Free-Range Parenting

Flattr this!

Are you a helicopter parent? Do you hover over everything your child does, afraid to let down your guard for fear that he will be molested, kidnapped or not get into the college of his (your) choice? This Time Magazine article discusses the evolution of  over-parenting and its backlash movement, otherwise known as slow, simplicity, free-range or just plain “bad” parenting. (As you can tell from the title of this post, I’m partial to the term “free-range” parenting.)

You might be wondering where bad parenting fits into this. What I mean that is what helicopter parents would consider to be bad parenting. Any lackadaisical attitude displayed by parents toward the upbringing of their children is bad parenting. Memoirs are good places to find examples of bad parenting (Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors comes to mind) but even with worst-case scenarios, it is obvious that the recipients of the bad parenting–the authors–must have survived. Children are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.

That doesn’t mean that we can neglect and abuse them. But it does mean that they can survive all kinds of parenting styles, even obsessive parenting. The question is, which styles are better in the long run for our children’s self-esteem? What do we accomplish by hovering over our children at every turn? One result is that we may pass our own anxieties onto our children, making them afraid to venture out into the world. Or, when we do everything for them, from arranging play-dates to picking out colleges, we undermine their ability to do anything for themselves.

The “heretics”–those who are calling for a new (or return to the old) doctrine of parenting–might put their message this way, according to Nancy Gibbs, the author of the Time article: “Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they’ll fly higher. We’re often the ones who hold them down.”

In case you think I’m overstating the sins of the helicopter parents, how about these peccadilloes? Kneepads for babies, text messages from parents protesting exam grades before class is even over, refusing to let parents volunteer at schools without a background check, colleges installing “Hi, Mom!” webcams in common areas, taking pictures of their kids each morning before they go to school in case they get kidnapped that day.

Consider Lenore Skenazy who wrote Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry. In case you don’t remember, Skenazy caused a furor last year when she allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway by himself–and wrote about it. Whether or not you agree with her action, she may have a point when she says that “by worrying about the wrong things, we do actual damage to our children, raising them to be anxious and unadventurous or, as she puts it, ‘hothouse, mama-tied, danger-hallucinating joy extinguishers.'” Pretty strong word. But is she right?

Then there is the spate of “bad mother” books and blogs out there that aim to break down the myths that 1) everything depends on Mom; and 2) that mothers have to be perfect. There are Kate Long’s The Bad Mother’s Handbook which was first published in 2005 and Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace which came out in May of this year. (You can also find Waldman’s now defunct blog here, her new website here and a Time interview with her here.)

When my grandson wanted to start walking home by himself last year, my daughter prepared him by first meeting him half-way, then by waiting for him at home to make sure he got home okay. That was more for her comfort than for his. He now walks home and even stays by himself for awhile until she gets home from work. He’s proud of himself, especially of the time he forgot his key and managed to fit his arm through the mail slot and unlock the door. Kids are also resourceful.

The thing is, when parents worry so much about their kids, they become less assured as well. What they are really saying is that they have lost faith in their ability to protect their children. So you have parents with a lack of confidence raising kids to be just like them. It’s not easy to have confidence as a parent. But trying to be perfect only sends the message that your child needs to be perfect as well. And frankly, that would be a little boring. Is that what we really want?

Watch “How to Teach Your Kids to Be Independent”:

Baker’s Dozen About Obama

Flattr this!

Two posts ago, I said that I try to refrain from being political in this blog–unless we have an election campaign going on, that is–but today I’m going to do it again. I feel the need to write about the Obama presidency. Here are thirteen of my “Obamic” impressions, for what they’re worth:

First of all, I hope people can separate what they think of Obama–either his track record or the man himself–from the historical fact of his presidency.

Second, I can’t even imagine how much pressure he feels to be the best for fear that he may ruin the chances for another black candidate.

Third, I never thought he was the “Messiah” as some did, so I never expected him to be super-human. Some people are getting disenchanted because they expected perfection and instant gratification.

Fourth, I don’t think people are giving him enough credit for what he has done, either because they don’t agree with it or because it isn’t their pet project.

Fifth, he hasn’t been President for all that long. Considering the messes he inherited, we should expect fixes to take longer than ten months.

Sixth, I don’t think we have seen the positive effects yet of the way he has reached out to the Muslim community around the world.

Seventh, he is dealing with a lot of crazies who are hell-bent on bringing him down. Those who think Bush was treated unfairly are burying their heads in the sand about the attacks on Obama. And, unfortunately,  there are too many gullible people who are afraid or too lazy to think for themselves who are jumping on the crazies’ bandwagons.

Eighth, he is going to go down in history as a ground-breaker, if nothing else. His popular appeal across many categories of political persuasion, class and race, his ability to reach people on a grass-roots level, and of course, his race are but a few of the things we have rarely, if ever, seen before.

Ninth, he has been good for women. Not perfect, but good. I think it’s a positive that he is married to a strong woman whom he appears to love and respect and that he has two daughters. He has a lot to live up to.

