The Palm Beach Post

Parenting completes long journey to ‘peak madness’

- He writes for the Washington Post.

George F. Will

Police came to Kim Brooks’ parents’ door in suburban Richmond, Virginia, demanding that her mother say where her daughter was or be arrested for obstructin­g justice. So began a Kafkaesque two-year ordeal that plunged Brooks into reflection­s about current parenting practices. It also produced a book, “Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear,” that is a catalogue of symptoms of America’s descent into unfocused furiousnes­s.

On a mild day, rushing to catch a plane home to Chicago, she darted into a Virginia Target to make a purchase, leaving her 4-year-old son in the locked car with a window slightly open. After five 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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