Our Children Are Doomed (that’s what the Mommy Blogs Say)

I run into a lot of mommy blogs which ramble on about how children nowadays have less self-control and are all about the instant gratification (and here are 3 things could can do to make sure YOUR child doesn’t succumb to this evil).  Most of them center around some version of hardcore household routine, with a side-dash of screen time being the devil in a pixelated blue dress.  They drive me nuts, and a recent one annoyed me enough to actually get me back onto the keyboard (well, that & my youngest starts preschool tomorrow).

Point #1 – This is not a new argument.  Every generation despairs of the one coming after, and just about every parent wants their child to succeed above all others.  In an absolutely unnecessary NEWSFLASH: there are zero guarantees when it comes to raising a well-balanced, self-sufficient high-achiever.  Drastically different families have similar end-results, and near-identical families demonstrate huge divergences.  The best indicator for success as an adult is, sadly, how much $$ the family you were born into had.  If it’s below a certain threshold, you’re in for an uphill climb.

Point #2 – Structure and routine have pros & cons, and moderation is a wonderful watchword in parenting.  If you’re going to worship at the altar of “My Children’s Routine is Sacrosanct and They Shall Nap/Sleep/Eat Only at the Approved Time,” you better be ready to face a few basic consequences:

  1. You demonstrate to your child that the world does, indeed, revolve around them.  They are never expected to accommodate or show flexibility, and you model the fact that flexibility is an undesirable trait and that it is reasonable to always expect others to work around *you.*
  2. There is a social cost to taking an entirely self-centered scheduling approach.  If you’re going to make a point that your schedule and routine comes first, then you need to respect the same in others – meaning that spontaneous social engagement is going to be a rarity, and you’re boxing yourself out of a lot of potential family support.  Your children build social capital within extended family when they’re young, and if you edge your children out of those relationships because they’re not convenient, that’s a lot of help you’re excluding down the line.
  3. I run a Multiples Support Group, and every single time we get someone freaking out about travel (or melting down *after* travel), it’s someone who has a Heavy Duty Routine.  Because no matter how much you think you can control, circumstances *will* emerge that force you to step out of the routine – a funeral, a wedding, etc.  And if you’ve got no flexibility in your parenting model, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt when the world doesn’t accommodate you.

Point #3 – We expect far different things from our children, and ourselves, in the 21st century.  Our children’s kindergarten classrooms resemble the first grades that we attended, and there’s an aggressive misguided belief that if we can force kids into a semblance of reading and regimented schoolroom behavior younger (whether at desks or not, sitting quietly is sitting quietly, and there’s an awful lot of it in my 5 year old’s 7 hour school day), there will be better results down the line.  By extension, when you subject a bunch of 5 year olds to 7 hours of high-expectation supervision, of course they’re going to burn out by the time they’re 10.

You see the same thing in competitive sports like hockey and gymnastics, where in the US we field travel teams of 5 and 6 year olds, while the in Scandinavia they give their kids the same amount of ice time working on basics and stick-handling instead of long travel times and strange locales for the sake of ‘competing’.

There’s no evidence that this actually produces better competitors in high sports – where genetics are 90%+ of the game even before it starts, and where many famous and respected athletes didn’t even start until they were 12 or older (Nastia Liukin and Misty Copeland are two who come to mind, as well as many of the Swedish hockey players like Nicklas Backstrom and soccer players who grew up playing streetball).  Track & Field isn’t offered in most parts of the country as a sport until high school for a reason!

There’s also no evidence of long-term benefit in pushing reading at an earlier age.  School districts temporarily get higher scores on assessment tests, but those crash and burn around 4th grade.  In the long run, it’s harmful, because it encourages teachers to lean on outdated and disproven methods that encourage short term payoff (I can read! Mostly by guessing, but it looks good on 3rd grade tests!) and lead to long-term literacy struggles for many students.

TL; DR?

If you’re a new parent, and a general routine makes you feel more competent and in-control?  By all means, go for it.  But don’t swallow the snake-oil along with the common sense.  Understand that there has to be some basic balance in your life: the more extreme you get in *any* approach, the more backlash will come your way down the road.


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