"She rolls her eyes."
March 20, 2015 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Raising Teenagers: The Mother of All Problems by Rachel Cusk [New York Times]
Children are characters in the family story we tell — until, one day, they start telling it themselves.
posted by Fizz (59 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Couldn't we develop some sort of growth pod children could be kept in in a sedated state from 12-18?
posted by Sangermaine at 8:30 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Couldn't we develop some sort of growth pod children could be kept in in a sedated state from 12-18?

We have that. It's called school.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:33 AM on March 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


This writing is the female version of that guy-in-your-creative-writing class that everyone hates.
posted by colie at 8:34 AM on March 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Couldn't we develop some sort of growth pod children could be kept in in a sedated state from 12-18?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:30 AM on March 20 [+] [!]


Not a new idea.

I would there were no age betweene ten and three and twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest: for there is nothing (in the betweene) but getting wenches with childe, wronging the Auncientry, stealing, fighting...
posted by McCoy Pauley at 8:37 AM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think I like the premise if this piece, but it's so embellished with decorative verbiage that the premise is hard to dig to. Is there a tl;dr version?
posted by yeolcoatl at 8:38 AM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Reverse Alchemists: How Teenagers Turn The Golden Years Into Lead
posted by fairmettle at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


but it's so embellished with decorative verbiage that the premise is hard to dig to. Is there a tl;dr version?

the pull-quote seems to do that pretty well:

"Children are characters in the family story we tell — until, one day, they start telling it themselves."
posted by philip-random at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a good article, thanks.

One thing I've learned in the last few years as a new parent is that you have far too much power over your kids than you can safely handle, and there's really nothing to be done about it. I assume that my karmic bill for not being a perfect parent will come due when I have teenagers, because my parents' bill certainly did.

On the bright side, perhaps the oceans will rise and devour us all before then.
posted by selfnoise at 8:49 AM on March 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


but it's so embellished with decorative verbiage that the premise is hard to dig to. Is there a tl;dr version?

Also this pull-quote: "An adolescent suddenly finds herself capable of breaking down the twin fortresses — verbal and physical superiority — of adult control."

Personally speaking, my mother never got over this. She responded to my adolescence and attempts at independence with tighter and tighter controls, and stricter rules that eventually made no sense. e.g. I would be punished for being quiet in the morning (am not a morning person, but this didn't match her idea of how cheerful a child should be), wasn't allowed to use the phone after 7 pm, etc.

Now that I'm a bit older, I understand her panic a little better, but the rifts that happened in those years never really healed.
posted by witchen at 8:50 AM on March 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Now that my daughter is becoming a teenager, I really struggle with a lot of that stuff myself. What does it mean to be a good parent? Does it mean you let people whose brains haven't fully developed yet make bad choices that will fuck over their life for years? Or does it mean you play the heavy, the bad guy, for their future happiness?

I remembered vividly struggles with my own mother over food - over what I was supposed to eat, over what was healthy, about what would make me fat. And so when my daughter became a tween, I stepped back. I didn't want to be That Parent. I didn't want to be the parent who said "don't eat the bread." I didn't want to be the parent who gave her body issues. And so she ate as much as she wanted of dinner and if she didn't like the dinner I let her cook herself something else. And then one day she stepped on a scale and I realized she'd gained 77 pounds in two years. And the shitty part is I still don't know what to do. I still don't know how to balance the competing urges to make her healthy which will be great for her long term happiness, at the potential cost of making her feel sad and uncomfortable about her body and having a strained relationship with food. Because as the parent they absorb the messages you give so often. They absorb even messages you don't mean to give them but accidentally drop.

It's just not as easy as "let them tell their own story", especially when you have to teach them how to build it in the first place.
posted by corb at 8:59 AM on March 20, 2015 [34 favorites]


I remember asking my 8-year old child, on the way to the movies, experiencing something that has no name...pre-nostalgia?...and asking her "Will you promise me that when you become a teenager that we can still do this, go to the movies together, now and then?" She said, "No, Daddy, I can't promise you that."

And then when she was 14 she started taking the bus downtown, and started becoming her own person, not the creation of the adult narrative this writer describes.

