26 June 2012

Parenting Is Getting Tough

I do believe my husband and I are about to leave our "halcyon days" of child-rearing behind us.  While I don't miss hauling car seats, diaper bags, and playpens around, those issues were minor compared to questions and concerns we face now.

1.  Our son recently turned 13 and received a Facebook account and a cell phone.  This is big time, you see...he is on the cusp of entering the young adult world.  About three days ago, he approaches us with a persuasive argument (typed up and everything).  He would like to purchase the game "Call of Duty" for his xbox.  This game is rated M for Mature by the ESRB (not to mention 17+ in several other countries), which is a red flag in and of itself.

The reason he wants this game?  About four of his other friends have it, and in particular, one friend is very good at the game and getting "cocky" about beating my son at it.  Beyond that, there is no other logic.  We cannot think of a way that this game helps our son, or provides him any benefit (other than social).  From what we gather, he is not being ostracized for not having/playing the game. 

He recently wanted the Final Fantasy game, which is rated T for teens, and so we felt that was an appropriate step.  That was about two weeks ago, and it was his first teen-rated game...and now he wants to leap into the Mature games?  Nope, Mom and Dad need more moderation than that.

While we will probably say 'no' at this time, this issue is not black and white. I *do* feel that my son is able to discern the difference between a game and reality, and I don't think the game would make him violent.  Also, he does not spend hours on end playing video games every day.  These two reasons alone prompted me to almost say 'yes'...until I realized I needed to go with my gut feeling on this one...and say no.

2. Then, there's our daughter.  She's 11.  She wants to wear bras and shave her legs.  Already!  It's time to have conversations.  And in this complex society we live in, these conversation topics are not just the typical "birds and bees".  We must discuss things like vanity and the media and compassion and being a role model and technology and sexuality.

As with any conundrum I have in my life, I turn to books.  My initial search results prove a little disappointing: many of the books speak of raising strong, courageous, confident daughters (yay!), but these approaches and theories are heavily Bible-based (uh!). 

Suffice it to say that I really can't get behind a Christian-centered approach to raising my kids.  And I don't like the idea that I can't do it well without the Bible.  Thus, I will continue to search for reference materials that are more secular.  Of course, at some point, I must stop reading about it and just do it.

22 June 2012

Summer Has Begun

Just this last Wednesday, according to the Gregorian calendar, was the Summer Solstice.  The first day of summer...which I find amusing, because the time June 20-22 rolls around, we (us here in the Midwest United States, that is) have already had several days of uncomfortably hot weather.  You don't have to tell us it's the first day of summer!

Which leads (albeit loosely) into the question: what have I been doing with my summer so far?

And the answer would be: trying to keep a hold of my sanity.

It occurred to me late last month that 2012 marks my first summer of being what the government calls 'unemployed', but which I'd call 'in transition'.  I no longer have a place of employment, giving up my job at the college last month, and since I haven't started culinary classes yet...technically, I am shiftless.  And not just a temporary, on-summer-break shiftless either.  A kind of a hazy, in-limbo, maybe-temporary shiftless.

But.  It's also very likely that this is the last summer I will have that is completely at leisure.  See, next summer I'll be in class full time, and the summer after that, I expect to have a job.

So, I'm experiencing an internal struggle of sorts...I do feel like I should try to have a bit of fun and live it up a little with the kiddos...but I also feel this pull to be somewhat productive and full of purpose.

Because once August gets here and my new career course begins, life as I know it currently changes forever.

07 June 2012

"Bringing Up Bebe" Book Review - Part Deux

Oh, and there's more...

- While please and thank you are incredibly important words here in America, the French consider these to be only two of the four.  Hello (bonjour) and goodbye (au revoir) are critical as well because the French believe that greeting someone is the first important step in establishing a relationship, and it “acknowledges the other person’s humanity” (154).  And so then I think, well, yeah, why shouldn’t children greet their visitors on their own, as opposed to skulk under the umbrella of their parents’ welcomes?

- French people speak of something called le couple, which encompasses the general idea that the husband and wife’s relationship comes first, even before the children (186).  Americans speak of ‘Date Nights’ as a fix-it for a stressed marriage.  French couples find this interesting, because for them, date nights are every night.  The children go to bed early, they stay there for the night, and the parents have couple time.  This is a non-negotiable, whereas in America, a notion persists that parents must make the sacrifices of time and effort for their children, often at the expense of couple time.  And how does that affect a child's well-being?  Not positively, as the UNICEF study would indicate.

