Monday, June 25, 2012

'This is Dylan and Maddie's Mum'

The New Yorker has an interesting piece on how American children end up so spoiled. They relate it to the idea of parents doing ever more for their children, rather than giving them responsibilities early on and making them follow through.

I don't know the right parenting strategy to combat it, but I've certainly noticed an unusual indulgence of misbehaviour by kids in this country. Is you child of 4 yelling in the plane/restaurant/shopping centre? Never mind, that's just the joys of children, and everyone should just deal with your little precious! How dare you, stranger, ask my son to keep his voice down!

It's one thing when your kids are brats in your own home. It's another when you merrily let them impose social costs on everyone around you without making any effort to stop it. Everyone understands when your one-year old baby is crying on the airplane that there's not much you can do. They'll be irritated, but they'll understand. But when your 4-year old keeps kicking the seat in front of you and you do nothing to stop it? That makes you a tool, not just your child.

I remember thinking about a broader version of this problem when I was behind a four-wheel drive. Everyone seems to have those stickers that have stick figures of all the people in the family. This lady had gone one step further - her license plate decal read 'This is Dylan and Maddie's Mum'.

What a strange way for an adult to define their identity! Not only inwardly, but to proclaim this to the whole world. I understand the solicitude for one's children, but it seems perverse that the parents come to view their own existence in terms of being appendages to their offspring. Is that really the first sentence that you want to use to describe yourself - I am my children's mother? Even if you were to phrase it as 'I have two children', that would be an improvement, as you haven't relegated the subject (of yourself) to an implied noun to emphasise the object.

Can you imagine a parent of a hundred years ago writing such a thing? Or even fifty years? It seems pretty damn unlikely.

If I were a gambling man, I would bet that Dylan and Maddie were indulged a lot as children. I hope it didn't turn them into entitled brats, but I'm not optimistic.

Here's one thing you can take to the bank - you wouldn't have caught Papa or Mama Holmes with a license plate like that, and when/if I sire offspring, you won't find me with one either.


  1. I think a huge part of this is the preponderance of the one- or two-child family: especially in one-child families, the kid grows up thinking he (or she) is something totally unique, and this is confirmed by the parents' pouring all possible resources: emotional, monetary, and time -- into their sprog. I won't name names, but it's certainly the pattern I see in my near relatives!

  2. Huh, that's an interesting possibility - I'm sure that contributes to the problem. It certainly would be a fairly parsimonious explanation of the increase in entitlement over time in the US. My guess is that it's not only the single child family, but also the 'single child of a late 30's mother who would have liked to have more kids but left it too late and only had one'. This likely makes the problem of obsessing over the child even worse.

    Still, if you believe the New Yorker author's contention that things aren't as bad in France, they've got birth rates significantly lower than the US, so on average there's probably a lot of single-child families there too.