Tenth, I still think that Obama is up against racism on two fronts: the fact that he is African-American and the perception that he has strong Muslim ties.

Eleventh, the polarization in this country between conservatives and everyone else (who is pro-Obama) is at an all-time high.

Twelfth, he might as well do what he wants and the way that he wants to do it, because people are going to think what they want about him, no matter what he does.

Thirteenth, I wasn’t initially for Obama (I was one of the PUMAs;  see my posts “Second Wave Outrage” and “Rethinking the PUMA Position“), but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

What I’m Thankful For

Flattr this!

It is the day after Thanksgiving and I finally have time to reflect on the “reason for the season:” thankfulness. I only pray that I keep these things in mind all the rest of the year.

Most of all I am thankful for my family:

My husband, who has made me happier than I ever thought possible. My daughters, who are all strong, caring and beautiful, for the way they support and love me, and each other. My grandson, for being the delight of my heart. My sister, who has my undying devotion. My in-laws, who are as dear to me as my biological family. And if my parents were still here on this earth, I would thank them for making me the person I am today (for better and worse).

It doesn’t seem fair to put my friends second, but being true friends I know they understand. I am thankful for my old and faithful friends, my rediscovered friends (thanks to Facebook!) and my newest friends, especially those who most recently showed me the way to Islam by their love and caring.

I am also thankful for my country and for the spirit of the American people. We have our faults, but overall, I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else and I feel extremely blessed to be an American. I am especially thankful for the freedoms we enjoy. Most of the restrictions we feel are ones of our own making.

I am thankful for all the religions of the world that make people better than they would be without them. Of course I’m especially thankful for Islam, but I feel blessed to have been a Christian as well, and to have known and loved God all my life (I don’t know what I would have done without Him).

I am thankful for all those I’ve known and loved who have passed on either from my life or from life itself. Their absences are bittersweet, as were their presences sometimes. But I’m grateful that they were a part of my life when I needed them most.

I am thankful for my health (notwithstanding my broken foot right now–it is, after all, only a broken foot) and for those who have helped me to recover and maintain it.

I am thankful for my home, wherever it has been throughout my life. It has always been my haven and my source of peace and regeneration.

I am thankful for the curiosity that God gave me that has driven me in my life’s pursuits.

And last of all, I am thankful for life itself. I’ve taken this for granted more than anything or anyone else. I hope to do better in the future.

“Palinization:” Does She Deserve It?

Flattr this!

I try to not get too political in this blog–that is, I try to be as objective as possible. But in the interest of full disclosure, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m a liberal. I am, like many liberals, conservative about some matters, but I don’t try to press my opinions, liberal or conservative, on the whole world. Then there is the issue of my being a Muslim. Most people would assume that that makes me conservative, but there is plenty of room for difference of opinion in Islam.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about today. Today I’m writing about the phenomenon of Sarah Palin, who is conservative to the bone. Newsweek put her on the cover of its November 23rd issue and its readers went wild. (Click here for the cover image and for Newsweek’s official statement regarding it.) Newsweek always shows graphs on its Letter to the Editor page about the response to its stories (and sometimes its covers as well). In this case, 99% of its correspondence was about Palin and 98.6% were critical of the folks at Newsweek for how they portrayed her. To show you that conservatives and liberals sometimes agree, here is the letter from David Stewart of the Prairie Region of the National Organization for Women:

“Your sexist cover offends not just Sarah Palin, but women everywhere. The efforts to reduce her to a cartoon are the same misogynist garbage thrown at Senator Clinton in the 2008 presidential campaign. You ridicule her, post offensive pictures of her, talk about her clothes, you do not view her as a serious person.”

While I didn’t expect–and wouldn’t want–NOW to rejoice about negative depictions of Palin, I was surprised to see her championed by a member of NOW. But then again, the writer is a man. (And then again, why do I assume that he’s a liberal?) Color me prejudiced, but I didn’t even know that a man could be a member of NOW, let alone hold a leadership position in it. And maybe this is a good example of why one shouldn’t be. He is bending so far backwards to be completely objective that he is not even noticing that Palin brings a lot of her negative publicity on herself.

Or am I just displaying my liberal (and Democratic) roots here? Well, then so be it. I can’t always be objective.

However, I think Julia Baird of Newsweek was attempting to be in her follow-up commentary in the latest issue: “The ‘Palinization’ of Palin.” {According to Baird, this term has been concocted to mean “being viciously attacked for being female and Republican.”) She agrees that sexism in the media “distracts from what is important. By perennially casting women as decorative, not substantive, it sidelines them from debates and trivializes their ideas.” This happens to conservative and liberal women alike, no matter what conservative pundits are asserting lately. (See video below.)

Media Matters, on whose site I found this video, decided to assess the Gretchen Carlson’s assertion that Nancy Pelosi doesn’t get much “scrutiny” because “if you’re a conservative woman, you get more attacks.” It found the following comments about Pelosi. If this is called “scrutiny,” I’d hate to see what nasty name-calling is.

