A couple came to a marriage counselor because the wife was “going crazy” over her mother-in-law’s bossy attitude and the husband’s reluctance to get involved. Among the complaints: “She’s always on my back about our parenting practices. She even tells the kids she ‘wishes I could bring you candy like my grandmother always did for me, and I don’t know where your mother got the idea you’d drop dead if you enjoyed a little chocolate.’”
With or without annoying grandparents in the picture, typical parenting today is more cautious than a generation or two ago—and differences of opinion can lead to ugly clashes, even criminal prosecutions. What’s to be done?
Here are thoughts on a few common areas of dissension:
This blog has covered the question of “should kids be allowed to play outdoors unsupervised?” in the past. The short answer is: Yes, if your neighborhood is safe, if the kids are well versed in basic precautions, and preferably if they have friends to play with (which also means your family isn’t standing alone against the neighborhood).
There’s another “free play vs. supervision” question that’s common these days: should “play dates” come complete with preplanned activities, or should you just turn the kids loose to invent their own fun? Usually, the latter is preferable—you don’t really want kids thinking life is all about following instructions—but if your children or their friends are in the habit of vegging in front of screens, you might want to provide them with some toys, art supplies, and/or active-game suggestions. (Once the momentum gets going, though, step back and out unless you’re specifically invited to join in.)
Children of past generations often ate fattening snacks, then went outside to run it off. Part of today’s child-obesity epidemic is due to kids eating just as heavily, but being confined indoors all day.
Certainly you should encourage the whole family to enjoy healthy foods—fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, beans, whole-grain crackers—but you needn’t fear the occasional luscious dessert if you encourage active lifestyles (even light eaters get flabby if they’re sedentary all the time) and if you balance total caloric intake with everyday activity levels. (Remember to make allowances for growth spurts—and remember that even with healthy foods, a normal helping for an adult may be too much for a child.)
Few parents today spank a kid for bringing home a poor report card. However, it’s not hard to find parents who harp on always coming in first. Other parents go to the opposite extreme: afraid of hurting their children’s feelings, they never demand anything of them. Both approaches have this in common: they convince children that challenge equals unmitigated misery.
If you want your kids to appreciate the true joys of achievement, emphasize the learning process and the greater purpose served (not the presumed security of a high-paying job, but the personal and social fulfillment of following one’s true gifts). However “what’s done” in parenting may change, those are the values that never go out of fashion.