Par­ent­ing com­pletes long jour­ney to ‘peak mad­ness’

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - BALANCED VIEWS - Ge­orge F. Will

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.

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