Matt Archbold shared a story that is simultaneously humorous and quite sad.
My wife and I recently attended a sports banquet for one of our kids’ sports teams at a local restaurant. It was one of those events that I wanted to go to about as much as I wanted to get three teeth pulled. But my wife assured me it would be fun. I didn’t believe her but I came anyway.
We’ve gone to so many of these things as my five kids are all on at least three sports teams. All the kids sat together at a very long table and all the parents sat at another table with the coaches. I have a theory about sports teams, the worse a team is the more coaches it has. And this team had lots of coaches.
We were seated with about eight coaches and some parents we didn’t really know.
So what’s the first thing someone we don’t really know will bring up as a conversation starter? Well, it’s the only thing they know about us which is that we have five kids. This one coach said he knew it was us when we arrived because he saw all five of our kids walking in. “That could only be the Archbolds,” he laughed.
The mom directly across from me, who I didn’t really know and hadn’t seen at many games, leaned in conspiritorially and asked, “Who has five children? I’d kill myself if I had that many kids.”
Go to the link to read the rest of the story. The key statement comes here:
The woman, however, didn’t appear to appreciate my little joke and continued that she thought it was irresponsible to have that many children because you couldn’t possibly give enough attention to five kids. She then went on to explain all the things her child is involved in from soccer to piano to basketball to a reading club to field hockey.
Though the Zummo family exceeded the culturally acceptable family size last October with the birth of our third daughter, I must say that we have fortunately not had many if any encounters with such negative people. I have heard the occasional expression of incredulity from parents of one or two children, but nothing approaching the sentiments expressed by this individual.
It’s true that the switch from man-to-man defense to zone makes life more challenging, but we somehow manage to live our lives without countenancing suicide. Perhaps it helps that we don’t fret that every second of every day of our children’s lives are micromanaged to the minutest detail. Sure we would lose our minds if we tried to raise three kids while obsessing over every action they took, but then again, maybe such obsessing parenting isn’t a good idea, no matter how many children one has.
I have been following Lenore Snenazy’s blog Free Range Kids for some time, and every day it seems she relates yet another story about a parent going to jail because their child was found – GASP – at the playground by herself or locked in the car for all of ten minutes. In almost every case some “good Samaritan” has ratted out the parent, calling in the authorities when confronted with the unimaginable horror of an unsupervised minor. I can’t help but think that many of these noble souls are like the woman in Archbold’s blog post. In their conception of parenthood a child cannot be left alone, not even for a single minute. So when they see a child on their own, unsupervised, they immediately assume that the child’s parent is a neglectful monster.
It had been my assumption that there has been a connection between smaller family sizes and the increasing amount of burdensome laws and attitudes when it comes to rearing children. After all, it couldn’t possibly have been a father of six who came up with the child safety seat laws that now have kids in some form of booster seat until just about the time they are legally able to drive. It’s not that all people who are parents of only one or two children are prone to helicopter parenting, but it is a safe bet that most helicopter parents are those with only a child or two to manage.
The question I’ve been contemplating lately is whether small family size leads to helicopter parenting, or rather it’s more that those who are prone to be helicopter parents tend to want only a child or two. Perhaps, indeed, it is a case where the chicken and the egg both came first.
In the west family sizes have been declining for some time. The situation hasn’t been as acute here in the United States, although we are now at below replacement rate. (Heck, the French are having more babies on average than we are.) Those of us who have families with three or four kids are seen as somewhat strange, and my friends in Church with seven or eight are regarded as strange beings who must clearly have something wrong mentally. Why are large families seen as so unusual? Yes, there are the Malthusians among us who think that large families are destroying the Earth. The larger issue, I believe, is that our materialistic culture has poisoned our attitudes towards children. Insead of being seen as a beautiful blessing, children are seen as a drag on the wallet. A child’s birth is greeted by some as though their wallets are being literally sucked out of their pockets. But this materialism runs deeper. Children themselves become a precious commodity, and what’s more, a precious commodity to be protected at all costs.
What do we do with precious possessions, especially those that cost a decent amount of money? Don’t we treat them with gentle care? (Although it should be noted that even as I type this I am staring at a laptop that is thoroughly cracked, so perhaps not all of us treat our expensive possessions so delicately. At least now any typos can be excused.) So perhaps it is only natural that parents treat their only child – the child who is so pricey both in terms of time and money – with such extreme caution.
I hesitate as I write this because I don’t want to appear too critical. First of all, as I said, not all of those who have smaller family sizes are so overprotective. What’s more, for those who do tend to hover, it’s not exactly an irrational attitude. Even those of us who are perhaps somewhat easier going are not without our worries, so it’s understandable that when the concern concentrated in just a single child it might become somewhat more strenuous. That being said, either way these attitudes are dangerous. First off, the fear of having multiple children is feeding the contraceptive mentality. Our birth rate is falling and more and more people are putting off child rearing later and later – if at all. Then we suffocate the children we do have, eschewing time away from home at the playground for another round of piano lessons or some other pre-determined activity. (And no, I am not saying that children should not take piano lessons, but I also think children should be allowed to be children at least some of the time.)
It is a vicious circle. The reluctance to embrace children in all their noisy, messy glory leads to shrinking family sizes, and shrinking family sizes are turning people into overbearing worrywarts who have a constricted vision of what childhood is supposed to be about. This in turn only turns up the pressure on those of who who have more extensive families. We have to cram kids into child safety seats until they’re ready for prom, and we surely can’t leave our children in those seats when we go to the grocery store, even if it’s just to pick up a single item. And if we send our kids outside in the brief interlude between piano and Chinese lessons, we better sure to watch those kids like a hawk and stand no more than ten feet from the children lest John Q. Law rolls up on us.
It would be one thing if this sort of helicopter parenting affected only those being helicoptered, but the helicopter parents are helicoptering the rest of us, and in the end it only serves to stifle us all – child and adult alike.