But: not all teenagers are necessarily the drama queens this writer and most adults seem to think they are. Our daughter handled adolescence wonderfully. "Free-range parenting" paid off. Of course, even though I was "the primary child care provider" (a phrase that sounds so bloodless!), I was a father. This article is about mothers. And, yes, there were shouting matches between between my wife and my daughter, as there were growing up between my mother and my sister.
posted by kozad at 9:04 AM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Children are characters in the family story we tell — until, one day, they start telling it themselves.

the sheer narcissism... it's astounding. and, contrary to the mythopoetics, the narcissist cannot stand to to look at another person and see a mirror of themselves.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:08 AM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


"No, Daddy, I can't promise you that."

kozad could give Cusk a sorely-needed writing lesson. By contrast with his, the centre piece incident in her story ("the mother had refused, so her daughter had punched her in the stomach") clearly never even happened - something she almost admits herself.
posted by colie at 9:11 AM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Now that my daughter is becoming a teenager [...] I realized she'd gained 77 pounds in two years.

Pretty sure they're supposed to do that.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:15 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My husband and I were basically well-behaved kids who hung out with other well behaved kids. Our teenage friends have grown up to be professors, teachers, engineers at Google, ministers-- upwardly-mobile folks, good conversationalists. Not a word of that essay (or many of the comments here) resonates--I like teenagers, my parents were fine, I'm already parenting my kid in a way that assumes he will be larger than me by age 12. I can't decide if that disconnect is because I'm not in the process of parenting in a way that would result in a total shock of having a semiadult in the house, or if it's because my own experiences have lulled me into a false sense of security. I sure hope it's the former.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:21 AM on March 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I thought it was really true to how it feels to parent, though I haven't parented a teenager yet. But even now, my kid demands more respect toward his person, and sometimes, he's right about it and sometimes I have to say "sorry, but no." Kids really want the respect and trust that comes with being grown, and the hard part is figuring out when it's ok to give that to them and when it's not.

Corb, I can guarantee you that past a certain age, shaming and restricting food intake only results in kids sneak-eating and developing even more food issues (i.e., my whole adolescence). Your daughter will only be able to be healthy if she wants to be, as a adult, anyway. The upside to that is, she will be very likely to want to be healthy at some point. (notice I said healthy, not thin). The best thing you can do for her is turn loose of that, because the whole my-parents-are-ashamed-of-my-fatness thing will mess up your relationship forever.
posted by emjaybee at 9:39 AM on March 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


colie: This writing is the female version of that guy-in-your-creative-writing class that everyone hates.

I don't think that it's quite in the league of The Guy in Your MFA, but there are some weird and kind of wrong things in here. There's a curious lack of empathy for her own daughter; she briefly touches on the fact that she was once a teenager herself, but spends more time talking about her adaptation of Medea, and has problems with Medea killing her sons because "the problem of women murdering their children is not a problem we actually have. " (It may not be a statistically significant problem, but that's a nuance that's not on display here.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:48 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


My daughter complains that she can’t sleep. Sometimes I pass her room at 11 o’clock, at midnight,

...because our house was built directly over the middle of the boundary that divides the Mountain and Central Standard time zones, and her room faces east.
posted by Ratio at 9:52 AM on March 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


I tidy up, slowly. I open the windows.

Why do people write like this?

They move in shoals, around the streets and shops


The reason it's so bad is because as you read you get the sinking sensation that the author is far more interested in her 'shoal' metaphor than she is in her kids' lives or anyone else's.
posted by colie at 9:58 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


If I had never had access to that brute form of authority, I ask myself, what better authority might I have learned? If I had lacked the arms to pick them up and set them down against their will, to coerce them, would some more platonic parent-child relationship have emerged?

She got off easy - my four year old has already learned that relentlessly repeating a demand in a progressively more hysterical way smashes flimsy adult reason, and that we're not going to beat him in response.

Coercion as a regular parenting strategy will come back to bite you, sooner or later. The much harder, more frightening, and exhausting long game use of applied psychology, reciprocity, building trust, and leading by example - leavened by periodic punishment and letting kids get clipped by logical consequences - seems to more reliably produce adults that don't resent you, become overly-dependent, or become tyrants to their own kids.

