There were quite a few stories in 2011 that shed light on modern parenting. Some illuminating, others infuriating, some sad and others inspiring.
What follows is a wholly personal list of stories about parenting from the past year that I consider my top 10 (plus a bonus 11th). Let me know which ones I missed.
Imagine a drumroll here...
Hands down, my personal favorite story of the year was when Parenting Magazine rated Washington, D.C. the top city to raise kids. Washington won out because the magazine introduced a new “charm and culture” index in the calculations. Free museums and ample green space boosted the District’s rank.
Many readers, especially parents who have moved out of the city to raise their children elsewhere, howled. But many parents who live here, I among them, agreed with the surprise choice.
2) Over-parenting as the new bad parenting
Atlantic magazine published a piece that claimed that this generation of parents has lost its way. In “How to land your kid in therapy” Lori Gottlieb argued that too many of us are over-parenting and, in effect, setting children up to fail.
Even if everyone didn’t agree with Gottlieb, she got people talking (and often recognizing the phenomenon in other parents).
3) Kids not wanted
Perhaps as a reaction to over-parenting, this year saw a new kind of confrontation between the have-kids and the have-not-kids: bans on children.
A Pennsylvania restaurant’s ban, for instance, revealed a deep anger from many childless adults, and even some parents, at what they see as this parents’ generation inability to rein in their children in public places as well as a perceived entitlement parents display.
The restaurant was only the most high-profile of a trend that may be taking off (literally, as the trend includes airlines placing new restrictions on families).
Though this terrible, still-unfolding story was not about parenting, it did raise questions about our collective responsibility to children. The scandal brought down a folk hero and forced many of us to examine what we might have done differently had we been in the Penn State chain of command.
5) Parental responsibility in childhood obesity.
The childhood obesity epidemic, which has become a perennial parenting story, took a new turn this year with a focus on parents.
This summer a commentary in the Journal of American Medical Association suggested parents should lose custody of obese children in extreme circumstances. What seemed like a provocative theory became reality when a Cleveland mother lost custody of her obese son because the county said she was neglecting his health. The commentary and the case triggered difficult questions about who is to blame for the health crisis.
6) Leiby Kletzy
One of the worst events of the year was the killing of little Leiby Kletzy. The 8-year-old got lost on the first day that his parents let him walk home from summer camp and ended up being “helped” by a true monster. His story terrified parents across the country and is one of those events that many of us will remember with chills for years to come.
7) Dads can’t have it all either
Two attention-getting studies this year found that fathers are increasingly struggling with balancing careers and families. The Families and Work Institute reported that men are feeling stressed by the increasing burdens on them to succeed professionally and be nurturing caregivers.
Meanwhile, a Pew Research survey found that fathers who live with their families are more involved than ever before. The same survey found the majority of fathers think being a dad is a tougher job now than it was 20 or 30 years ago:
8) Sarcastic parenting
This year saw the rise of sarcasm in parenting, from Tina Fey’s irreverent and beloved “Bossypants,” (Reagan Arthur Books, April 2011) to the profane take on bedtime stories, “Go the ---- to Sleep,” (Akashic Books, June 2011) by Adam Mansbach. The latter was a best-seller before it was even available and inspired a slew of copycats.
The trend must say something about our need to lampoon our reluctant transition into parenthood. But who reading these could keep a straight face long enough to explain exactly what?
9) Screen time debate
Common Sense media reported that young children are using electronic media at staggering levels, with infants and toddlers spending twice as much time with screen media as books.
At the same time, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a reiteration of its largely ignored plea to parents to withhold “screen time” from the youngest children. Many parents, meanwhile, say the official advice is not keeping up with either the realities of parenting or the increasing benefits of modern technology.
10) The changing relationship between parents and their adult children
Adult children stampeded back into their parents’ home in recent years and with them the notion of hands-on “parenting” took on a longer shelf life.
The book “How To Raise Your Adult Children: Real-Life Advice for When Your Kids Don’t Want to Grow Up,” by Gail Parent and Susan Ende (Plume, August 2011) came out this summer. Disguised as an extended Q&A, it was really a collection of letters that revealed the angst older parents harbor when dealing with their still-dependent grown children. (I particularly liked the question from parents who wondered when they could ask their adult son to vacate their vacation home.)
And a bonus story — because even if it might have been a flash in the parenting pan, how can we forget:
11) Tiger Mom
The dye was cast at the start of the year when The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from a book on parenting and titled it, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.”
From then on the book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” (Penguin, January 2011) became obsessively discussed and the author became a popular target. Amy Chua, a Yale Law School professor, defended herself, as did her two daughters, but at year’s end it doesn’t look like Tigering has become a terribly popular practice.
What stories did I miss? What are your top parenting stories of the year?