Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mother Culture

Lately, we’re hearing a lot about how French parents parent and how Chinese parents parent, which got me thinking: Is there such a thing as American Parenting? And, if so, how do American Parents parent?

I am an American Parent, but I frequently feel like I’m parenting upstream, against a current that is flowing in a different direction, as opposed to being part of a larger unified, perhaps unspoken, parenting philosophy.

Then I have to wonder if that is how everyone feels—if that is American Parenting—a salad bowl of styles. A New World phenomenon of having people from so many different cultures living side-by-side. A patchwork of mothers and fathers parenting in response to their individual cultural norms, their inner voices, and the demands of their environment.

And, let’s face it. The US is just so much noisier than other countries. As parents we are inundated with a cacophony of “expert” voices coming everywhere from Hollywood to Harvard, omnipresent blather from Madison Avenue, and the audible pendulum swings of parenting zeitgeist (from “children should be seen and not heard” to “helicopter parents in the workplace”).

When I look at American literature/blogs on parenting today, there appears to be a trend towards a laissez-faire, more laid-back style of parenting: Parenting from the Couch, Free Range Parenting, Slow Parenting, The Idle Parent, The Three Martini Playdate, Confessions of a Slacker Mom. But how representative of the population at large is this?

Not very, I suspect.

We lack a mother culture. We are diffuse, diverse and sometimes divisive group. Sure there are trends in American youth, which, by proxy, point to trends in parenting—such as the fact that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years or that, on average, children ages 2-5 spend 32 hours a week in front of the TV. But we can hardly generate a profile of the American parent based solely on this data.

Can we generalize region by region? (Southern parent, Northeast parent, Midwest parent) State by state? (California parent, Jersey parent, Texas parent) City by city? (Livingston parent, Newark parent, Point Pleasant parent) Or does this always reduce us to stereotypes, obscuring our true values and practices?

This week, in a rare breech of the imaginary wall that stands between us, I’m reaching out to you, dear readers. What do you think characterizes American parenting? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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