Hyper-Parenting and Warring Anecdotes

Parenting, whether hyper-, helicopter-, or absentee-, is something about which every parent, whether first-time, experienced, grand-, or vicarious, will offer advice, usually unsolicited, trenchant, and censorious. Each parent adopts the authoritative mantel of experience, or expertise, or science, or hard-won wisdom. Motivated by the desire to help other parents improve their parenting, their advice promises a “cure” for some problem. Nothing ensures an argument more than unsolicited, critical guidance about deeply personal issues.

Such advice is often trite, little more than veiled rules of thumb. Yet, in the competitive realm of parenting, even those rules of thumb are ignored.[1] For example, see Pamela Druckerman’s “A Cure for Hyper-Parenting” and the comments on her piece. Druckerman promises a cure for some parenting disease, “hyper-parenting.” She grounds her cure in “research” and “science.” As with any cure, she presents hers as normative, healthful, and good. In the end, her advice distills down to:

  • Respect your children.
  • Don’t sacrifice yourself on the altar of parenting.
  • Plan for an ideal future, but don’t fall apart when those plans do.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Nobody’s perfect; nor is your parenting.
  • Teach you children (especially your daughters) to respect and like themselves.
  • Show your children how to treat others with respect.

Nothing terribly new or controversial there, despite its disguise. The more than 300 comments, however, attack Druckerman, her advice, her praise of French parenting. They defend their own particular parenting styles. They diagnose the problem for which Druckerman was offering a cure, and then offer their own cure (or resign themselves to the martyrdom of parenting). They celebrate their own successful parenting techniques, implicitly holding themselves up as models. They condemn the practices of other parents. Like Druckerman’s advice, theirs is little more than commonsense informed by anecdotes.

Despite our best efforts and vehement rhetoric, that’s all parenting is: a series of one-off experiences, i.e., anecdotes, that rarely apply unproblematically to another experience, since no two are all that similar. Anecdotes are not a good foundation for advice. So let’s stop berating each other for parenting and recognize that we can’t help but scar our children in ways we can’t even imagine. To paraphrase Druckerman’s closing thought:

Don’t bother obsessing about what you think you’re doing wrong or celebrating what you think you are doing right. You won’t screw up your kids in the ways you expect; you’ll do it in ways you hadn’t even considered. No amount of parenting can change that.

  1. Or so disguised as to be unrecognizable. But in most cases, any discussion between such parents rarely seeks to find areas of parenting consonance. Instead, as the comments on Pamela Druckerman’s recent op-ed indicate, parenting experts (because they are all self-styled experts) speak past each other from their own little soapboxes of righteousness.  ↩