There is a marked, positive difference in the behavior of the teenagers in the few families I know that have taken this tack. We're struggling along by their example.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:59 AM on March 20, 2015 [14 favorites]


Am I reading a completely different article? The author's voice was really strong to me, albeit ruminative. One of the reason I find 'parent lit' problematic is the apparent total sublimation of the self to that of the offspring whereas this really clearly and thoughtfully detailed the writer's observations of her response to her daughters' growth and independence and her own struggle within that separateness. I found it really moving.
posted by freya_lamb at 10:02 AM on March 20, 2015 [26 favorites]


I agree. I thought it was lovely.
posted by kitcat at 10:05 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This writing is the female version of that guy-in-your-creative-writing class that everyone hates.

Harsh but fair.

I thought the essay was a pretty good reflection and meditation on raising teenagers. It certainly reflects the tensions that I see raising my own kids.

It's definitely a balancing act in terms of trying to apply discipline and sometimes simply letting things go. She mentions how sharp-tongued kids are... I myself was a pretty acid teenager, although not to my parents. But the intervening years of trying to be a functional adult have really gotten me out of the habit. My wife and I both debated in high school and being able to disassemble teenage arguments logically has turned out to be a pretty key parenting skill. Even then, so. much. arguing. The same goes with math... it's the absolute limit of our ability to help our kids with homework questions. It turns out the geometry is a gigantic pyramid scheme - you learn it simply to be able to help your kids learn it. And I'm sure there's something I'm not even aware of that we're doing terribly wrong.
posted by GuyZero at 10:07 AM on March 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wow, I'm surprised how many people really did not like this article. I thought it was great and hilariously enough made me want to have a child to see how I would deal with these issues. I'm not going to, but for a moment it made me want to!

By contrast with his, the centre piece incident in her story ("the mother had refused, so her daughter had punched her in the stomach") clearly never even happened - something she almost admits herself.
I think the point of this is that that was what the girl told her, not whether it happened or not, and that it was possible/imaginable/desirable.

There's a curious lack of empathy for her own daughter
The author talks about always taking the side of the teenager in stories told by her daughters friends AND by her own friends about their children. She seems pretty clearly on the side of her daughter; the problem for the author is moreso how to communicate that fact to her.
posted by wyndham at 10:16 AM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


what the girl told her, not whether it happened or not

Sure, but it's all so far removed from experience that she might as well have just said 'teenagers sometimes think and talk about fighting their parents', which we all knew anyway. If the mum-punching girl did really say that she had stepped over the mum's body (a significant detail), then we needed to hear that in reported speech or from another witness, otherwise the viewpoint of the writing starts to wander.
posted by colie at 10:26 AM on March 20, 2015


The much harder, more frightening, and exhausting long game use of applied psychology, reciprocity, building trust, and leading by example - leavened by periodic punishment and letting kids get clipped by logical consequences - seems to more reliably produce adults that don't resent you, become overly-dependent, or become tyrants to their own kids.

I did all that, and my son was a great kid. Then, when my son turned 13, I learned why some species eat their young.

It's hilarious to say now, but after one particularly bad fight over what-I-don't-know, I had to call my father and apologize to him for my teenaged years.

Some kids are just bound and determined to Cool Hand Luke their way through the teenage years. My son will be 20 soon, and we get along well - playing videogames and chatting weekly. It's like it was when he was younger.

But goddamned, if that period between 13-15 didn't take 20 years off my life.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:27 AM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


I did all that, and my son was a great kid. Then, when my son turned 13, I learned why some species eat their young.

Oh yeah - I'm under no illusion that any of it will save us ;)
posted by ryanshepard at 10:50 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I liked the article. My daughter was very kind to her parents during that age. But not to many others. Honestly, I am grateful. And, as an adult, though she struggles with her own demons, none of them have to do with her upbringing and all of them have to do with the brain you are born with.

I have been reading so many things lately in which it is assumed that if your child forgets a book or a signature, you come to school with it. Why not shrug sadly when called and say, "Oh, too bad, honey. I'm sorry you forgot it?" It is not, after all, the parent's problem.

As a middle school teacher, I am often saddened by the sight of a beautifully made-up, slim, blonde mother standing in the school office midday carrying a lacrosse stick, helmet, and pads as if attending, priestess-like, some thirteen-year-old god.
posted by Peach at 10:57 AM on March 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


But most of all they talk about their mothers. Their mothers are known as “she.” When I first heard about “she,” I was slightly puzzled by her status, which was somewhere between servant and family pet.

