Monday, October 5, 2009

Avoiding the Kid-Centric Life

Kid-centric parenting has run amuck.

If you don't know what I mean by that, then take a minute and stop and think about the moms (and maybe dads) you know and how much their lives utterly revolve around vehement sideline screaming at Junior's soccer, comparing Ms. Thing's pas-de-chat with that of the other would-be ballerinas at dance class, enrolling the kids in advanced Mandarin lessons and, even when out with adults, talking EXCLUSIVELY about their children.

I'm not against finding the very best school you can for your kids, whether public or private. I don't see anything wrong with a few fun activities after school, or "enrichment" as it's come to be called. Sometimes tutoring is actually called for, when a kid is having a tough time with a subject. And even I have a tough time resisting the impulse to talk shop with other parents when I see them, not to mention write about it on this blog.

BUT there are limits. Or rather, there should be.

Focusing too much on your kids, living through them instead of living your life, using them to compensate for disappointments, or trying to control them to compulsive levels because you're frustrated at your lack of control of other parts of your life, isn't good for them or for you.

I like to think I have an advantage, as a Late Blooming Mom: I had a life before I had kids, and I refused to give it all up and trade it in for rampant mommy martyrdom.

The same is true of Late Blooming Dad. There are things he liked to do before having kids. He hasn't given them up. He just doesn't get to do them as often. But he and I both try hard to make space in our lives for the stuff that kept us sane and happy BEFORE the kids came along. We spend a lot of time with our kids, but we don't just do stuff they want to do. We bring them along on activities we enjoyed before we had them. Our kids go to museums because WE like museums; to baseball games because WE like baseball games; and though we take them to Pumpkin Festivals so they can get face-painting and bounce in the Jumperoos, it's because we enjoy seeing them have a blast at these events, not because we're looking for developmentally appropriate educational outings that will provide educational enrichment.

We also make sure we get a night out two or three times a month if we can swing a sitter, so they get used to the idea that mommy and daddy are entitled to some time to ourselves. Sometimes daddy gets a day or night off; sometimes mommy does. This summer, mommy and daddy each had a three-night trip to see old friends WITHOUT bringing the kids.

We are better parents because we do all this.

Yet not all later-in-life parents I run into take quality time for themselves or keeping up their pre-kid interests. In fact, some of them -- particularly a breed I'll call Hypermoms -- seem to be doing the opposite. They're the ones I saw back on the preschool tours who aksed questions like, "What private schools do kids get into from this preschool?" "Are the kids reading when they graduate?" "What is the emphasis on academics?" Remember, I said these moms were touring PRESCHOOLS. Which they clearly confused with college prepatory high schools or Stanley Kaplan SAT prep.

The Hypermoms have Blackberries whether or not they are working moms. They seem to be equally frantic whether in business suits or yoga pants, whether scheduling their next conference call or setting up their kids' KUMON tutoring schedule.

Their counterparts are the Hyperdads, the ones I was talking about when I mentioned the vehement screamers on the sidelines of Junior's soccer game.

There's nothing wrong with encouraging achievement in your kids -- be it athletic, artistic, or academic. And of course you want your kid to be able to compete in the world, at least enough that when grown-up life comes around, it won't be a cold hard shock.

But when your whole life is kid-centric, and you have lost your inner -- and outer -- life apart from your kids, and you've deluded yourself into thinking life really is ALL about the kids, you're not doing them a favor, or yourself.

I realized one day after spending hours trying to find and schedule soccer, ballet, and swim classes for the kids, that I needed to stop and spend some time doing something for me. I was exhausted, cranky, and no fun to be with, and Late Blooming Dad, bless him, took the kids out to a movie and the mall. I took to the hills -- specifically, the Inspiration Point trail and Will Rogers State Park, a place I used to go to, pre-kids to breathe, to exercise, and look out at the view, to get a little perspective. The mountains, the sky, the trees, the ocean, and the city itself are all in view, and yet it's quiet up there, where it's high enough to hear yourself think.

Some days, a mom's gotta do for a mom and for no one else. I may be a Late-Bloomer at momhood, but part of what makes me bloom at it is that I know, even though I wanted parenthood more than anything, that while it's a lot -- and I'm glad for it -- it's not everything.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with this post, though I feel a little bad about it. Some close friends of ours had a kid a few years before us, and they were once an enjoyable couple to be around. Post kids they became impossibly, well, annoying. Everything is urgent, everyone must accommodate their strict schedule and particular way they raise their kids - their world became completely child-centric. At first we tried not to judge them so harshly -- after all, we didn't have kids yet.

But then we did. And, save the first few very difficult months with a colicky baby, we gradually got a kind of life back, albeit a less spontaneous and much more tame one. My husband and I each make time for each other's interests. We make a little time for each other in the evening and, at least monthly, we get a sitter and go out. I think a lot about parenting and I read the books and I'm a stay-at-home mom, yadda yadda yadda, but it makes me so frustrated to see this always stressed and bickering couple with nary a trace of who they were
before because they focus on being kid-centric (the kids needs and wants are always first) and not enough on being family-centric (the needs and wants of *everybody* is given their due). /end rant :)

Anonymous said...

Kid centric parenting is also one of the top causes of divorce.

Anonymous said...

Having children in your 30s is not late. It was your time to have them and everyone has their own life and time to do things. Congrats!