Saturday, July 12, 2008

Big Chief Red Face

If you ever take a Parenting 101 class, you will learn that you are a complete loser and a failure as a parent unless you are "involved". What that exactly means in the practical world can range from coaching your child's soccer team, to volunteering in your child's classroom, to arranging your child's marriage. I am intrigued/bemused/horrified by all the different forms and levels of "involvement" parents choose to have in their children's lives and the effect it has on them (the children and the parents). Trying to adjust my own "parental footprint" is like holding an egg - squeeze too hard and it cracks, hold too loosely and it falls and breaks.

Now I realize that I certainly don't have all the answers nor do I think that I'm doing everything right - but I do know when someone's gone over the edge. Such is the case with the mother of my son's Kindergarten classmate. A woman I call Big Chief Red Face.

The first time I met BCRF was on the first day of Kindergarten. The students already had their first assignment ready to turn in which was a paper flower they were supposed to put their picture on and decorate. Most of the flowers clutched in these 5-year-old's hands had colorful scrawls of marker or crayon and a few had glitter or feathers glued in place. BCRF was holding her daughter's creation held flat on her upward-turned palm like a waiter. It was a mosaic in colored rice that looked like it was patterned after a Tibetan monastery floor. When BCRF jr. tried to grab her flower to show her friend BCRF held it up out of reach saying, "no no no no no no".

Trying to be a good "involved" parent, I signed up to volunteer in the classroom about once a month. Every time I went into the classroom, whether it was to volunteer, ask the teacher something or run a paper or lunch into the classroom, BCRF was there. I went in at random enough times to say that I think she was there every day of the school year! She watched her daughter like a hawk and intervened any time she thought her daughter needed correcting, scolding, protection, direction, anything. I saw her yank her daughter out of the classroom for lectures and even timeouts.

I may not be a child development expert or even a parenting expert, but I think it's safe to say that BCRF jr. will either grow up to resent and rebel against her mother or grow up spineless and incapable, looking to her mother to do everything and choose everything for her.

There are mothers in my life that I look up to and try to pattern my own parenting principles on. Mothers that look to guide rather than control, that work with, not against their children, the ones that teach principles, not just rules. But most of all, the mothers that have found serenity in their choatic lives - that have a peaceful and centered balance about them.

And y'know what? Big Chief Red Face ain't one of them!


Mama Mia said...

BCRF needs to get her own life and take an art class if she is so inclined to express herself through her daughters art assignment! I feel so bad for that little girl. Helicopter Parents uggggghh! Don't you just love the story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...some of those parents or lack of make me cringe!

Tim said...

Best of luck to the future son-in-law. What a nightmare...

The scouting program does a good job coaching parents through the right level of involvement in their kids' activities. As a young cub scout, activities are designed with mother's participation in mind, then slowly, as the scout progresses, cubs are weened. (Exception: pine wood derbys are solely about dad's skills--has nothing to do with the cub)

At age 11, they become Boy Scouts, and for the first year, campouts are with dad. At age 12, all activities are sans parents altogether, and the focus is on the development of leadership skills.

In my scout troop, it is obvious which boys come from families that lean towards helicopter-parenting styles. They are the ones that struggle making choices for themselves, or will not act until instructed directly.

Kristine said...

That's so crazy... Don't these parents have anything else to be doing??

I guess middle school isn't kindergarden... But we had a parent last year that seemed like she was going to be that way, so we made sure to keep some distance between her and her daughter. We told her that she was welcome to volunteer in other classes, in the library, etc, but we felt it better for her daughter to be more independent. (Daughter seemed relieved.) It was a funny issue to come up in ESL, where we generally never see parents.

Cheryl said...

That is just sad. I feel for the children when the parents are that controlling.

I have known many a parent like that in my time. Back in the day when Emily was beginning her school career, I felt twinges of bad parenthood because I didn't walk her all the way into the classroom each day and wasn't waiting outside the classroom for her at the end of the day. Volunteering once a month felt neglectful when I saw that other mothers were there almost daily. I soon learned that she was a happier child because of, or in spite of, my "neglect." I have always been involved in the kids classrooms and schools. They knew I was there and I got to know their teachers and they me. There was no need to me to hover.

I have also never done their homework for them. Sure, I have helped with projects and have typed papers from time to time, but never done it FOR them. I have been so proud of their science projects even when they have stood next to one that was obviously done by the kids scientist father.

My poor kids. How did they have a chance with me as their mother??

ray said...

It's funny, Tim, that you should mention scouting because sometimes I feel like I should be getting some awards too. It's good to know that eventually I can leave it all up to Nathaniel and his leaders. Having worked a lot with kids and youth in the church, it really is easy to spot the over-controlled children.

Cheryl, I agree that school projects should be done by the students and the school where I met BCRF (in Alaska, I know you know which one it is) is notorious for helicopter parents who do their kids' work for them. I went to a science fair and could hardly keep from laughing out loud. It was that ridiculous, in a sad sort of way.

natalie said...

I feel a little guilty about it but I cannot stand elementary schools! They smell funny and give me the heeby jeebys for some reason. I'd rather hang out in a HS or college but by then parent involvement is somewhat taboo. Whatever. Since Jonah has mostly attended where Kelly teaches That counts, right? I'd much rather drive for field trips than be in the classroom. Regarding hovering, Jonah made it perfectly clear around, uh, birth that he could handle things on his own and for the most part, does. We advise. He's even starting to take care of me; with my cell phone, computer and he opens my car door when Kelly's not fast enough.

Cheryl said...

I know what you mean, Nat! I often turn to one of the kids to tell me how to do things on the computer. Luke is always changing things on my cell phone.

I do have to say that I like elementary school. I am taller than most of the kids there. I find high school rather smelly and loud. I love that age though so it's all good!

Ambie said...

I have learned that it's better to let kids take responsibility for their own actions rather than blaming their parents later for the choices made for them. I see this frequently painting faces at the fair when moms choose what design goes on their kid's face instead of what the kid wants. Nauseating.