Parents should outsource worrying, too


IN A RECENT edition of People magazine, there was a description of a new parenting trend: outsourcing.

Busy moms and dads can pay someone to teach their children to ride a two-wheeler, to potty-train their toddlers, to bake cupcakes for a birthday snack at school or sew Scout badges on a uniform.

And, on the ABC News Web site, there was a report on the increasing number of parents who attend classes and support groups or hire coaches to make them better parents.

Finally, a cover story in New York magazine profiled Isabel Kallman, the "Alpha Mom," an energetic new mother who has plans for a 24-hour cable network of the same name that will provide nothing but expert advice for other new mothers.

Excuse me while I take a nap. This movement into over-parenting or hyper-parenting or socio-parenting or micro-parenting is giving me a headache.

As the mother of a Barbie Doll daughter and a GI Joe son, both of whom are technically adults, I can say with confidence that if anything parents did mattered, my daughter would not dress like she stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog and my son would not be wearing a military uniform.

And that's just the clothes.

Neither child has made any of the choices toward which I have steered them. I might as well have been talking to myself for 20 years. And I don't think there is a course, book, coach or television network that would have made a difference.

(Except for my favorite parenting book of all time: Get Out of My Life; But First Could You Take Me and Cheryl to the Mall? by Anthony E. Wolf. I don't know if it made me a better parent, but it kept me sane during the process.)

Between Dr. Phil and Supernanny and the tragic spate of missing children, the media have given parents plenty of reason to doubt their own abilities and to fear the results of their own incompetence.

The lousy economy has made parents fearful for their own jobs, and that makes them want to script their children's future to ensure success and financial security.

Add to that the fact that every parent thinks her child is gifted and talented and every parent thinks her child should start on every sports team, and you have a recipe for unrelenting pressure. On the parents. On the kids. And on the teachers and coaches and other professionals who come in any kind of contact with these parents and these kids.

Having just crossed a couple of preliminary thresholds in this business -- and watched my fellow parents do the same -- I can say with authority that almost none of this stuff matters.

I swear, you could send your child to be raised by the animals in the forest, like Mowgli in The Jungle Book, and as long as everybody loved everybody, as the animals did Mowgli, everything would turn out all right, as it did for Mowgli.

The only outsourcing I have ever done is the housework -- and not because I wanted to spend more quality time with my children.

I went out and found a job that paid me enough money to pay someone else to clean the bathrooms because I didn't want to do it -- a lesson my daughter internalized the summer I paid her to clean the bathrooms.

Both of my children learned to use the potty before they went to first grade, and one of my daughter's first full sentences was, "My mommy doesn't bake." So those things took care of themselves, too.

One of the toughest things for parents to learn is how little they have to say about how happy or successful their children grow up to be. Food, safety and love (probably in that order) are what we are called upon to provide. The kids are supposed to take it from there.

I was reminiscing with my friend Linda recently about our time as parents of toddlers. She reminded me that I would have shed my skin if my daughter had chosen to wear a pretty nightgown to pre-school, or two different shoes, as hers did.

And she reminded me that I might have fainted if it had been my child who chose a sanitary napkin after his father told him to pack a napkin in his lunch box.

I admit all of this is true. But hindsight is 20/20, and you can learn from my hyperventilation.

Relax and hang out with your kids, because it won't be your boss or your coworkers weeping when you are gone.

Trust your instincts because they spring from the deep well of love that you have for your child. No one else can do more than dip a bucket into that well.

Talk to your kids a lot, but listen more. Be their consultant, not their boss, whenever you can.

Keep your children close for as long as they let you. Hug them and kiss them whenever you feel like it. They are only pretending to hate it.

Then stand back and let their personalities unfold. Because you don't have any other choice.

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