New-school parents

Today is our grandson' Émile's third birthday, for him a cake-and-cuddles day, for me, another reminder of how times change.

His father and mother are a different sort of parents than we were, circa 1990. Finally, I have read a good description of how parenting has changed as dramatically as phones. A New York Times article, "The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting" by Claire Cain Miller lit many tiny nursery lights.

His mother had her first evening class last week. Our son picked up the little boy from daycare, and when they got home, discovered that she had left a surprise for Émile, a carefully-designed treasure hunt. The snapper ran about, happily following the hand-drawn visual clues to the grand finale, a treasure chest loaded with plastic "jewels".

As I said to our son, his Papa's and my idea of a treasure hunt was to take them to Swiss Chalet for a kid's menu dinner and a Shirley Temple. When the cheque came, the waitresses brought a treasure chest and invited them to pick a toy. He and his brother say they have happy memories of those dinners, which shows you our family's idea of a high point.

From the day of his birth, she has been an extraordinary mother, devoted, patient and skilled—and does that while a full-time, straight-A grad student. Le Duc and I reflect on our style, and hope there's a statute of limitations for child endangerment, given the lightly-supervised play we permitted at age three. (The ego-salving term for our more, uh, casual style is "free-range parenting". The State of Utah just passed a law affirming behaviours we always thought were permissible.)

At our house, if somebody cried in his junior bed, the other guy was going to start too, so we had a deep interest in fostering self-soothing. Oh, our twins got a full, snuggly routine: story, hugs and a lights-out song—but no one came back for a re-do. There was no family bed, except for the cat.

Another huge difference is toys: Émile got a fully-loaded, freestanding puppet theatre when he turned two; our kids were at least five by the time we found one at a garage sale. His parents engage him in science experiments, complete with goggles, beakers and fizzy compounds; our version: "Squirt in the soap and help Papa do the dishes".

The Times article says that anxiety about equipping children for a more competitive world is the driver of this hands-on, intensive model. I've never heard my son or daughter-in-law express that fear; their purpose seems to be stimulation of the little binker's burgeoning senses.

Some of that is supported, judiciously, by technology. He could perform iPad basics by two; our sons got a desktop computer with no Internet connection at seven. In fact, they had to move out to get the Internet.

Grandson has been to the Museum of Contemporary Art more times than I have, never mind Spain and Mexico! We too believed in exposing our toddlers to culture. For nine years, two sisters babysat nearly every Saturday late afternoon through early evening, and introduced them to wonders like Britney Spears, black nail polish and Burger King. Preschool travel was limited to a three-hour drive from home, a short enough car ride to maintain peace. Our logic was, "away is away".

Émile is part of a considerable cohort who receive this "child-centred, expert-guided and emotionally-absorbing" parenting. This is a worthy endeavour; the world needs more smart, well-adjusted women and men equipped to tackle a boggling array of complex problems, some predictable, others bound to be surprises—and probably not good ones.

Because the paramount principle is heightened attachment between parent and child, that modern style could create stronger inter-generational bonds both inside and outside the family.

Perhaps his generation—known as Gen Alpha—won't squawk about having to take care of their elders, the way some members of the preceding generations do now.

I've also noticed how warm he is with other kids, open and agreeable. (We felt proud if our sons didn't bite anybody.)

And yet, some things seem eternal. When asked what he would like for Christmas, Émile said, "Candy".


LauraH said…
Very interesting to get your take on todays parenting. I spend a lot of time with my nephew, now 9, and see differences even between his cohort and the younger kids the same age as your grandson. The way kids grow up now is so different from my own upbringing, it's pretty amazing. And you're so right...there's always candy!
VeraL said…
Not sure where the remark about taking care of elders came from. The Longitudinal Study of Generations,out of Berkeley, has a lot of research tracking a California cohort of boomers, their parents, grandparents and now children. The interesting thing, which is buried by the media,is that boomers actually are the first generation to do massive amounts of caregiving for living parents. Their own parents and grandparents actually did very little, even for living relatives. I saw it with my elderly neighbours, who I assumed had no living parents, but they both did, both living well into their nineties but expected to just move into care homes and be fine with a couple of visits a year!

