married for so long. Her kids wouldn’t really miss having both parents at home anyway. . . . Her husband and her friends’ husbands weren’t so great in the sack. And the husbands are kind of girlie in the way they help out around the house. Why should a marriage be work? She fishes around for any explanation that will save her.

Those of us who enjoy being married never seem to get space in The Atlantic. Perhaps it’s because we don’t wish to share the details with a national audience. Too little information.

Once a performance artist, Tsing Loh has no such scruples. Nonetheless, in a few years, her children will be able to read about her boredom with their father in The Atlantic archives. However disguised, her friends will guess the identities of the pathetic Rachel and Ian and Ellen and Ron. Who may now be her ex-friends.