Friday, April 6, 2012

Parental Guidelines

Easter is a time of celebration, a way to welcome spring and confront spring break. Families have many ways to observe Easter. They gather with extended family, often attending church, to enjoy spending time together.

Nearly all of my friends are now grandparents. When they discuss their grandchildren, a certain amount of bragging is involved. "Little Chris can say all of his letters." "Sam hit a homerun in T-ball." This is to be expected, I suppose. But to people other than the grandparents, such conversation is tedious at best, brutally boring the rest of the time. (More on boring, self-serving conversation another time.)

Beyond the efforts to impress each other with how easily Bobby was potty trained, there is more at work here. Parents and grandparents appear to be obsessed with seeming to be "cool" to the kiddies. They fret over whether Eddie and Julie will like the fare being served on Easter. "Make sure to bring fruit. Kids always like fruit. And just about anything that goes well with Cool Whip." "We need to bring plenty of treats for the egg hunt. Everyone gets a prize."

Today's parents and grandparents are the modern of equivalent of stage parents. They push and praise the youngsters, fueling the fire of competitiveness that lies within most children, just below the surface. Here's an idea: Leave the kids alone.

When I was a kid, we had as much fun and freedom as any kids at anytime. Probably more freedom, actually, because we lived in a small town in post-war America. We rode our bikes all over town, to school and the movies without ever locking them. We wandered the neighborhoods and even downtown unafraid. If we stayed after school for band or Scouts, we could come home alone without problems. We had few worries.

But if we attended a family gathering, we knew to behave. These events did not center around activities for us. We may have watched TV but even that was rare If there was a house full of guests, we sat and talked to -- or at least answered questions from -- adults. Because we were "dressed up" we usually didn't run or play too much. If three or more of us got together, we might have played a rousing board game, Monopoly if we had enough time.

We clearly recognized that it was a time for the adults. We knew when to disappear into the woodwork.

Now most activities at any time are aimed at the kiddies. I think this is a big mistake. A friend of mine works hard every day, standing on her feet most of the time. Her life is juggling work with caring for her two kids and husband. She told me that since spring break is looming, she is taking off a few days.

"Going on vacation?" I asked.

"Not exactly. The kids are off so we wanted to something special for them. We're taking them on a little trip to do kid stuff."

I wanted to ask "Is that your idea of a break" but managed to say, "That's nice."

This is an isolated incident but such conversations occur constantly. Look at how parents and grandparents obsess with birthdays, Christmas and every holiday. I have a theory. Perhaps this focus on the kiddies and their happiness is due to deep-seated guilt by today's working parents. They want to make up for lost opportunities. Moms rarely stay at home and -- if there are two parents in the family -- both are busy trying to do it all for the sake of the kids.

For all of you parents and grandparents who dote on the kiddies in your family, here's a word of advice: The kids don't care. They love you anyway. They are already the center of their own universe, all self-absorbed and wallowing. They don't need your time and money. Use it on yourself.

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