Supermoms who juggle it all and superdads who coach every team, I’m putting you on notice: I’ll be directing my applause elsewhere.
Of course, you didn’t need it anyway.
You have the esteem of all of social media, applauding your success in career and parenting, racking up the accolades like badges on your grown-up Girl Scout/Boy Scout sash. “How do they do it?” we marvel, convinced you must have found the loophole that permits you more than 24 hours in the day. So I’ll not expend any more energy toward congratulating you on bending the space-time continuum.
You’re clearly from another dimension, sent here to ratchet up the school vacation ante. When the rest of us slovenly parents thought letting our kids watch the entire Toy Story trilogy was a special treat, superparents were busy making reservations for a Disney cruise with coordinating outfits and mouse ears for every meal.
Superparents, you are the reason there is a “hashtag blessed.” I’m also convinced you may be one of the reasons so many of us are in therapy.
So, from here on out, I’m going to have to siphon my praise. There is a different parenting feat that is worthy of our praise. It’s not an endeavor that lights up social media feeds; it is often done in silence, with some measure of guilt.
I’m talking about the parents who set boundaries and maintain them. The moms who say, “No, I’m sorry, I’m just not able to volunteer for the book fair again this year,” and don’t relent. The dads who draw a line in the sand around cellphones at the dinner table. I’ve got my pompoms out for the parents who say: “Actually, this year? We decided to limit each kid to one activity per season. Because that multi-activity hamster wheel was crazy-making.”
Author Logan Wolfram recently posted on Instagram about her ban on Fortnite for her sons. Responding to a recent Wall Street Journal article about the video game phenomenon, Wolfram wrote, “Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this article … is that parents collectively hate this game but ‘don’t know what to do about it.’ ”
Wolfram continued, “I’ll tell you what you can do … you can get rid of it. … You can decide because YOU ARE THE PARENT and it’s your job to set the tone of your home.”
Wolfram wrote that she has not regretted “kicking this stupid game to the curb. My kids can’t handle it and it’s not my job to make sure they fit in with a culture that is destroying human relationships and impacting our lives negatively.”
If it were possible to give Wolfram a virtual high-five, I would. Because the limits to which parents will go to please, entertain and sacrifice for their children are beyond the pale.
There’s a big difference between performing the functions of a parent and making parenting a performance. We seem to have gotten it twisted. Parents who are willing to step off the treadmill of parental performance or, better yet, not even step on it to begin with are my heroes.
Setting up a sustainable mode of parenting may not just be good sense — it may be about long-term survival. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans remain in the same job an average of 4.2 years. That is, for many of us who work outside the home, we may choose a change of scenery (and the cast and the part we play) a couple of times a decade. We can’t do that with the work of parenting. A Pew Research Center study indicates 33 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds lived with their parents or grandparents in 2016, three times as many as in 1970. The numbers don’t lie: Parenting kids under the same roof marches on for a lot longer than it used to. That is one more reason to set boundaries now, in case one (or both) of my kids boomerangs home after college to become my 20-something tenant.
It’s not sexy, this boundary-setting and sustaining. In fact, it often earns a raised eyebrow from fellow hovercraft units, er, I mean parents. If you don’t believe me, try being a mom in public without her children. The first question, guaranteed, from anyone spotting a mother solo in the wild is usually, “Where are the kids?” As if Mom were not a whole person, endowed with the right to be at the grocery store by her lonesome. Instead, society seems to expect her to have a hall pass granting permission to be temporarily released from her offspring.
So, to the parents who answer the question of “Where are the kids?” with “Robbing banks, probably” or “Excuse me — on my way to yoga,” you have my applause. And if you don’t lead with asking where my kids are, I’ll offer you a standing ovation.