  1. – On the November 10 edition of Fox and Friends, radio host Laura Ingraham said that “Pelosi basically did everything except sell her own body” to pass health care reform.
  2. – On Nov. 4 on the O’Reilly Factor, Dennis Miller said Pelosi had a “sub-reptilian intellect” and likened her face to a “lizard laying on a hot rock.”
  3. – On October 30, Fox and Friends laughingly re-enacted protesters calling for Pelosi to “burn in hell.”
  4. – On October 21, Bill O’Reilly mocked Pelosi, saying, “If there wan’t Botox involved, with all due respect, there might have been more expression” on her face.
  5. – On August 6, Glenn Beck joked about putting poison in Pelosi’s wine.
  6. – On May 20, Hannity guest Jay Thomas said, “I think if you waterboarded Nancy Pelosi, she wouldn’t admit to plastic surgery.”
  7. – On May 19, Dennis Miller called her a “train wreck” and a “shrieking harridan magpie.”

[Source: Feministing]

I, for one, would love to see a moratorium on all sexist attacks, on both sides. As Baird states, “Once we stop being distracted by fluffy Palin stories and start concentrating on what she says, you realize why we are so easily distracted.” Okay, I’ll say it: she has nothing of substance to say. I wouldn’t be surprised if conservatives were relieved that she gets this kind of attention because if the spotlight was on her leadership abilities or political acumen, she’d be less appealing. It’s easier to whine about how she’s been unfairly treated than to answer questions about her ability to govern or legislate, if she were to be elected to public office.

Maybe this is much ado about nothing. Maybe she doesn’t have any more political ambitions, but can’t bear to leave the stage. It’s heady stuff, being in the public eye. And as long as Palin keeps spouting her inanities, her admirers will still be lapping them up.

Women and Schizophrenia

Flattr this!

Last night I dreamed that I was schizophrenic, or what I imagine being schizophrenic would be like. I had just watched “The Soloist” (with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.) last week and just finished reading the book the film was based on and I suppose those two things influenced my dream. However, be warned that I am not a health professional and anything I write in this post should be considered with a grain of salt, although I will try to be as accurate as possible.

Women are often treated differently when it comes to health issues of any kind. Except for breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive system, I can’t think of any other major health problems that the medical profession takes as seriously in women as in men. The consequences of this inattention can be deadly, because women go undiagnosed and untreated far longer than men do for such conditions as heart disease and lung cancer. Schizophrenia also fits in this category.

Schizophrenia is reported more often among men than among women but that does not mean that it is not a significant mental illness issue for women. The main difference between the sexes is that the onset of the disease is about 4-6 years earlier for men than for women. (Although, for reasons discussed here, it could just be that it is noticed earlier in men than in women.)  It has also been observed that the disease “looks” different among men than among women. “Delusions in women appear less bizarre, with more somatic and romantic preoccupations. Men are more concerned with political conspiracy and undercover activities and have more grandiose delusions of power, royalty, and divinity. Women experience delusions of being pregnant when, in reality, they are not — or not being pregnant when, in reality, they are.” It could be that this accounts for the perception that more men than women are schizophrenic.

Women’s symptoms “are so commonplace even in nonpsychotic individuals that they are easy for caregivers to empathize with. In general, women’s delusions seem relatively understandable to clinicians; men’s delusions appear more bizarre.” You could say that schizophrenic women suffer more quietly. In addition, their symptoms are often written off as “hormonal” conditions (pre-menstrual, pregnancy-related, menopausal).

As a result, women’s symptoms have to last longer, be discovered earlier (as well as later: women are more likely to suffer from late-onset schizophrenia–or again, is it just that it is noticed belatedly?), be more pronounced and kept more indistinct from mood disorders than for men for women to be treated adequately, if at all.

Another critical area to keep in mind when it comes to women with schizophrenia is the side effects of any pharmacological drugs used in treatment (to control hallucinations, delusions and thought disorders. The new drugs do not affect fertility the way the older drugs did, leading to a higher likelihood of unwanted pregnancy (not a good thing for a schizophrenic woman to experience). Also, “increases in appetite and weight gain of 30 pounds or more can occur, which in turn leads to diminished self-esteem, especially in women, and increased health risks. ”

Although I do not have schizophrenia (regardless of my dream), I do suffer from clinical depression and anxiety and have found the same problem with drugs used to treat these conditions. I have yet to find a doctor who takes this side effect seriously. As per most feminine complaints, it is seen as 1) just something that women obsess about; and 2) the result of a woman’s lack of willpower–not her drug treatment.

The bottom line is women have to insist on treatment that fits their unique profile. But few women have the self-confidence to speak up, particularly to their health care professionals. This has to change. Women need to learn to be their own advocates. No one else is going to fight for them.

Now if I can just get up the nerve to hit my doctor hard about my forty-pound weight gain and the effect it has on my depression. And if he doesn’t listen to me, then to find one who does.

Source: “Women and Schizophrenia” by Mary V. Seeman.

See also: “Fighting Antipsychotic Weight Gain.”