The NYT’s Lisa Belkin thinks it might be:
Perhaps you know it by its other names: helicoptering, smothering mothering, alpha parenting, child-centered parenting. Or maybe there’s a description you’ve coined on your own but kept to yourself: Overly enmeshed parenting? Get-them-into-Harvard-or-bust parenting? My-own-mother-never-breast-fed-me-so-I-am-never-going-to-let-my-kid-out-of-my-sight parenting?
There are, similarly, any number of theories as to why 21st-century mothers and fathers feel compelled to micromanage their offspring: these are enlightened parents, sacrificing their own needs to give their children every emotional, intellectual and material advantage; or floundering parents, trying their best to navigate a changing world; or narcissistic parents, who see their children as both the center of the universe and an extension of themselves.
But whatever you call it, and however it began, its days may be numbered. It seems as though the newest wave of mothers is saying no to prenatal Beethoven appreciation classes, homework tutors in kindergarten, or moving to a town near their child’s college campus so the darling can more easily have home-cooked meals. (O.K., O.K., many were already saying no, but now they’re doing so without the feeling that a good parent would say yes.) Over coffee and out in cyberspace they are gleefully labeling themselves “bad mommies,” pouring out their doubts, their dissatisfaction and their dysfunction, celebrating their own shortcomings in contrast to their older sisters’ cloying perfection.
‘Slacker parenting’ confessionals seem to be a fashionable theme these days; Salon has a similar piece discussing two new books on the subject by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Lewis, and the differences between how The Father and The Mother react to the expectations placed upon parents these days. Though, as the article points out, at least Waldman now has plenty of company in the blogosphere, most notably that of Lenore Skenazy, author of the book and blog Free Range Kids. And if you haven’t yet taken a gander at the blogs and books listed at Underground Moms – represented by the green-and-white badge at the lower left column of this blog – please do.
While I would like to think this backlash against overparenting spells its death knell, I’m afraid that once introduced, the beast will be very hard to overcome, especially in a society based upon keeping up with the Joneses in all other areas of life – the biggest house, the neatest tech gadgets…the most intense (i.e., “caring”) parents. I suspect that it’ll be with us, in its various forms, for a while yet. Especially since many of the articles railing against it talk more about “overscheduled” preschoolers and elementary schoolers, and neglect the overparenting done, often for the sake of “attachment” (as if Mommy has to put her life completely on hold in order to ensure this!), to babies and toddlers. And all too often, mothers find the overprotective habits hard to break.
Which, incidentally, was what amused me quite a bit when Katie Allison Granju, author of a rather insufferably preachy book about AP*, railed a while back over at Babble.com against overparenting. Apparently, obsessing over whether your child’s future is Ruined! Forever! if she is allowed to cry herself to sleep at 8 months, or worrying about her possibly lost forever IQ points because you ‘didn’t try hard enough’ to breastfeed, is healthy; teaching said child to eat with a spoon by herself? Over-parenting. It seems to me that there is more than one way to overparent, and overscheduling your child’s day with extracurricular activities is only one of those ways.
Not too surprisingly, now Katie is slightly backpedaling: turns out she’s a wee bit uncomfortable with the Cult of the Bad Mother, as she puts it:
I find myself asking whether we have we gone too far in de-stigmatizing parenting lapses. Because if everyone is a “Bad Parent,” then where is the line between reasonable and unreasonable maternal imperfection? Blog commenters forgive the mother who wittily posts about losing her temper and swatting her child in the grocery store. But does this mean we also forgive the mother who has no blog, but who loses it and swats her child really hard in the grocery store, leaving a nasty red mark? Because, after all, they are both simply being “bad parents.”
I think most of us can still say that we know it when we see it as regards truly abusive or neglectful parenting. Some of these folks even regularly show up trying to look like the “Good Mothers” over at mothering.com (yes, she was a member). But it would help an awful lot if society stopped listening to said “Good Mothers” when they attempt to attach the bad parent stigma to any behavior they don’t endorse, like formula feeding, CIO, stroller use and even (believe it or not) vaccinating your kids on schedule. Like the word “empowement”, “child abuse” is on its way to becoming devoid of meaning thanks to some self-styled uberparents.
*To remind you, she was the one who called cribs “spacewasting babycages“…even while using them with her own kids.