The cat's mother.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:15 AM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


METAFILTER: made me want to have a child to see how I would deal with these issues.
posted by philip-random at 11:53 AM on March 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


I was ok with the writing, although it was a little creative-writing-class. I've moved into a family with a teenage girl (15) over the past year and a half, and while she's certainly becoming her own person and has started making more of her own decisions, she's still a great person, fun to talk to and do stuff with.

Her friends would certainly never ever leave dirty dishes around or ignore her mom and me. There is lots shrieking and giggling, I'll agree there.

She also can't sleep, though, and it's because of the mom and teenager downstairs who constantly scream profanities at each other, sometimes all night. I think kids are the ultimate YMMV.
posted by Huck500 at 12:02 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I liked this article. I'm baffled by the obtuseness of demanding that a teenager take their coat off at the table, or not eat bread served before the main course, and then wondering at the strong reaction. I'm sympathetic to wanting to mandate good etiquette and healthy choices, sure. And I'm not a parent, but I can vaguely imagine how difficult it must be to figure out how much control and power it is appropriate to hold on to as kids age. But it shouldn't be a mystery why they react the way they do to being overruled at every turn. A four year old might scream and kick. A teenager might roll their eyes and leave the table. No one likes being micromanaged that way as an adult, why should young people have the wisdom to accept it as for their own good.
posted by wrabbit at 12:13 PM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


No one likes being micromanaged that way as an adult

Micromanagement is a habit you build up as a parent over a decade.

Unless you like diapers and/or shit everywhere, you micromanage your kids to get them toilet trained. Once you get the first phone call telling you your kid bit someone in kindergarten, you begin micromanaging your kid's behaviour. And it goes from there.

Teenagers don't always make great decisions. You, as an adult, clearly make amazing decisions all the time. Well, no, not really, but you don't tend to make the same mistakes as teenagers. You slave for an hour or two making dinner only to have your kids reject it because they stuffed themselves with bread? Hell yeah you're going to tell them not to eat the damn bread. It's called manners. But, yea, teenagers don't care and some of them would happily subsist for years on nothing but bread and milk (e.g. my daughter).

Anyway, you're right. No one wants to be micromanaged.

At the same time, imagine having roommates who leave a mess everywhere they go, expect you to pay for everything and then are rude to you in return. If adult behaved like teenagers they'd be found dead in a ditch within a week.

In summary, parenting is a land of contrasts.
posted by GuyZero at 12:20 PM on March 20, 2015 [31 favorites]


This article makes me nostalgic for the good old days, when all being a teen entailed was midnight meetings in Central Park, followed by a desperate flight back to Coney Island with all the gangs of New York in pursuit.
posted by happyroach at 12:26 PM on March 20, 2015 [9 favorites]


Wow, what a great essay; though vivid, I find her language plain and almost straightforward -- and enviable! The internal narration of my childhood and adolescence will have to take her insights into account from now on.

But I think she's dead wrong about Medea:
I find that I do not believe in the child-killing as a literal event. But the director cannot conceive of a “Medea” in which the children are not killed. Around this impasse we have arranged ourselves. I say, Ours is a world in which psychological and actual violence have become mutually distinct. The killing no longer means what it once might have. Actual violence is rudimentary and mute; psychological violence is complex and articulate. He says, The play’s violence is both metaphor and reality. The two, in other words, meet and mingle, as in the world of Greek mythology where the gods met and mingled with humans. I say, That metaphor is lost on our literal-minded society; instead the play is regarded as a “problem play” — but the problem of women murdering their children is not a problem we actually have. Even as metaphor. In fact, if anything, it’s the other way around. Metaphorically or otherwise, women don’t murder their children. It’s the children who murder their mothers.
I would say say she does not grasp the extent to which Classical Greece devoted itself to denying women any choice in whom they would have sex with and whose children they would bear; Medea's children are necessarily not children of choice, and that they are children of rape cannot be ruled out. What we think of as normal attachment of mothers to their children cannot be expected in such circumstances, and though it cannot surprise us that the Greeks would condemn a mother who would abandon or kill children she was forced to bear to a man she didn't choose and go off with someone she did actually want as an inhuman monster, I think we must see her instead as a tragic victim as well as a monster, and condemn the system that made her what she was.
posted by jamjam at 12:30 PM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Toilet 'training' should be done without micro management. A lot of the terrifying neurosis that so often accompanies this stage stems from adults getting on your case about crapping.
posted by colie at 12:30 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I see what you mean, GuyZero. I don't think micromanagement is bad per se: like you said it's a part of parenting. But it also shouldn't be shocking and mysterious as to why teenagers in particular develop a bad attitude about it.
posted by wrabbit at 12:42 PM on March 20, 2015


