There was a thing on the TEE-vee the other night about hyper-parenting. It’s not the first time I’ve heard the term, but it kind of hit home this time.
Hyper-parenting is all about basically organizing and micro-managing the bee-jeezus out of your kids’ lives 24/7. For those of you who many not remember, once upon a time, when you were a kid and you’d finished your homework and your chores, you were free to run around outside with your friends until the streetlights came on.
There were no adults hovering over you. Your free time wasn’t completely filled with organized sports, music/dance lessons, tutors, etc., etc. Sure you did some of that stuff, but not all the time.
You saw your friends because you were all outside after supper. There was no need for your parents to plan “play-dates’ weeks in advance.
The first time I heard the term, “play-date”, I thought the woman was kidding. I laughed until she frowned at me and pulled out her Daytimer. She asked if we could schedule a play-date for our kids. Six-year-old Ashley was booked up with swimming and soccer (practice and games), piano, dance, violin, choir, other play-dates and birthday parties until the end of the month.
I’m all in favour of extra-curricular activities, but I always reckoned my kiddie being involved with skating and piano was enough. I also wanted her to help around the house and learn some life skills and to have some time to just play.
Other parents disagreed. They wanted to enrich their kids’ lives as much as possible. They said if kids were allowed to just sit around they’d get lazy and waste a lot of valuable time where they could be learning something.
There was only one kid in my daughter’s circle of school friends who was allowed to just play. She lived 3 houses down and the girls would meet half-way and take off until it started to get dark.
One of the best things about living in Halifax was that it still has some lovely older 1950s style neighbourhoods with sidewalks and houses with front porches, lots of green space and quiet, tree-lined streets rife with pedestrians. A kid can’t get into too much trouble in an infrastructure like that.
Nevertheless, I do confess that I’m probably guilty of organizing too much of my child’s life and/or doing too much for her. I do pretty much all of the cooking and cleaning and other domestic chores. (Except her room, which I never touch any more).
I did her resume for her, found her volunteer placement for her, funneled her into the job she has now, found summer day camps for her to attend, more or less did her summer job applications for her, organized the picking of her next year’s courses – with her input, of course. I’ve been researching universities; I find music teachers for her. She’s more than happy to let me do this all and I don’t mind admitting, it worries me.
She also seems to have no interest in learning basic life skills. Laundry for instance. I wouldn’t let my mum touch my clothes as soon as I was old enough to reach the dials on the washer. My kid rarely does laundry — mainly because I’m home more and it’s easier to do it altogether rather than wait for her to do her own. The other day she was about to toss her suede skirt in the washing machine. This stuff freaks me out.
I know part of it is her personality. She’s very easy going and likes to be pampered and taken care of. The complete opposite of me. She’s my mother, in fact. And I suppose that makes me the enabler in both cases.
Here’s what Carl Honoré, Canadian author of Under Pressure: Rescuing Childhood from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, says:
We’re also starting to see the first children coming out the other end of the assembly line that is modern childhood and many of them struggled to stand on their own two feet. Every moment of their childhood has been so micromanaged, supervised, structured and measured by adults that they don’t know how to cope on their own. University counselling services are overwhelmed by students going to pieces. You hear of 19-year-olds handing the cellphone over to the professor and saying “Sort this out with my mum.” And the umbilical cord remains intact even after graduation: Parents are now turning up at job interviews to help negotiate salaries and vacation packages! And in all this striving and anxiety we’re also losing the simple joy of being a child, of seeing a world in a grain of sand and holding infinity in the palm of your hand. The joy has been squeezed out of parenthood, too.