The decline and fall of civil society is not the sort of thing that will be immediately obvious to someone observing the process on a day to day basis. It happens in a series of small steps, none of which seem all that fatal on their own. In these “new media” days, one of these small steps is the slow decay of the American Newspaper in the face of new forms of information delivery that cater to those with the attention span of a small house fly.
In what I can only imagine is a strange and pathetic attempt at holding on to a neurotic and affluent reader base, there seems to be an increasing number of stories in, of all places, The New York Times these days that I can only characterize as “rich parents in NYC do stupid things.”
Growing up, my dad always read the Times from front to back on the couch every afternoon and evening. I would pick it up occasionally and skim the sports pages. To me, the paper was the ultimate adult literature. Even the sports pages had an atmosphere of overwhelming seriousness. I could never have imagined that the sections that I ignored might contain this sort of frivolous pap. Maybe they’ve published this sort of thing since the beginning of time and I’ve only started to notice it now, but I’d like to think the paper was better in the past.
For whatever reason, these stories pop up on the NYT web site with alarming regularity. Their highest concentration is in the “style” type sections. Why stupid people are fashionable is, I’m sure, a deep philosophical puzzle that we’ll be mulling over for ages.
From the coverage in the Times, it would appear that parents are simply overwhelmed by the complexities of raising a child in our modern world. This book review contains this choice quote:
Try giving your 3-year-old an old-fashioned cake-and-balloon birthday party at home, with neither facilitator nor gift bags, and you’ll see that Warner’s onto something, and that it’s harder to opt out than you’d think.
To which all I can say is, in the style of Jon Stewart, “whhhhaaaaaaa?”. How was I not informed of these minimum requirements for a proper birthday party? I’ve gone through my life under an apparently false delusion that all you need for birthdays are a few friends, a couple of relatives and maybe some cake as a bonus. I guess this makes me an abusive parent, not providing enough in the way of material goods even though they might be within my means.
The notion that it’s impossible to “opt-out” of this kind of nonsense is at the core of the NYC stupid parent syndrome. I suppose I can see where some combination of excessive material means and guilt over the work needed to obtain those means could lead one into this kind of death spiral. But frankly I’d expect more from, you know, adults.
Consider this recent article about parents who have seen the need to hire outside psychological counseling to help their kids sleep in their own beds. Again, all the signs of the affluent parent syndrome are here. There is an excess of money and a distinct lack of realistic perspective. Most importantly, these people don’t seem to understand the most fundamental rule of parenting: they are not on this earth to service the children. They remind me of pet owners who are owned and completely controlled by their pets. I realize that getting the kid to sleep can be an experience filled with a combination of terror and frustration. I realize that there is a certain amount of luck involved in getting a kid who is amenable to behavior modification. But, there are limits to how much I can sympathize with the plight of my fellow parent.
Then there are the people whose goal, it seems, is to turn their kids into little clones of themselves. Consider this appalling article about foodies who spend their days inflicting their hobby on their young children. The best part of this piece is the quote from the moron who fed his 18 month old daughter medium rare hamburger, because he “didn’t want the kid growing up on well done.” I remain unable to to fathom how someone would think this is a good idea. Speaking from experience, kids don’t think about food the same way we do. And, there is plenty of time later in life to develop the skills of a true food obsessive. There is no reason to pollute childhood with this nonsense.
Not to be outdone by their sister New York paper, the Wall Street Journal this week published this piece about the “required” costs of raising a child. This article has everything. There is the distasteful purely economic analysis of child-rearing. There is the woman who proclaims that she tries not to overload her kid, and then has her seven year old in a dozen different after school classes and activities. There is the notion that private school, $5,000 vacations and $1,000 birthday parties are all “necessary costs.” I’m sure they are nice to have, but nobody needs them.
I think this is the point that people have to sit back and examine. People are losing the ability to tell the difference between what they want and what they need. All of the people portrayed above suffer from this confusion. Some have lost track of the important fact that they need a certain level of control over their kids and their lives no matter how much they want to just give up. Others have lost track of what their kids really need to learn and know and do early in their lives. They don’t need cooking classes, dozens of after school activities, and vacations to fancy foreign lands for “education.”
Distinguishing what one wants from what one needs is the sort of skill that parents are supposed to teach their kids. Apparently we’ve been falling down on the job.
As evidence of this, let me end by presenting you with this story of two lovely people who are also the two most self-aborbed assholes in the entire universe. You should be afraid to read that page, so I will summarize and save you the full trauma. Here, in an article in a national newspaper, is the story of two people who cheated on their former spouses while courting each other, then each got a divorce, and then got married and had a national newspaper write a long story about their wedding. The level of self-importance and arrogance needed to pull this off is simply staggering. I find it surprising that these two egos can even fit in the same universe as the rest of us.