Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Politics of Parenting

            With my journey as a parent nearing a decade, I have come to learn more things than I ever could teach my children.  Most of my lessons are of a diplomatic or some sort of political nature.  They came early and fast and have not stopped since.  The early ones were the easiest, small differences of opinion with family and friends over what type of baby products to use or how my beginning family should handle colds and coughs.  Some of these differences escalated beyond what they should have and feelings were hurt.  But we were only starting as a new family and needed to make our own decisions and our own mistakes.  Is that not what growing is all about?
            Some lessons, and the decisions made during these lessons, were more difficult and life-altering.  Careers and babies do not always travel well together.  Initially, we clung to the belief that family helped each other out and that non-working family members would aid in filling time gaps to allow for dual incomes.  Stress and selfishness quickly reared their heads and my wife and I just as quick altered our careers.  I have spent nearly a decade working in the dark.  It has allowed me to curtail any thought of job growth or income potential while providing the time needed with my kids.  I have traded a more lucrative position for smiling faces and a proper, hands-on upbringing, and I wouldn't trade that for the world...especially the world the way it is now.
            Which brings me to the politics at hand, the politics of the playground, or the soccer field, or the Girl Scout troop.  I witness the parental chess game daily as I walk with my kids to school.  It begins with jockeying for parking spaces with the near military arms race of status cars.  It carries into the playground with the designer clothes and shoes to match, the overflowing jewelry and the talk of real estate and home additions, this all in the five minutes before the school bell rings expertly executed by moms decked out in gym suits ready for their personal trainers.  The birthday party circuit during the school year is a whole separate circus of one-upmanship, followed closely by the better-than-yours vacation ring.
            Most of these pitfalls are merely precursors for the truly hardcore events beginning in the fourth grade with the advent of the Honor Roll and "serious" traveling sports teams.  The latter of which allows highly competitive parents with little or no coaching/teaching background to throw their overwhelmed children into a meat grinder of practices, forsaking school work and childhood, in an attempt to burn them out before puberty. (This topic is in need of its own forum and will be covered at a later date.)  The Honor Roll obsession brings glares in the schoolyard.  Test scores are guarded and projects are treated like nuclear secrets.  For some, every score, every assignment, every project is treated like a photo-op or a celebrated accomplishment.  Each course, each fourth, fifth, sixth grade decision is another bullet to add to the resume.  There are parents that would hop a child from classroom to classroom in an attempt to find a teacher that allows for improved grades, never once addressing the learning needs displayed by the child. 
            And so I stand, isolated, back by the fence, within earshot but out of the circle.  Perhaps my children will suffer socially because of my "anti-social" behavior, but they will grow intellectually.  They will achieve their own maturity without my jaded influence.  They will gain friends for who they are and not what their parents can provide.  I will not dictate their social circle based on affluence or influence inside or outside the schoolyard.  They will learn hard lessons about true friendship and the reasons behind "parties".   Grammar school has been twisted into a social minefield and I will not let them go through it unprotected.  However, I will allow them to earn their experiences for the tougher lessons that life has ahead of them.  I will always be within earshot but I will also always be outside of the circle.

             To be continued, I'm sure....

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