Parenting completes long journey to ‘peak madness’
minutes, during which the car was in her view near the store’s door, she drove away. Before she boarded the plane to O’Hare, the police were in pursuit, summoned by a bystander who gave them Brooks’ license plate number and an iPhone video of the boy in the car. The video was supposedly evidence of a crime, “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” A five-minute contribution.
Brooks’ penitential acknowledgment of “a lapse in judgment” attested to her immersion in the prevalent weirdness about parenting. She is an anxious person. She medicates before flying, although she acknowledges how safe flying is compared with driving. She worries about “stranger danger,” although she knows “the statistical near impossibility” of child abductions that, always rare, are rarer than ever. She knows that risk assessment is a basic test of rationality that she and so many other parents flunk. Today, well past her sentence of 100 hours of community service and 20 hours of parenting instruction, Brooks, who calls herself “an uncritical consumer of anxiety,” also knows the following:
Because of the belief in “parental determinism,” mothers, especially, are susceptible to the fear that something seemingly minor that is done or left undone will impede Suzy’s path to Princeton and Congress. On what Brooks calls “the landscape of competitive, intensive, hypercontrolling parenthood” there is “performance” parenting, the constant mentioning — which means shaming parents with different approaches — of Billy’s myriad “enrichment” activities.
Helicopter parents, who hover over their progeny all the way to college, subscribe to the belief that “a child cannot be out of an adult’s sight for one second.” The practical implication is that parenthood is a middle-class entitlement; poor people need not apply. Helicopter parents are indignant about “free-range” parents who allow their children to walk alone to, and play unsupervised in, a neighborhood park. No wonder children who have never had unstructured play and never had to negotiate their disputes with one another flinch in bewilderment from the open society of a well-run campus.
Brooks wonders how parenting became “a labyrinth of societal anxieties,” a toxic compound of “competitiveness and insecurity,” an arena of “chronic, gnawing perfectionism.”
Start here: Why did the noun “parent” become a verb? Brooks says that “observing the arc of parenting norms” since World War II suggests that within the last 10 years we have “reached peak madness.” If only.
Such parenting is a transmissible social disease: People often parent as they were parented.