Tuesday, February 21, 2012

If I'm a Slacker Parent, Newt's a Loyal Spouse

I just read an article about a college student who got a C- on a test, starting crying and texted her mom, who called back and asked to talk to the professor. The article goes on to outline how generation Y and iY students have been set up for failure by an overly protective environment and discusses possible solutions. Basically, they're helpless whiners.

Right about now, I'm feeling like a parenting rockstar.

Without consciously intending to, I've raised Twelve with an assortment of anti-helplessness tactics - turns out being broke and wanting to maintain my own adult life works.

Financially, we're doing fine right now, which is awfully nice, but ordering the Downton Abbey DVDs was still a fairly major splurge. For most of Twelve's childhood, money has been much tighter, so there's been no chance of her becoming addicted to the latest gadgets, as is characteristic of her generation. (I wonder, though, whether the folks who generalize about Gen Y/iY are taking socioeconomic class into account? My knowledge on social class differences is a bit dated, to be sure, but I am still skeptical.)

I've also never been a terribly hands-on parent, mainly because I have other things going on. I've been a single parent since Twelve was a baby, and R did not enter our lives until she was six, so my college and work responsibilities have always shaped my involvement in Twelve's day-to-day activities. Guilt at not being involved enough? You bet.

Twelve went to our local Waldorf school through second grade, which required a certain amount of parental participation. At the very least, I had to pack her lunch and drive her to and fro, and there were definitely periods of time in which that was about all I could manage. Leaving Waldorf was not by choice - see 'broke,' above - but I will admit to being relieved when reduced-price cafeteria lunches at the scootering-distance-away public school became an option.

My social life picked up considerably at about the same time I met R; I had Twelve when I was barely 20, so I didn't do the early-20s thing until I was 26. (This worked out okay - you get to the same place, and probably much quicker and with fewer hangovers.) The older she got, the easier it was to arrange childcare, and finally - finally! - we got to the home-alone stage.

(Note to parents of young children: You will get here eventually. And it's awesome. Note to childless folk: Be very, very sure you want to have children. You can't do anything without them without a hassle. And it's expensive.)

As a result of all this, Twelve is fairly accustomed to not getting what she wants: Sometimes we can't afford it, and sometimes Mom has something else going on. This year, we're more likely to be able to afford it, and Mom is more likely to be home, but Twelve's expectations are well-formed. I can't even remember the last time she asked for something expensive, and she's joking when she asks to be driven to or picked up from school. When something pricey is an option - Downton Abbey DVDs, signing up for volleyball - Twelve gets that it's significant. When we discovered that the reasonably priced cake decorating class at JoAnns required about a gazillion dollars' worth of supplies (it's a TOTAL scam, by the way), she dismissed the idea entirely. Before arranging for me or R to drive her to something, she thinks about whether she can get there on her own by bus or bike.

A few months into the year, when I stopped by to meet a few teachers at her new school, they seemed surprised to meet Twelve's mother. I eventually realized that it was because the other parents at the school are extremely involved with their children's educations - SO involved that the school didn't bother to send home any information about fall parent-teacher conferences. The sign up sheets were in the hall, I was told, and "all the parents are in here so much we've never had a problem" with folks not getting the information. The tone was clear: You're a total slacker mom.

Excuse me? Twelve is by no means deprived or neglected. She has more clothes than I even pretend to keep track of, piles of books, participates in a manageable level of extra-curricular activities (though simultaneous volleyball and cross-country will not happen again), and gets good grades. She's responsible for herself, and I often have the sense that people are not quite sure how to deal with that.

If having raised this kind of child makes me a slacker, than I nominate Newt Gingrich for Loyal Husband of the Year.

I do have some idea of how her college professors will deal with that: Shock, awe, A+.

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