My therapist suggested No-Drama Discipline by Siegel and Bryson, (isbn: 978-0345548047 so I don't have to link it), and they promote the idea that the only way to deal with kids is to reason with them. It's a little soft on examples for super-young kids, but they're basically just asking you to pay attention to your kid and empathize with what they're going through.
posted by jon_bristow at 12:57 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I kinda want to punch the mom myself.

So much of the work I do with parents revolves around peeling them off of the delusion that they can, somehow, control their kids' behavior. And I, friends, am a behavior-analytic psychologist.

Relax. Nothing is under control.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 12:58 PM on March 20, 2015 [17 favorites]


Add me to those who are confused by the dislike of this essay. I'm in the middle of no. 2 teenager, and I really enjoyed her observations. I'm going to share the lion metaphor with my sisters who are also mums of teens; at family gatherings, our large collection of teens are exactly like prides of silent, friendly but potentially dangerous lions, all resting next to their parents, rather than playing together as they did when they were smaller children.

I laughed out loud at her observation that teenagers move in herds, settling to graze at different homes. My eldest daughter told me that during lunchbreak, the group of friends she was part of would go to the house nearest school and empty the fridge. Every single day. We live quite far from that school, but because I travel a lot for work, our home was the site of wild parties. She is very good at cleaning up so it was *almost* invisible that 50 teens had been drinking and smoking and dancing all weekend. I never commented.

The author really wants to parent differently from her own parents, and she is acutely aware that she may just be failing in an other way. I can recognize that feeling. As a teen, I never understood why I was consistently treated as a criminal. I moved out at 16. I want to respect my kids, and then sometimes I worry that they will get hurt because they are unaware of some danger, and I get the eye-rolls. Not that I mind. But where is the right balance between letting teens live and caring enough that they sometimes feel restricted?
posted by mumimor at 1:06 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Relax. Nothing is under control.

So it's not like this is bad advice, but saying "Just always be relaxed" is not what I'd call highly practical advice. Yes, if I did that everything would probably be much better.

So far I have not managed to do that all the time.
posted by GuyZero at 1:17 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This line really got me in the gut:

She admits now that her greatest anger at her parents has come from their failure to correspond to the image she has in her head of what a parent should be.

My mom didn't micro-manage me in the least; she was too wrapped up in her own issues to try to impose a narrative complete with it's own rules on me. No set family-together dinner, at least not in high school. No expectations about grades. No curfew (although I had to have a safe way home, that was a rule). I am a 34-year-old woman with a young daughter of my own and I am still angry about not having a mom who cared enough to try to shape me. I am so angry about it I'm ashamed of myself.

Maybe there's just nothing a mother of a teenage girl can do right, not right enough to escape being 'she' for a good number of years. I have no doubt I'll have my turn with this in about 10 years from now. God help me. I love my daughter to death and it's going to hurt, a lot. This author gets props from me for not taking it personally.
posted by kitcat at 1:35 PM on March 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


So it's not like this is bad advice, but saying "Just always be relaxed" is not what I'd call highly practical advice. Yes, if I did that everything would probably be much better.

So far I have not managed to do that all the time.


It's a terrible idea to be relaxed all the time. It's just that it's also a terrible idea to try to control things you cannot control, using methods that simply cannot work.

So "Relax, nothing is under control" is just a metaphor, not an instruction.

It's a good idea to practice not-controlling-things (along with other stuff), but no one is going to achieve ... wait for it ... that all-the-time level of control over being relaxed versus not being relaxed.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 1:45 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


This article makes me nostalgic for the good old days, when all being a teen entailed was midnight meetings in Central Park, followed by a desperate flight back to Coney Island with all the gangs of New York in pursuit.

