Two weeks ago I read an interesting article in the New Yorker that posed the question of whether or not we are spoiling our kids here in America. It compared children in Los Angeles with children raised in a remote tribe in the Peruvian Amazon and talked about how parents in each culture trained their children to assume adult responsibilities. The article mentions the work of two anthropologists as they observed the natural willingness of kids in each culture to jump in and help out with tasks that needed doing . Guess whose kids rarely jumped in to cook dinner, watch a younger sibling, or clean up after themselves without being asked? Yep- that would be the American kids. No real surprise there. But what the anthropologists wanted to understand (don’t we all…) is why?
The article asserts that today’s American children are perhaps the most indulged kids in history. Not only are they indulged with copious amounts of material items, but-
They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority. “Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval,” Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, both professors of psychology, have written. In many middle-class families, children have one, two, sometimes three adults at their beck and call. This is a social experiment on a grand scale, and a growing number of adults fear that it isn’t working out so well: according to one poll, commissioned by Time and CNN, two-thirds of American parents think that their children are spoiled.
But what really caught my attention in the article was the idea of “snowplow parenting”. Think of how a snowplow is designed to clear any obstacles in the road- casting them aside so that cars can pass without obstructions. The article mentions that American parents operate just like those snowplows- clearing away all of the challenges that could get in the way of their kids’ success. And that comparison really gave me pause….. do I show signs of being one of those snowplow parents? Is it my natural inclination to make their path easier?
Well sometimes, yes I do. I know that I assume that there are things that the kids aren’t ready to help me do- like tackling the laundry for example. I do ask my kids to sort it, but I never have them load it into the machine are actually start washing it. Why? Is measuring out the right amount of detergent and pressing the buttons so terribly complicated? And how about folding the laundry and actually putting it away? Both tasks that I do not relish and take up hours of my time each week. I know it’s because I won’t be able to stand the half-hearted way that they will fold their clothes and put them away in their closets- and that before long every single thing that they own will be a wrinkled mess. But shouldn’t I just get over my high expectations and step out of the way?
Earlier this summer Steve decided that he had enough of me being the one to load the dishwasher after each meal and since has nagged the children endlessly to clear, rinse, and load all of their own dishes after each meal. He’s right- it certainly lightens my workload quite a bit, doesn’t take them but a few extra minutes after each meal, and it is certainly well within their capacity to do it. So why is it that I didn’t think of enforcing this idea earlier?
Because I think at the heart of it…. I like to feel that I am “taking care of my kids”…. kind of like the old-school Mom from the 50′s who had the snack and glass of cold milk waiting for the kids when they get home from school (figuratively speaking, of course). And as a parent of a large family, I sometimes feel guilty that I ask my kids to help out more around the house- because there are so many of them…. which is why my own workload is so large, and that they will in some way resent being in this large family where they had to “help out so much”. You know, ‘cuz it was my decision (and well, Steve’s too) to have all of these kids,….. they didn’t ask to be raised with so many additional siblings. But it’s not like we have such a large family that I ask the older kids to “raise” one of the young ones either…..
Is this whole line of big-family-gulit-justifaction ridiculous? Well of course it is. But I think it points to the fact that I am a little more of a “snowplow parent ” than perhaps I realized.
So- is it just me? Or do you exhibit signs of “snowplow parenting” too? Please leave a comment and share (otherwise I’ll feel as if I am the ONLY one!)…
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