Monday, April 9, 2012

Commentary: NYT Jennifer Conlin's "The Non-Joie of Parenting"

My friend Katie (Reinlein) Schwaneke recently shared an interesting NYT article by Jennifer Conlin, called "The Non-Joie of Parenting."  It was so interesting because Conlin is one of the few (from what I have read) that could identify with the perspective of Pamela Druckerman, author of recently headline-happy Bringing Up Bebe.  Like Druckerman, Conlin is an American native, who raised her children abroad (specifically, in France, Belgium, and England). I have heard bits-and-pieces of commentary regarding Druckerman's assertions, but mostly critical (perhaps due to pro-American slant of our media).  I have heard native French parents who claim life with toddlers is not as peaceful, happy, and smooth-sailing as Druckerman suggests...or...skeptical pediatricians who claim it is not the French-trumps-American parenting style, as the author suggests, but rather generational: prior-trumps-current parenting methods.

Certainly all parents, American or French, veteran or new, have their own opinion about what parenting styles are considered "better" or "worse" than others.  But, what I found so interesting about Conlin's article, is her suggestion that the source of these parenting differences lies in the rushed American culture, the busting-at-the-seams with to-do lists, activities, year-round-traveling sports teams, the "Race to Nowhere"....(is there a documentary out there with this title?) These themes seem to reappear again and again among current parenting periodicals.  As I have stated in prior posts, I am all for sports, extracurricular activities, etc., as I participated (and LOVED) so many growing up....But given the time constraints imposed by our solar system (only 24 hrs in a day), what gives?  Family dinners? Family vacations? Family game-night (yeah right)? As my friend Katie mentioned, her family recently forfeited their regular Sunday afternoon bike ride to make time for Kindergarten batting-cage practice? What?

I truly do not know the answer.  It must have something to do with balance, moderation, prioritizing.  Easier said than done.  However, I do wish our culture could chill a bit and learn to appreciate the European's talent for smelling the roses, admiring the view, relishing the long dinners with family and friends, enjoying the chocolate, the cheese, the wine (all in moderation of course ; ))...Although I have not raised my children abroad, my travels overseas have given me a glimpse into this culture.  I can only imagine the magnification impact of having children in a more laid-back environment.  But of course, Americans would be quick to point out that their 6-week per year vacation policies are excessive, and their limited (35/40-hour) work weeks, etc., are far too restrictive for economic growth/productivity. Yet, perhaps we should ask, are they enjoying life more?

I would love to hear what veteran American parents would say on this topic.  Feel free to share your insight/opinions/comments, as applicable!

Link to article is attached below...

Addendum:  Shortly after my friend Katie shared this article with a us, a mutual friend who just returned home to the U.S. from a 3-year work-abroad stint in Zurich, Switzerland wrote the following response.  I was blown away by her perspective and insight on this topic.  She is a wonderful friend, mother, and writer.  Check out more interesting stories in her blog, Adventures of Swiss Family Courts (link provided below).

"You have no idea how close this hits to home.  As a matter of fact, since moving back I have found myself reeling from the culture shock.  I have been too depressed and overwhelmed to even blog about it yet.  Home feels foreign, overwhelming, over busy, and super-sized in all the wrong ways.  Chris and I have been trying to put our finger on what exactly is so different and why we are missing our life in Zurich so much, and we came to this exact conclusion a few weeks ago.  To be fair, we thought maybe our life as expats was so calm and centered on family and friends because we were missing out on a bunch of "involvement" info that we didn't glean due to our lack of language fluency--and we could "opt out" of activities that weren't a priority because we were only there temporarily so didn't have to commit to the social over-involvement pressure.  But, as this article points out, it isn't just the expat experience.  Europe purposely designs life the way they do by prioritizing the work-life and school-life balance over crazy go go go, more, more, more!  For example, Luke and Isaac were able to both play soccer, take swimming lessons, and be have weekly play dates with buddies, in addition to having time to be kids--playing as brothers outside without crazy homework and extra curricular activity time constraints, because Switzerland carves time out of the school week for those activities, and everything was offered at school or within 5 minutes of school at a village center--so no driving required--ever!!  NO SUNDAY activities of ANY kind (including shopping or errand running) ensures that it is a day of rest focused on family time.  Oh how I miss that!!!  The pace of life is so much more rewarding there.  We are slowly adjusting to life here again--time heals all wounds--but as we try to hang on to some of that balance I am shattered to find that it is truly impossible to do it.  If we don't sign up for the crazy schedules then the boys don't get exposure, fall behind, and will have no confidence to participate in sports, etc in a few years because everyone else will be so advanced from their YEARS and YEARS of practice by the time they hit 7th grade...Baseball is already out of reach for poor Luke here, because they are already DRAFTING teams, and the poor kid has never been coached on how to hold and swing a bat yet--those 2 years of no baseball in Europe (which is no where to be found over there, of course) means it's a lost opportunity for him at the age of 8.  Totally crazy and so so wrong.  I just can't wrap my head around what the future holds for our kiddos in the next's going to be a crazy ride!!"

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