Pelham Bay Park. (I made the same assumption myself when I saw the movie, mostly because Central Park was the only park I knew about in NYC.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:28 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought that was marvelous and beautifully written. I neither have nor want children and I think that was the first parenting essay I've ever enjoyed reading.
posted by thivaia at 3:08 PM on March 20, 2015


I very much enjoyed the article, although the language did get a bit over-engineered. Also am terrified, as I have 6 month old twin girls and am kind of flying by the seat of my pants with this parenting gig. Maybe at some point I'll be able to think rationally about HOW to parent instead of feeling like I'm reacting all the time.
posted by Existential Dread at 4:10 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought this was an excellent article. I also enjoyed her book about the experience of being a new mother.
posted by KateViolet at 4:32 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


TL;DR version:
I write for a New York magazine. I've worked hard for my kids. Humble brag humble brag.... Watching them grow up now that they don't need a nanny I don't know how to have a relationship with my kid now that they are almost an adult. Humble brag humble brag. My life is hard, but I've made my of neurotic enough to have an eating disorder which I'll glaze over and minimize as a statement to show you how I've struggled against things out of my control instead of capitulating that my own neurosis reflected and refined through my children combined with the emotional distance of being a socialite instead of a parent has left my child struggling for some semblance of control in their life.

Yes, that is still wordy.... But it's shorter than the article.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:24 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Man. Such dislike for the article. As a parent of a 16 yr old (totally a teenager) and a 13 yr old (not there yet) it's one of the best things I've read on parenting and teenagers. Both the writing and the thoughts.
posted by maupuia at 9:07 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


So "Relax, nothing is under control" is just a metaphor, not an instruction.

That is not a metaphor. But linking relaxation and control rings true to me.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
posted by lazycomputerkids at 6:02 AM on March 21, 2015


Pointing out humble-bragging is the new humble-bragging.
posted by aydeejones at 9:16 AM on March 21, 2015


Just 1/5th of the way through my impression is that the closer you are to having been a teenager, the more you're going to roll your eyes at this and focus on all of the flaws of the author daring to discuss the privileges in their life in the context of the article. I'm not excited to be 34 (17 * 2 :), or that I'll be dealing with this in 6-10 years with two kids, or that they're already so smart and argumentative that I struggle with wanting to encourage their ability to wrangle with authority with my ability to remain sane at what seems to be a ridiculously young age (4 and 7), or that I'm just now old enough to know that 6-10 years goes by faster than you'd expect and whether you have a plan or not, it will come up fast.

I haven't exactly put together my trajectory in life "enough" to feel like some authority for guiding the path of others with more wisdom than "here's how to wing it and look mostly good to most people in the process," and raising kids in that sense can be like trying to bucket-brigade your way out of a constantly sinking ship that never quite sinks if you have enough privilege and resourcefulness and stamina to keep moving.

But I will say it lends me perspective that makes me "humble-scoff" at scathingly sarcastic people who have zero perspective on raising children but feel so inclined to share their completely uninformed opinions on same. I think everyone is entitled to share and I'm just old enough now to be politely entertained by stories without being so old that I say "oh yeah, YOU'LL SEE!" I just quietly don't GAF
posted by aydeejones at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why do people write like this?

Because they are telling a story. She's going through scenes in her mind and re-telling them, pretty succinctly it seems to me. I don't get any sense from it that the author is removed from loving or caring deeply about her children, just that she's very self-aware and emotions can be hard to pin down.

The great thing about creative writing is that you get to write creatively. This writer is a novelist and appears to have a poetic bent, is that particularly problematic when the subject is parenting? I'm usually the first to switch off at pretentious or overly-precious writing but I just don't see it here so I'm genuinely interested in what's triggering the vitriol towards this specific piece.
posted by freya_lamb at 12:18 PM on March 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


You should read a book, I say.

It was hard to read the essay after that, as it was such a brain dead thing to say. Add on the endless stream of "I" statements and reading this is like slow torture.

God forbid the NYT ever go out of business, because the internet would be lost without its white, upper middle class platform to rail against.

