Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Other People's Parenting

My friend and editor (frenditor? nah, sounds too robotic) Jennifer Niesslein has written a wonderful essay in the spring issue of Brain, Child, which she co-founded and co-edits, about the power of Other People's Parenting.

In "The Village: How Other People Influence Your Parenting," Jennifer talks about the ways that our social networks—not the online ones, like Facebook; the real-life ones, like the parents of the kids who go to school with your kids—can affect our parenting behavior, causing us to throw extravagant kid birthday parties (or disapprove of them), punish our children for mouthing off by dabbing hot sauce on their tongues (or be horrified by the practice), and so on.

So true! It's part of what I was trying to get at in my 2005 essay, "Volvo Trash," in which I wrote about owning a Volvo that was respectable on the outside but a trash can inside, about living in a Volvo-loving neighborhood but feeling more like ... well, maybe a bit more like the Mazda Protégé that I eventually acquired instead (and which, 10 years later, is, as of last night, totaled; but that's another story).

I so remember how much my parenting, especially when my children were small, was influenced by what I felt my parenting community—progressive, educated, NPR-listening types—would deem appropriate. As I put it in that essay:
Toy guns were out, of course. Network television was frowned upon, the Disney Corporation suspect, fast food restaurants questionable from many angles: nutritional, environmental, vocational, culinary, aesthetic.
Which do you like better, McDonald’s or Burger King?” my son once asked a neighbor kid.
“Our family,” the girl replied loftily, “does not eat fast food.”
Again, I understood the reasoning and even concurred. But half-heartedly. Without television and Disney videos, I never would have got dinner made or read an entire newspaper. Those indoor playlands at fast-food restaurants offered precious rainy-day recreation—and reading time for me—for the price of a couple of burgers. In a weak moment in the toy aisle, I allowed Jack to select a plastic gadget with a trigger that discharged little foam rings.. Don’t call it a gun, I instructed him privately, it’s a space shooter. That made it sound comfortably kitschy, like a weapon a Martian might wield in a ’50s sci-fi movie.
I eventually loosened up, quit worrying about what my parenting community might think about this or that. Partly because I realized, “Hey, my parenting community would frown on a great many of my parenting decisions—screw 'em.” Partly because everybody loosens up as their kids get older.

But I haven't completely escaped the influence of Other People's Parenting. Maybe I never will.


  1. I. am. your. frenditor. and. I. am. here. to. thank. you. Seriously, Katy, thanks! And what an essay--just lovely.

  2. I know the feeling and I felt the pressure, but I think I'm glad (?) to say I seem to be immune to that (somewhat). I recently overheard two moms at a birthday party saying how they hate when their house gets disorganized and messy. But that didn't make me grab a bucket and a mop as soon as I walked in the door.;-) Luckily, there are several "parenting communities" within the circle of parents I know, and while I may not fit well within the "typical" community, I'm right at home with atypical parents of atypical kids like me and my little ones.