A Tale of Two Stories: Helicopter Parenting and Poverty

The Washington Post: 

And how can parents help their children become self-sufficient? Teach them the skills they’ll need in real life, and give them enough leash to practice those skills on their own, Lythcott-Haims said. And have them do chores. “Chores build a sense of accountability. They build life skills and a work ethic.”

Lythcott-Haims said many parents ask how they can unilaterally deescalate in what feels like a college-admissions arms race. How can they relax about getting their child into Harvard if every other parent is going full speed ahead?

The Washington Post: 

The 86 members of Ruleville Central’s senior class had attended a school given an F grade by the state. Nearly everybody qualified for government-provided lunches. The school was so strapped for teachers that in 2014 it brought in seven from India — during the middle of the year — to instruct math and science classes.

And then, with graduation, those students walked out the door.

Some new graduates went off to local colleges. Others lacked money or test scores. One turned down an offer from his dream school — the University of Mississippi — because of the cost. Another who had bragged about an awaiting football scholarship ended up working at a truck stop. The school’s guidance counselor said she can count on her hand the ones who will finish college.

Five’ll get you ten which one is all over the morning housewife TV shows like Today and GMA. Three guesses and the first two don’t count. This is what we should be worrying about: Helicopter parents. Not unemployed parents, not poor parents, not addicted parents who can’t find help, not parents working three jobs who still can’t move anywhere safer than the set of Escape from LA. Helicopter parents, screwing up their babies with Spanish lessons and complaining about test scores.

I get it, right? You talk to your audience and your advertisers’ audience and I am the audience there, so I get it. I’m a middle-class white chick with a so-far neurotypical, physically healthy child whose college education, should she wish to have one, will not require going into hock to the Russian mob. We live in a metropolitan area where she can find a job whether she chooses to dig ditches or practice law, and though I lock my doors at night it’s pretty much Mayberry in the ‘hood. Clearly my worry should be whether I am over-parenting.

(I am under-parenting. We watch a lot of Curious George in our house. I take Kick to a music fun-time session where the other children show up adorably coiffed in outfits for a Pinterest-worthy violin recital, and she rolls in looking like she’s there for Rave of Thrones. The other day she ate Cheddar Bunnies for dinner, and I’m only teaching her another language if smartass counts.

“What does Mama do at work?” I ask her. She grins and replies, “Make da money.”)

My worry for the future isn’t a worry for her future. It isn’t that she’ll be intellectually inferior to some richer girl down the road, who will get into Harvard instead of her, make partner instead of her. My real worry is that the world she will grow up in will be some kind of post-apocalyptic hellscape in which a college education and making partner won’t even matter, because parts of this country will have absolutely caved in and the people who come from there will be murderously pissed at anyone who isn’t them and rightly so. My worry for her future is that the things middle-class America is furiously convincing itself are important for its children are going to be washed away. My worry is that instead of worrying, I should be stockpiling dry goods and WE’RE ALMOST OUT OF FLOUR.

Over and over we’re told that the biggest problem with Kids Today is technology and helicoptering interference, not bombed-out schools and open-air gun markets and Grandma getting the heat shut off because she can’t pay the bill. We’re spending a lot of time making economically comfortable moms and dads feel like shit for driving their kids to too many activities, and absolutely no time making wealthy politicians feel like shit for allowing children to grow up in a world that raises its middle finger at them. Then we’re making those kids feel like shit for being desperate and broke. We’re worrying about all the wrong stuff, all the time. We’re worrying about the wrong people. We’re worrying about ourselves, instead of about others.

My kid’s biggest problem is not going to be that her overprotective mom sat in the principal’s office and argued she had a good reason for blowing off an assignment (she’d better have a good reason). My kid’s biggest problem is that the kid two desks over got evicted from his apartment because his dad threw his back out three years ago and his disability checks kept getting smaller and his mom lost her job and they’ve been eating out of the restaurant garbage bin and this kid has had it with the universe fucking him over and he’s going to make a big noise before he goes.

Maybe while we’re freaking out over little Johnny needing to have mom do his laundry until he’s 30, we could spare just a few minutes to make sure Johnny and his mom have enough to eat.


One thought on “A Tale of Two Stories: Helicopter Parenting and Poverty

  1. I think the key is in this line: “How can they relax about getting their child into Harvard if every other parent is going full speed ahead?”

    Emphasis on “every other parent”. Literally the only people who exist in their world are people like them – it doesn’t matter that there are kids whose parents are working three jobs and never see them because they’re either working or sleeping, because those people just don’t exist. Every parent – EVERY SINGLE PARENT – is trying to get their kid into Harvard.

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