Or identify with.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:25 AM on April 5, 2015


Unfortunately, children don't come with instruction manuals. Most children are brought up by parents who wear themselves out trying to stay one step ahead - to guess what's coming next and be prepared for it - but sooner or later that fails and the parents end up winging it. Some kids come out without permanent scars and without permanently scarring their parents or anyone else, but others don't, no matter how much everyone tried.

The idea that parents have that they're the reason their teenager gets into trouble is a mistake. Kids spend hours every day in school and more hours with their friends and in the homes of their friends, where they learn all sorts of interesting things not covered by Mom and Dad. The thing to remember is that this is the way it's supposed to be; the world is bigger than the home the child grows up in and the child must be prepared. As the parent of your child, you're only one of many influences, so you don't get all the credit if the kid turns out exquisitely perfect OR if there's trouble. The only thing that parents/family alone can provide that no one else can is unconditional love - the foundation - the part that matters the most.

The child is an individual - a one-of-a-kind - no matter how hard he tries to blend in or how hard he tries to stand out. He's only minimally like his parents in that he reflects his training and the culture he's raised in at home, but inside he's his own person - he was born his own person. (Please convert all male pronouns to female pronouns if it works better for you - there's essentially no difference as far as this point goes.)

The thing is, though, a parent has to be a teacher. That sweet little bundle of joy has to be taught thousands of things - you can't just plant him on the sofa and feed and water him - you have to actually TEACH him what to do and what not to do and why. The time will come when your "why" doesn't work for him and he'll push past you and keep going, but you have to just deal with whatever comes as part of the job of teacher. It's what you signed on for.

I like this article, but I like most stories/essays/articles about personal experiences because they're all so different - just like people. As for her writing style and some folks wanting her words cut back to make the reading faster and more direct - fooey. Raising a child is not fast or direct or succinct; if you can do so and still come out with the ability to write it up as a story, you've done pretty well.
posted by aryma at 11:40 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been a part of MetaFilter since before my son was born; mefites have helped me through a few rough parenting spots, like dealing with the death of a pet, and family members, and me accidentally destroying his science project by trying to help.

And the Boy has so far, thrived and been an amazing kid. But I tell ya, as he hits puberty and I'm going through menopause, things have gotten a lot more screamy at our house. (To be fair; I come from Mediterranean stock that firmly believes that volume is a required part of any loving conversation...it's when I get quiet that people worry.)

Coat at dinner table: I swear to god, we had this fight. Seriously. And at some point, I stopped and said "Look kiddo, this is not a hill I want to die on, but here's the thing; I cook dinner every night so we can eat as a family. You've never seen an adult in this house wear a hat to the table, because hats are outdoor wear, and it is considered impolite. Coats are also outside gear, therefore also impolite, and don't belong at the table. It bothers me. I realize this is a rule you think is absurd. Duly noted. It's still a rule you're going to obey."

And the fight, for the nonce, ended. When he was younger, I could issue imperatives: Yes, No, Because I said so, but the as he grows into autonomy, I've found the way for me to stay sane is for me to explain why I've made a decision. I've explained that I will listen if he can present cogent arguments, but that whining, stomping, and NU-UH are not acceptable responses.

I have no idea if it'll work as he actually hits the teenage years. Gods help us all.
posted by dejah420 at 6:59 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


It was hard to read the essay after that, as it was such a brain dead thing to say.

Actually, it is good advice!
posted by stoneandstar at 11:50 AM on April 7, 2015


Surprised by all the hate for this article. I don't necessarily agree with the whole Medea analysis, but I really enjoyed the essay overall.
posted by bardophile at 1:08 AM on April 8, 2015


"You should read a book, I say."

It was hard to read the essay after that, as it was such a brain dead thing to say.


No kidding--truly worthy of a contemptuous eye roll.

Actually, it is good advice!

But, it's delivered in such a way that it's virtually guaranteed to be ignored.

I do not understand why some parents are seemingly mystified by teenagers--shocked when they go from "sweet" to teen attitude. If they have no memory of their own adolescence, perhaps they could pick up a couple of clues by listening to the music kids have been listening to for the past 50 years or so--the "attitude" is ubiquitous.
posted by she's not there at 3:01 AM on April 8, 2015


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