Archive for the ‘community care’ category

Helicopters With Nowhere to Land: From Context Crawler by Shannon Golden

July 30, 2010

The Washington PostP1010741 recently ran a column written by Middlebury sociologist Margaret K. Nelson. Nelson reports on potential implications of “helicopter parenting” (the constantly hovering style of super-involved middle class parents) in the lives of the parents themselves, especially mothers.

Helicopter parenting is, to put it mildly, more time-consuming and more emotionally demanding than other parenting styles. And much of its work falls (as the work of parenting always has) on women. Since 1965, the amount of time mothers spend on all child-care activities has risen, even though the majority of mothers are now in the labor force; the increase has been particularly sharp among highly educated mothers.

So it’s not just that today’s professional mothers are holding down what would, in the 1960s, have been two separate jobs — one inside the home, the other outside it. It’s that the first of those jobs is a lot more taxing than it used to be. Mothers who try to live up to the new parenting standards of the professional middle class seem to have few options: They can overwork themselves, or they can leave the workforce.

While some mothers do leave the workforce, many do not. Their intense devotion to building a relationship with their kids and working outside the home can be understandably taxing on their other relationships, such as friendships, marriages, and community involvement.

For those helicopter mothers who don’t leave the workplace, personal relationships seem to be the first thing to go. Working a demanding job while paying painstaking attention to one’s children leaves little time for maintaining a marriage…

[A]ccording to sociologists Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson and Melissa Milkie, adults in 2000 spent less time with their spouses than adults did in 1975, as they spent more time at work and more time with their children. The higher divorce rate among women with high-pressure careers could therefore be both a cause and a consequence of intense devotion to one’s children: These mothers may find that the only reliable, and persistent, relationships are those with their kids.

When people turn inward to their families, their communities also pay a high price. In a series of studies, sociologists Naomi Gerstel, Sally Gallagher and Natalia Sarkisian have shown that, parenting practices notwithstanding, marriage is a greedy institution. Compared with singles, married people are less likely to visit relatives, less likely to take care of elderly parents and less involved with neighbors and friends.

I suspect that the tendency to turn inward must be even more intense among hyper-vigilant parents. And this withdrawal may extend to parents’ broader social and civic engagement…

And to friendship. The time married parents spend visiting with friends and relatives outside the nuclear family has declined dramatically: Married fathers spent almost 40 percent less time and married mothers spent almost a third less time socializing in 2000 than they did in 1965, according to Bianchi, Robinson and Milkie. I can’t help but think that the new intensity of daily life is part of the problem. Parents seem to have few opportunities to pursue friendships unless they are friendships that take little extra time (as with co-workers or other parents on the sideline of a child’s sporting event).

Many of the helicopter mothers I’ve spoken to have told me, often with pride in their voices, that their daughters are their best friends. At first, I wondered why these women — some of them in their late 40s or 50s — wouldn’t prefer to spend their free time with people their own age. But as I looked more closely at the way they are tackling parenthood, I understood: They have no free time.

Blog post from Context Crawler by Shannon Golden


Support from the Sidelines

June 25, 2009

I spend a lot of time at youth sporting events.  Standing in cold ice arenas watching my daughter and her teammates skate down the ice in their bright yellow jerseys determined to put the puck in the net. Or sitting in the bleachers as my son and his buddies dribble and pass the ball around the court, trying to find the open player to take a shot.  Now that it is summer, you can find me most weeknights at one of the local parks, sitting in a lawn chair with the other parents, cheering on the neighborhood kids.

My children do other activities as well.  As Annette Lareau has pointed out in her book Unequal Childhoods, middle-class children participate in a great number and wide variety of organized, adult-directed activities.  My kids do music, art, chess club, and so forth, but it is sports that dominate our schedule and time on a regular basis. Game schedules often determine our meal times, our social lives, and even when my husband and I leave from work or whether we toil into the wee hours of the night because we had to take off early that day to get to a game.

No doubt there are times when we recognize the absurdity of it all.  In fact, all of us parents do. The other night another one of the parents told a joke to the group of 11 year old girls after a softball game: “How many kids who play sports does it take to screw in a light bulb?” The girls looked up waiting for the punch line, but really did not get it when it came: “One, and the rest of the world revolves around her.” The parents, of course, got the joke and let out exasperated, but knowing groans.  Indeed, in Unequal Childhoods, Lareau argues that middle-class families are harried and stressed out by their children’s schedules.  Bill Doherty, Family Social Science professor and director of the Families and Democracy Project at the University of Minnesota points out the problematic nature of today’s “excessive parenting” that he sees as parental over-involvement, the intensification of youth sports, and a displacement of other important family practices such as shared family meals due to demanding athletic schedules. Psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld also offers his critique of what he calls “hyper-parenting” of “the overscheduled child.”  (Although for evidence to the contrary see Cohen’s “The Myth of the Overscheduled Child” in the current issue of Contexts).  So, when we head to the ball field tonight will we be contributing to our family’s stress level and reproducing a kind of warped, pressure-filled childhood over-directed by adults?  Probably, at least to a certain extent.

But we will also be doing something else. We do this because we see it as a way to show our support and interest in our kids and their efforts. Showing up at our children’s games has become a part of the carework that we do as parents. I am not suggesting that it should be, and there are certainly problems associated with it as Doherty and others have pointed out. But in our contemporary culture, especially among middle-class families, becoming a parent-fan is an expected way for parents to express their care and love for their kids.  Just yesterday, my daughter confirmed that she viewed our attendance at her games as an expression of care. “I love to see the parents at the games,” she said. “It makes me feel support.”