- The French speak of an idea called the cadre (84), an overarching framework of discipline.  Key pillars or areas of the cadre are non-negotiable (eating, respect, going to bed, etc), but within that cadre, French children have freedom. For example, they must report to their rooms at the time set by their parents, but once there, they may do whatever they like.  (Incidentally, I’ve tried this for the last few nights, and while my kids like the freedom, they don’t stay up much past the “lights out” time.)  French parents choose a few key areas to enforce in their cadre, and enforce them well.  ‘No’ means no, and Druckerman picks up the phrase C’est moi qui decide - It’s me who decides (226).  We have a variation of that in America - Because I said so.  But sometimes we don’t mean it, because we’re spread so thin from trying to discipline everything that we do all things half-heartedly.  Or, we become too authoritarian as opposed to authoritative.

- And the final point I’ll address here (believe me, there are many more) is the idea of praise.  French educational institutions often come under fire for being too austere.  Students receive  basic praise such as tres competente (very competent) or everything is fine.  Because, after all, children are not supposed to be creative, they’re supposed to articulate ideas (253).  This particularly hits home for me, as a former educator, because I do feel we overpraise (as well as mispraise)...then we wonder why young people have an out-of-whack sense of entitlement.  I’ve had many students (high school and college) over the years who could hardly compose a sentence, but they seem to consider themselves worthy of being listened to.

The author never does trash the American way of raising kids, and she never openly expresses a love of the French way.  She provides interesting insights, though, and anyone who reads the book can take it how they want.  To change the UNICEF assessment data for the United States seems like a Herculean task, but fortunately, Druckerman is able to provide (unwittingly, maybe) tips here and there for any American parent open-minded enough to know there’s always room for improvement.

"Bringing Up Bebe" Book Review - Part One

Only when I started typing this out did I realize how much I had to say.  I'll post it in two parts so that you don't feel like you're scrolling down the page here forever.

I’ve referenced this book several times in the last few days, and now that I’ve finished it, I guess I ought to offer a brief review and analysis.

Honestly, I can’t think of a non-food, non-fiction book that has made me think as much as this one has.

On page 122, the author, Pamela Druckerman, references a UNICEF document (abbreviated title: An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries) in which she declares that in spite of French children consuming “enormous amounts of formula”, they “beat American kids on nearly all measures of health”.  (For any readers who are interested, the chart illustrating this statement is on page 14).

Out of 21 developed countries, the United States fell in the bottom third in four of the six assessed “dimensions” (material well-being, health and safety, educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks, and subjective well-being; the US had no data for the last dimension).

Well, to say the least, I was shocked.  The assessment’s stunning results caused me to wonder, What are we doing wrong?

So, I’m almost halfway through the book, and I've come up with a pretty serious question.  Through Druckerman’s own research and interviews, she sheds a little light on this important issue.  Highlights (for me) include:

- “Suffering and self-sacrifice” seems to be the expectation for new American mothers (122).  Our babies sleep with us in the hospital rooms, we feed them on demand, we deprive ourselves of sleep...whereas French mothers regularly utilize the nurses and the nursery...and the French babies seem none the worse for the wear.   American babies, on the other hand, are well on their way to becoming used to a life of being waited on by their moms.  While we can maybe excuse this pandering at first because “they’re just babies”, it’s no longer cute when American moms cave in to their fourteen-year-old’s every whim.  

- French parents (moms, especially) strive to “get back their pre-baby identities”.  That is, they don’t wholly become absorbed in their children.  In fact, there’s a “universal assumption that even good mothers aren’t at the constant service of their children, and there’s no reason to feel bad about that (130).”  I found myself nodding at this statement, because I wonder how much time I’ve spent “in the service” of my children.  And then, my mind begins to dream up all sorts of crazy questions like, how much of that time has been ‘quality’?  How much of that time has been waiting for a sports/theatre/choir practice to end?  How much of that time have I been thanked for? 

- And while I’m on that subject, Druckerman relates the story of a French mother living in Brooklyn (140).  The mother is surprised at how American parents put a lot of stock in their children’s success at sports, not to mention an obsession with anything that might give their children an edge in competing (camps, private trainers, elite equipment). American parents are “constrained” in just every area of their children’s lives, not just sports.