Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dinnertime Again

Time for another installment from the book I'm reading, The Surprising Power of Family Meals, by Miriam Weinstein. Actually, my thoughts come from reading this book, and from a post by Beck yesterday about two recent studies showing that adults who have children are less "happy" than those who don't. They say "parenting doesn't lead to joy." Whatever/however "they" define happiness. As if one can even compare the life of a parent to the life of a non-parent. Blech. For being the educated elite in this country, sometimes I think those Harvard researchers are complete idiots.

But, I do wonder, are there ways of parenting that produce more happiness, I mean, can we do it better? Consider this quote from Miriam Weinstein:

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, in 1981 the average child could count 40% of his day's activities as discretionary. By 1997, that had dropped to 25%. In the same period, the amount of time spent on eating declined about 20% on weekdays. Did children learn to eat faster? Or did we just spend less time sitting around together at the table?

[Teresa] Arendell [a sociologist studying middle-class mothers in CA] explains that intensive parenting is now the norm. 'Good childhoods are intended not only to secure children's immediate psychological well-being and growth. They also aim to prepare children for their future roles as adults....Steady involvement in organized enrichment activities enhances and secures children's individual cultural capital, readying them for participation in select strata of adult life.' Or, as we all know, a child who doesn't play soccer, study oboe, and work at the soup kitchen, preferably all on the same day, can just kiss Harvard good-bye....

It's about parents investing in their children so the children can be worth more. But are we so obsessed with our narrow, anxious view of our children's future that we throw away the riches we can offer now?"

Yeah, well, if my kids can't get into Harvard to help produce ridiculous studies like the one referenced above, that's OK by me. It's always a tricky balance, figuring out how much to throw the kids into, and how much to hold back. My gut first wants to cling them to me, and let them just be children longer. Do they really need to have so much scheduled time? On the other hand, my children do have interests, and it's part of my responsibility as a mom to provide opportunities to pursue them, right?

Remember the 1989 movie, "Parenthood," with Steve Martin and a slew of other people in it? He had a niece who, at 4 years old was learning a bunch of different languages, and how to play a musical instrument, as well as the elements of the periodic table...While Steve Martin's 4-year-old was wandering around the house with a bucket on his head, banging into walls, singing the "Diarrhea Song". You gotta' love the kid with the bucket. But you may recall from the movie, both sets of parents are uneasy with how they're doing the parenting thing. It takes Steve Martin the whole movie to figure out how to be at peace with this execution of the role of fatherhood. Maybe that explains the Harvard study....Do you have to be confident in how you're parenting in order to be "happy"?

We do have riches to offer our children right now. Time spent eating together, just being our family, who we are, together, without pressure of performance, is so incredibly valuable. This actually does make us happy. Adults and children. Not that I'm totally convinced that "happiness" is the end-all. But dinner together has lost its place of importance in American families. Activities are often scheduled at dinnertime! I want to push back, and reclaim that time. Will this cause a problem when it's time to apply to colleges? Guess I'll have to cross that bridge when I get to it.


Beck said...

The whole idea that I should WANT my children to be dutiful little middle class citizens enough to forgo a relationship with them is a bit queasiness-inducing, isn't it?
Great post!

--julie said...

Thanks for stopping by, Beck!
It is sickening....scary what people are doing. The selfish leading the selfish.