A few recent news items have me thinking about parenting. The working- mother blame game was heightened, naturally, by the release of the National Institute on Child Development study on long-term effects of time spent in child care. While the study is nuanced and complex, the short version was blared in headlines as “young children who spend a lot of time in group child care may be more verbal but have a slightly higher likelihood of behavior problems in 5th and 6th grade.” Oh, the guilt.
Never mind that I still credit the YMCA child care center for raising my kids. My children attended the center full-time since they were three months old, and instead of shedding tears when I dropped my babies off, I thought to myself, “Thank God they’re with someone who actually knows what they’re doing.” Now in grades 4 and 7, they are healthy, well-adjusted, thriving young people.
Your mileage may vary.
Then, a newspaper column reflected on the value of parental time with children, and how it has changed over the past 40 years. Ironically, while mothers in the 1960s spent more time with their children than now, they weren’t necessarily focused on them. In those halcyon days of June Cleaver, I recall the freedom of roaming the neighborhood as a child, supervised only by a slightly older sibling or friends, while our mothers were in the kitchen (or so we assumed).
No “play dates.” No lessons and structured activities. Most team sports didn’t start till 5th grade, and even then parents rarely showed up for games. Parental child-focused time has actually increased in the past decade or two.
But can there be too much of a good thing with child-focused time?
A National Public Radio commentator discussed the big event taking place in the homes of 17- and 18-year-olds: the arrival of college admission letters. High school seniors are applying to more schools, with more pressure and demographic competition than ever before. And many of them are facing rejection for the first time in their lives.
In all parents’ best intentions, in our attempts to help our children find the best way in life, we forget that life isn’t always rosy. How will a child cope with not getting accepted into the college of his or her choice if we have fought every battle and structured every experience for them? Perhaps a little less intensive parenting, allowing children to find their own way and discover their resilience when things don’t go as planned, is the best gift we can give our children.
Meanwhile, I’ll watch my 4th grader for signs of behavioral problems in the next year or two.