Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chicken Little: Stop Tweeting About the Falling Sky

Susan Gregory Thomas wrote a piece on MSNBC titled, Today's tykes: Secure kids or rudest in history? She adds, "Parents' focus on building self-esteem may neglect compassion for others."

Thomas starts with a couple of obnoxious stories:
A commenter on a recent New York Times’ blog recounted seeing a preschooler purposely trip a woman in a crowded restaurant, and chortle, “‘Mommy, did you see me trip that woman? I tripped her!’” — with no corrective measure from the mother. On, a mortified grandmother recently asked for advice on how to handle her grandson’s relentless public insulting of his own mother, who apparently seemed unable or unwilling to stand up to the mistreatment.

Then she quickly concludes:
Many experts say today’s kids are ruder than ever. And it may have something to do with popular parenting movements focusing on self-esteem and the generation that’s embracing them: Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1977.

How is it that people observe a few bratty, uncontrollable kids and derive conclusions about an entire generation. Actually, when she says "rudest in history" she is stating that today's kids are the rudest kids that mankind has ever seen. And she also acts like there is some data on this somewhere in the world. Should rudeness be added to the 2020 U.S. Census so we can get a handle on it?

All too often, people jump to unfounded conclusions based on a few encounters. Even if it is dozens of encounters, it doesn't mean anything about an entire generation of kids. The real issue, when you read a piece like this, is how you and your spouse feel about the child (children) you are raising. How do you expect them to behave and what are you both prepared to do if they step outside the parameters that you've set?

Amidst her sweeping epic generalizations, Thomas has some valid points such as:
"It may be that today’s parents are so fixated on their children's emotional well-being that they’re teaching them that the well-being of others is comparatively unimportant, says Dr. Philippa Gordon, a long-time pediatrician in Park Slope, Brooklyn, an urban New York neighborhood famous for its dense Gen-X parent population."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

You Lost Me at Your Second Sentence, Sue

Susan Goldberg recently ranted in the NY Times about smug parents who do their parenting in public places and “at the top of their highly educated lungs.” “If we’re being honest” she writes, “we have all had the same frightening and ignoble urge to smash their heads in with a brick.” Really Sue, we all have that urge? You want honesty? You’ve got considerable Chutzpa!

Unlike you Susan, no matter how much these “operatic” parents infuriate me I actually don’t have any desire to inflict bodily harm on any of them. Seriously, who writes a parenting article and mentions smashing heads?

Last, what bothers her is this generation of “parental wind bags” with their “painful lack of subtlety” when they speak to their children. Well Sue, you win the painful lack of subtlety award in my book.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Post 100 of This Blog Spans 120 Years

In celebration of Post 100, I present my recent column from the Home News Tribune titled, "Times have changed; so has Grand Parenting".

In it, I describe my grandfather (born 1887) and my grandson (born 2007) and everyone in between. That span = 120 years. I pose the question, has grand parenting changed all that much in the last few decades or is it my imagination? I'd love to hear your comments.

Are today's grandfathers so different from 50 years ago? How different am I from my grandfather Abe Singer (of blessed memory)? Are there genuine differences in our grand parenting styles or is it just a manifestation of my social work background?

I do believe there are very real differences. I will forgo references to a generational shift, the post-war mentality of parenting, and other generalizations for which I have no supporting data. This is entirely personal.

When I reflect on our visits to my grandparents' apartment on Meridian Avenue in Miami Beach, I think of their ground-floor corner unit as being very bright but stuffy. I don't remember the windows being open, nor do I remember the air conditioner being on — and this was Florida.

These scheduled visits to our grandparents felt like they were mostly for their benefit; they were not meant to be fun. Only later in life did I discover that Flamingo Park, which was literally across the street, had the best ball fields, tennis courts and public swimming pool on Miami Beach.

On each visit, we would describe our school work and music lessons. My grandmother prepared homemade snacks and showed us items that she created on her Singer sewing machine (no relation, unfortunately). My father then helped his parents with their bills or by fixing an appliance in their apartment.

We had fulfilled the obligation of visiting our grandparents. There was an air of formality, and we were not allowed to wear leisure clothes. One thing that we three brothers learned while observing the efforts of our father was how to honor one's parents. Our dad was a wonderful role model.

By contrast, here's what it's like when our 2-year-old grandson and our children visit us: It is magical and has the atmosphere of a nonstop celebration. Whether they come to us in New Jersey or we go to their home, we endeavor to have at least one specific fun-filled activity. It is not always relaxing, but it is always memorable.

There is nothing nicer than thoughts of these family outings when I am on my daily commute via NJ Transit. It is as much pure joy as it is a transcendent experience and the antithesis of what I remember as a child.

It is fortunate for my two brothers and me that we saw how over-the-top our parents were concerning our children, their grandchildren. If I have learned how to be an enthusiastic grandparent, it is from my parents, not from my grandparents.

One final point: I remember how my grandparents lived and some of the things that they did, but I have no recollection of what they thought about, and I wish I did. My grandparents experienced the Great Depression firsthand. It would be interesting to hear their perspective about the difficult economic times we are now experiencing. My grandfather served in World War I. What would he say about Iraq and Afghanistan? He lost a brother at a young age; how did that impact him emotionally?

Here's my recommendation to current and future grandparents: write down, videotape, or better yet e-mail your thoughts on life to your children and grandchildren. Enumerate your values and beliefs; describe life's curve balls and how you dealt with them. These will be a source of enormous wisdom for the future generations of your family.

While a close relationship to our grandparents is not as critical as the bond to our parents, the knowledge derived is invaluable. We should take the time to put pen to paper or to type a few digital paragraphs now and then and click "send'' to those individuals we care most about.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site at