I was already in an irritable mood after seeing Christianity Today refer to Rachel Held Evans as having a “meltdown” because she pointed out the flaw with The Nines conference’s lack of women. It didn’t help that this awful post on parenting turned up in my newsfeed–more than once, I might add, and not because anyone was being critical. Nope, everyone seemed to love it.
I can’t speak for other parents, but I’m very tired of people who think that yesteryear’s parenting was so much better than today’s. It’s like all the other times people talk about wanting to return to “the good old days.” While there may be some good things we’d like to keep–or reclaim–there’s also a whole lot of terrible things that, unfortunately, cannot be separated from the things we like. (And there are relationships between them that we’d prefer not to see, as is the case with “1950s values” and racism.)
In this particular post, I was most disturbed by the way that she emphasized the result of what she sees as bad parenting (coddling, apparently) without mentioning a single word about the consequences of other parenting flaws. For example, she’s concerned that her boys won’t be able to play shoot-the-bad-guys at school, but seems unconcerned that parents might not be adequately teaching their children who is or isn’t “bad.”
There were some specific things that bothered me about what she had to say: boys will be boys (what about girls who like that kind of play? or boys who don’t?); bullies perpetrate physical violence but claims of emotional bullying are more or less just whining; people become suicidal as a result of a single nasty remark; and college students and new graduates are going home crying over every failure and quitting (as though this didn’t already happen with people born into extreme privilege).
Believe it or not, I don’t care what you let your kids do. Buy them toy guns? Whatever. Don’t buy them? Whatever. The reason is that it’s not in the purchase or non-purchase of a particular toy that learning non-violence happens. Kids are not better off because they are allowed to play cops and robbers or because they are forbidden from playing. Ms. Metz has it wrong–boys don’t somehow magically grow up better because they were allowed to play certain types of playground games. Not only that, boys do not grow into better men because they played those games. That’s part of a particular view of masculinity that says there are certain Normal Things Boys Do, and anyone outside that must either have freak parents who regulate their play or else there’s something unmanly about them. Weirdly, she seems to be blaming parents for the lack of gun play at school, when it is, in fact, the rules of the school restricting play. She’s conflating parenting with public education and really seems hung up on this gun thing throughout.
As for bullying, I’m super happy for Ms. Metz that she got over whatever things were said to her. Perhaps she’s just very confident in herself. I think it’s far more likely that she simply never experienced the kind of emotional, verbal, and sexualized bullying some of us did. Maybe she doesn’t know what it’s like to go to school and wonder how many hurtful things will be said to you that day or whether the boy who sits behind you is going to grab your ass yet again while the teacher looks the other way. She might not understand how it feels to walk into a room to a class full of kids calling you an elephant and making “boom” noises at you while you walk, every day. She probably doesn’t know what it’s like to spend three years trying to find a lunch table where the other kids won’t slowly slide over while you’re eating until you end up on the floor, followed by laughter and fake apologies. I’m just guessing here, though.
I suppose because Ms. Metz doesn’t understand that kind of harassment, she’s more likely to also misunderstand being suicidal. I do not know any person who has felt suicidal or attempted suicide or has succeeded who did it simply because some random girl called her a bitch one day. If a single episode of name-calling sends one to such a dark place, then it wasn’t just because of the mean word–that was just the proverbial straw. I find Ms. Metz’s words hateful, hurtful, and inappropriate. They lack any sort of empathy. I have no idea where she got her information that this is all it takes to make teenage girls commit suicide, either–apparently, she also doesn’t read all the way through stories about bullying and suicide enough to get the whole picture.
On the other hand, college students with helicopter parents are a real issue, so I’ll give Ms. Metz credit for spotting that one. The way she presents it, though, makes it sound like she’s saying this is happening in dire proportions compared to the number of students enrolled in college. She’s making blanket statements about “today’s parenting” being responsible for this. Oh, really? Because that wasn’t happening before. Spoiled, bratty kids going to college is totally a new thing, right?
My biggest problem with this post is that it’s so vague. She never actually says what she thinks is the bad parenting responsible for selfish, needy kids. She hints that it has to do with “catering” to them, but what does that even mean? How, exactly, is it “catering” to kids to have a philosophy of not buying toy guns or allowing shooting play? And how are her kids better off for being allowed to do those things? In what way does stopping verbal bullying prevent people from being emotionally healthy? She gets at it a little with her comment about not giving in to them unless they use manners. But if what she meant is that kids have no manners, why didn’t she just write a post about that? She says her boys will be emotionally hurt but that she’ll cushion it as much as a mother can. Isn’t that catering to them? How will they learn to deal with things if she’s “cushioning” them?
Like the post about how “marriage isn’t for you,” this just smacks of self-righteousness. The big FAIL for me is that she never once suggests that the best way to help our kids grow up to be responsible, respectful people is to teach them how to treat others. I didn’t see even one reference to, say, the Golden Rule. I saw nothing in there about teaching our kids about kind words, respecting personal boundaries, or helping people who need it. There wasn’t a single word about making things right when we’ve hurt other people.
Ms. Metz claims that she “respects” others’ right to parent how they see fit. I’m not that nice. I think if you’re abusing your child, you are a sorry excuse for a parent, and I do not respect your “right” to harm your child. Beyond that, I’m just not that concerned with what you do. As for me, I’m going to worry less about whether I’m “overprotective” and more about whether I’m teaching my kids that all people have value. That strikes me as far more important than whatever vague badness Ms. Metz is suggesting I avoid.