They themselves expected their daughter, it's always the daughter, to let them age in place. She was supposed to move from New York state back to Ontario, leave her husband, quit her job, and be happy to do so. My parents left both their mothers to fend for themselves in Europe. So did all their friends.

If anything, a parent should never expect this from a child. It's selfish to do that. The previous generations certainly didn't. It's actually only the boomer parents who started this expectation and trend and it's certainly not something they did for their own parents and grandparents.
Madame Là-bas said…
After reading the NYT article, I wonder that our children survived at all. My experience as a mother in the 1970's who attended university included a lot of Denny's dinners with "kitty-face menus." The baby slept in our room because we lived in a one bedroom apartment. I did watch a lot of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street because I was usually in the same room as my daughter because we didn't have a den or recreation room. There are so many different child-centred activities in classrooms these days. I hope that they help to shrink some of the disparities between "haves" and "have-nots." There is also a lot more instruction in "social responsibility." My walking buddy was saying yesterday that children are donating to the Food Bank instead of giving "loot bags" at birthday parties. As a returning substitute teacher after years of retirement, I see schools as much more "caring environments" than they were 8 years ago. It is likely that today's children will develop much stronger relationships with family and community.
Enjoy the cuddles!
Duchesse said…
LauraH: My grandson's upbringing differs from the way we brought up his father, and my own differed from how my parents were reared. There are constants, but the world has changed around us so I am realizing parenting changes, too.

VeraL: I should have been clearer. I was thinking of some of my generation (Boomer) who complain, either mildly or with more intensity about having to attend to their parents. (We were known as the "Me Generation", aren't we?)

I was surprised to hear of the CA study citing boomers as "being the first gen to do massive amounts of caregiving", because in my Midwestern US childhood, grandparents either lived on their own and often got practical care with the house from their adult children, or lived with their children. A few were in nursing homes, but the majority had a great deal of family or community interaction. Assisted living facilities did not exist. This is anecdotal, I realize.

Elder care can be underpinned by a number of attitudes and values. This high-attachment parenting aims to create a very close bond. I hope I'm around to see how it affects intergenerational relationships.

Mme Là-bas: I could write a lot more about this, as one of my younger acquaintances is also a high-attachment style parent and is taking an online seminar on how to respond to her pre-school child's developing awareness of race. They are using the new technology to prepare themselves and their children with the hope of building a more collaborative community.
Unknown said…
Aw, what sweet photographs! And your writing brought a smile to my face. The Times article left me a little sad/angry. It's so hard for so many families today. The federal minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 an hour and yes, some people earn not much more than that and work multiple jobs. How does that parent have the energy and finances for museum visits or dance lessons? What does give me hope is the expanding definition of "family". A child's classmates may have two moms. Or a single dad. Or live with multiple generations. The family in your cul-de-sac may speak Spanish, or Japanese, or French. They may be Muslims or Jewish or not religious at all. Gives one hope. -Lily
Duchesse said…
Lily: I am writing as a resident of Quebec. Day care is subsidized and costs $8.25- $8.95/day. Museums are free first Sunday of the month for Quebec residents. (Private lessons e.g., dance or music, whole other story.) Each neighbourhood has free cultural programs, from children's theatre to skating lessons to food security.) Free universal health care is provided to Canadian citizens and permanent residents—not perfect, but a boon to families. Eighteen weeks of maternity leave plus 52 weeks of parental leave that can be taken by either parent; depending on eligibility there are insurance benefit payments during this time.

So even low income families have certain supports that I do not believe are extended by law in the US.

Still, families can struggle here and may not have means for adequate food and shelter; we have poverty and its attendant issues. We could do much more, and should not be complacent. (I was born and grew up in the US.)
Unknown said…
Duchesse, Canada does a much better job supporting it's citizens. Americans bristle at the thought that we could learn anything from our neighbors. I really don't get it. My eldest son should hear about his Canadian Permanent Residence status any day. -Lily

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