And although it may make us rush around to get the kids to the games on time, it also, ironically, becomes a way that we take care of ourselves and each other. In truth, once we manage to get there, going to the games gives us all a chance to unwind and socialize with some pretty fun folks. We can escape our jobs, housework, and the general worries of life and just relax. We build community and connection. We exchange good books, phone numbers of trustworthy mechanics, as well as an odd variety and frightening quantity of flavored sunflower seeds. We also share our troubles or offer a listening ear to those who need some support.  Last night one mom vented her frustrations with her ailing mother’s medical team. Of late, many have told stories of job loss and financial worries.  And we jointly cheer on all the children, creating for them a “village” of perhaps “excessive parents.”

It is likely that this phenomenon is largely associated with class and culture. But there are some signs that it has become embedded more generally in our expectations of childrearing. Earlier this week I was analyzing transcripts for a research project of Hmong adolescent girls talking about their parents.  These girls were talking about how they felt their immigrant parents did not show them as much affection or love as they thought American parents did. This is a familiar theme among Asian American second-generation youth as has been pointed out by sociologist Karen Pyke. These girls used the example of their parents’ absence at their sporting events as a sign of their lack of affection.  As one girl recalled “I played badminton and I always asked my mom, are you going to come? ‘But do I need to go?’  Of course you don’t need to go. But I will always ask her to come see. Come with me.  ‘Do I need to go?’ you know.  Of course you don’t need to go.  But I want you to come.  Every other American kid’s mom is there, you know.”   Another girl concurs “I used to be really sad. Look up and not see any one Hmong person. All their parents show up. And parents getting involved shows the kids that they care. Encourages them.”  While their poor and immigrant parents had not yet taken on this cultural expectation that they needed to demonstrate their devotion through coming to their children’s sporting events, it was clear that their daughters had.  If this becomes expected of parents in a general, parents whose work schedules or other caregiving obligations prevent them from having the flexibility, time and resources to go to games or enroll their kids in sports may limit their access to being viewed as, or viewing themselves as, good parents.

The other night one of the other parents rolled her eyes as she approached a group of parents at the playground.  “Why are we here?” She asked. “Why do we keep showing up?”  Our critical view and self-questioning about showing up is healthy, I think.  It keeps us in check and from becoming one of those crazy parents who flips out over a referee’s call or who yells at the kids.  But despite all the real problems associated with youth sports and “excessive parenting,” we show up because we care, and we want to make sure our kids and communities know it.

How to end a relationship (for good), raise thousands of dollars, and help people living with serious illness—all at the same time!

May 5, 2009

Imagine you have an ex-boyfriend with whom you’ve tried to maintain a friendship for far longer than is healthy.  In an “on” moment of your on-again off-again relationship, you agree to attend a concert, one of the few activities that you both fully enjoyed while with each other. You make a plan to each try to score tickets to see one of your favorite artists.  You figure if both of you are trying, you have a better chance. You’re in luck!  Both of you land seats.  Yours are pretty decent.  His, he tells you, “are pretty incredible.” Except they cost $700 each. “Absolutely not,” you tell him, “I can’t afford that” (that $1400 is your rent and then some).

Trouble is, your ex charged the tickets to your credit card (yah), assuring you it would be his treat, even as you protested that this “gift” was too extravagant.

Things get funky from there.  That old familiar feeling of being railroaded and manipulated gnaws at you. “Why did I agree to do this?” you ask yourself.  Why am I trying to make nice with this person who in the course of five years abused me emotionally, financially, and physically?  You vow that once the concert’s over, you’ll never get involved with him again. But the shame of knowing you’re back in it is creeping in. For brief moments, the thought of second row seats and the hope of free drinks that come with your one-night-only VIP status make dealing with your bullying ex for three, four hours tops, seem bearable. Until he calls you up, irritated, asking “how did I get on the hook for $1400?” (or something insane like that).  It all comes back now. As you figure out how you’re going to sell them, the anger rises in you as you remember all the other times you were let down. The self recriminations set in as you wonder how on earth you could have let him close enough to do it to you all over again. But then you stop yourself.

The anger is keeping you tied to him. Time to let it go. And with it, the tickets.

This is a true story, that of my dearest friend of 30 years, Andrea. I share it with you (with her permission) because she has come up with a brilliant solution for dealing with this dilemma that is a great lesson in how to transmute pain into something healing.

Instead of trying to sell the tickets and make back the $1400, Andrea has decided to hold a raffle.  By donating $25 to an organization called “God’s Love We Deliver,” and checking the box for “Leonard Cohen at Radio City Music Hall,” you will be entered into a raffle to win 2 center, 2nd row VIP Tickets to Leonard Cohen at Radio City Music Hall for Sat, May 16th, 2009.

God’s Love We Deliver grew out of one woman’s practice of taking food to a neighbor with AIDS who was unable to cook for himself.  It has grown into a coordinated effort to provide meals and nutritional counseling to people living with serious illnesses.

What I love about Andrea’s solution is that in caring for others, she is caring for herself.  By letting go of the tickets and the hope of getting her money back, she is cutting the ties of anger that have kept her in this abusive relationship for far too long.  By raffling the tickets, someone who loves music as much as she does will get to experience an event that they could likely not afford otherwise. By asking people to donate to God’s Love We Deliver, she is the conduit through which many others will be fed, both physically and spiritually.  In the process, she is honoring the memory of her brother, Mark, who died of AIDS in 1993.

That’s how to end a relationship—for good.