Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Frank Bruni doesn't understand why people take parenting so seriously and treat their kids so nicely

However, he's very upfront about how little he understands about parenting, so that's nice, I guess.  He leads off his article thusly:

MODERN parenting confuses me.  The vocabulary, for starters. 

Better write a whole article about it, then, so we can learn from your confusion.

Take the word “last.” Usually it means final. Last exit: there are none beyond it. Last rites: you’re toast. 

But the “last chance” for a 4-year-old to quit his screeching, lest he get a timeout? There are usually another seven or eight chances still to go, in a string of flaccid ultimatums: “Now this is your last chance.” “This is really your last chance.” “I’m giving you just one more chance. I’m not kidding.”

Frank is indeed quite confused by why parents would not be straightforward and punitive with their children.  "This is your fourth-to-last chance, Johnny.  Why aren't you better behaved?"

Of course you are, and your kids know it. They’re not idiots.

Already, we can see the source of Frank's confusion, because the thing is that kids most certainly are idiots.  They're impossible to reason with, think that $5 is a lot of money, and they like the dumbest TV shows.  This isn't meant to be a judgment of kids, because it's not really their fault.  They're just dumb, because they are children and not old enough to not be dumb yet.

But they’re also not adults, so why this whole school of thought that they should be treated as if they are, long before they can perform such basic tasks of civilization as driving, say, or decanting?

What is decanting?  Is it something that should be considered a basic task of civilization?
/consults dictionary
Oh.  I hate you more, now.

Why all the choices — “What would you like to wear?”— and all the negotiating and the painstakingly calibrated diplomacy? They’re toddlers, not Pakistan.

"Put on the fucking corduroys, Johnny.  I don't give a shit if they make you look dowdy." 

 I understand that you want them to adore you. But having them fear you is surely the saner strategy, not just for you and for them but for the rest of us and the future of the republic.

This is kind of fucked up.  It seems like you are advocating 1) not teaching children to think for themselves and 2) making sure they fear you because...otherwise it might be a little bit annoying to Frank Bruni (a.k.a. the future of the republic).

Seemingly everyone has parenting opinions, so I hereby present mine, which are those of someone who isn’t in fact a parent

So, someone who has only a passing awareness of the difficulties and joys of parenting, and might therefore not be best equipped to give out parenting opinions?

and maybe has a valuable distance and objectivity as a result.

Or that, yeah.  This inspires me to share my opinions on how to fight alligators--I don't have any experience, but my distance and objectivity will be invaluable to any potential alligator fighters.

Instead of the battle hymn of a tiger mother, it’s the baffled hymn of a cubless bystander, his thoughts turned toward children as the calendar reaches yet another holiday when we shower them with attention and chocolate. 

Aww, Frank!  Do you wish people gave you chocolate too?  And attention?  But mostly chocolate?

While I have no kids of my own,

Please, continue to emphasize how little experience you have in the subject you are advising us on.

I have many I can (and sometimes do) lease for the weekend:

Most people call it "babysitting".  Unless you're paying people so you can borrow their kids, which: Frank, are you paying people so you can borrow their kids? 

11 actual nieces and nephews, whom I’ll be with this Easter Sunday, and perhaps twice that number of honorary ones. I have put in my time around tots and teens, and enjoy them. 

"I spent a few hours with kids one time, so I've got a pretty good handle on this whole parenting thing."

I have seen my share of parenting, and am not certain what to make of it.

"I'm not certain what to make of it, so let me tell you what to make of it."

Just a few decades ago, parenting wasn’t even a proper verb or gerund. Now it’s a compound one. There’s of course helicopter parenting, which hovers, and “free range” parenting, which doesn’t, but only by principled choice. 

This may be true (though I tend to think people used the word "parenting" a few decades ago).  That said, this is just what the Internet has done to every subject--there's a community and a name for anything.  For example [ed.: this reference is extremely forced because the writer wanted to find a way to shoehorn it in], we have communities that are specific to subsets of adult men who like My Little Pony and are also in the military.  They are called FOBEquestria, apparently.  Returning to the matter at hand, yes, there are lots of types of parenting communities now, because people get a little crazy about things they are passionate about, and for some reason people care a lot about their stupid kids.

As the Me Generation spawned generations of mini-me’s, our rigorous self-fascination expanded to include the whole brood and philosophies about its proper care and feeding. 

It's really awful, the way people keep trying so hard to figure out how to care for and raise their children.

About the feeding: explain to me what’s gained by the voluminous discussions, within earshot of little Edwin or Edwina,

Please, don't name your child Edwina.  Edwin's not so hot either, actually.

of what he or she probably won’t eat or definitely won’t eat or must somehow be made to eat, perhaps with a bribe. Any food that lands on the table after that much tortured preamble is bound to be eyed with suspicion and ultimately spurned, in part because it has ceased to be a vessel of nutrition or an answer to hunger at that point. It has become a power struggle: the parents’ wishes versus the child’s defiance.

This seems like an absurd strawman, because most parents debate this sort of thing while their kid can't hear them because that's pretty obviously the better way to approach this issue.  Also, kids don't go on hunger strike because they're concerned about parental power struggles.  To reiterate from earlier, kids are not the smartest. 

And the battle seems to end one and only one way. With chicken fingers. 

You seem like you'd be a great babysitter--oh, excuse me, I meant great child-leaser.

I’M equally confounded by the all-encompassing praise. Not every kid is gifted at every endeavor, and I wonder about the wisdom of telling him or her that a bit of doggerel is Shakespearean or that a wan patch of warbling is an “American Idol” audition waiting to happen.

I'm guessing parents do this because the alternative is to say, "Johnny, good try on this poem, but it's fucking terrible.  Give up on writing forever."  As for the "American Idol" reference (topical!), most children are vastly superior to your average American Idol contestant.  Did you forget about this guy?  He's a professional in the field of being terrible at singing.

I wonder why everybody has to be a winner.  You can eliminate the valedictorians from high school but you can’t eliminate them from life, which metes out Super Bowl rings and stock options with an uneven hand, and is probably best tackled with some preparatory girding for that. Do today’s parents provide it?

If you don't repeatedly call your child a failure, how will they know how much of a failure they are later in life?  Preparation is key.

Parents routinely surrender control when they shouldn’t, replacing rules with requests, and children are expected to chart their own routes to good behavior, using the faulty GPS’s of their flowering consciences, I suppose. Families are run as democracies. Parents forget: in the political realm, you don’t get a say until you’re 18. There’s a reason for that. 

Where are these families that you keep talking about?  Not that families like this don't exist, but you just seem to be taking examples you saw one time and assuming that all families are like that.  As Frank Kotsonis put it, "the plural of anecdote is not data." [ed.: that quote was also pretty forced in].  Anyway, Bruni goes on to make a long-winded point about how kids pretty much are who they are and parenting generally doesn't change that, which seems to presume a whole hell of a lot of knowledge of childhood psychology that I don't think he has.  There's some value to reminding parents that not every decision is life or death, but Bruni's insistence on alternating dispensing advice with reminding us how very unqualified he is to dispense said advice is just weird.  It might be interesting to hear a parent discuss the benefits and risks of hands-off parenting--it's less interesting to hear some guy talk about how he saw kids and sometimes leases them and therefore has a firm grasp on the ins and outs of parenting.

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