Why the Child-Free Should Quit Criticizing Parents

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
April 1 2013 10:39 AM

Why the Child-Free Should Quit Criticizing Parents

153438643
Don't overthink parenting, says Frank Bruni helpfully, or you could ruin your child's life.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

One of my frequently broken writing resolutions is to stop responding to obvious troll bait. But New York Times columnist Frank Bruni goaded me into pushing back to his piece, “A Childless Bystander’s Baffled Hymn.” He hits all the frequent criticisms lobbed at today’s yuppie parenting class: We’re too permissive; too obsessed with being loved; we lard on praise and never discipline; and finally, we think way too much about this parenting thing. You see, in his day, there were no iPhones, and parents didn’t need a million parenting blogs to tell them what to do, and everyone turned out just fine.

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

First, let’s dispense with the fact that the child-free Bruni spends 75 percent of his allotted column space telling parents they’re doing everything wrong and it’s ruining children, and turns around and spends the last quarter of his column completely contradicting himself. He tells parents what they do doesn’t matter anyway, because kids are going to turn out who they were meant to be whether you let them watch TV or not, whether you yell at them or overpraise.

But beyond that, let me answer his question about why parents today behave “as if ushering kids into adulthood were some newfangled sorcery dependent on a slew of child-rearing books and a bevy of child-rearing blogs.” It’s because there are more outlets than ever before for people to tell us that every misstep is messing up our children, and if we don’t do everything perfectly they’re going to end up jobless meth heads with technology surgically attached to their palms.

Advertisement

You only need to look back at Bruni’s own publication—the New York Times—from a week before his column ran to see the kinds of pressures today’s parents are dealing with. It’s an article called “Your Phone vs. Your Heart,” which tells moms and dads that if they use their smartphones too much, their kids won’t be able to emotionally connect with others. To wit:

New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions—like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child—leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.

See, exhausted new mom? If you selfishly send just a single text message while breast-feeding (of course, breast-feeding) your baby, you are damaging little Cletus more than bad genes ever could. But as Times reader Mary Phillips notes in a letter to the editor, breast-feeding moms are taught to not maintain eye contact because it’s distracting for a child. “I become frustrated when [my son’s] future ability to connect with others is called into question because I text someone during a feeding session instead of staring at a wall in a dark room for 30 minutes straight.”

When moms and dads are getting the message that staring at a wall in the dark is the only way to save your kid from damage, of course they’re going to be a little neurotic and confused about how to do right by their children. Frank Bruni probably knows all this. But expressing this kind of empathy doesn’t get you on the Times most emailed list.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.