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QUINTESSENCE

Freedom to Be

The purpose of freedom is to create it for others.
- Bernard Malamud

The news media has been bursting at the seams lately with ambitious, sometimes disturbing stories that feature those nicknamed "helicopter parents," i.e. the hovering parent that supervises, directs, plans and all but executes every living, waking moment of their child's life. Talk about your "Tiger Mom" (I know what's best for this kid's success) to the "Sports Dad" (No way anyone will cut my kid!). Some of this is natural protective instinct taken to an extreme (after all it is a BIG, and indifferent world out there). But a great deal of it is ego extension, or child-as-me. The kid cut from the soccer team is not so much the kid, as the parent. The child that applies to elite colleges and is not admitted to any is not just a statistic of limited openings and intense competition, but perceived as a failure by the parent to produce a smart enough child. Worse yet, helicopter parents are writing top-selling books about their programs for success, outlining the keys to "making it in."

When did we become this nation of ambitious parents driven not by the dream to have our kids lead better lives with more opportunities than those afforded to us, but this club of prideful adults demanding our kids reflect well on us? We want our bragging rights fully fueled: ready to head-line our kids' accomplishments at the grocery check-out line, in the annual holiday card update, the after school science fair, the April college acceptance swell. Not that we aren't thrilled for our kids, who are often just relieved that they got in or made the grade so that we're happy, but deep inside, their success makes us feel better about ourselves. Living vicariously through the lives of our children is the new American past-time. It is a do-over for adults less than wowed by their own accomplishments, or who feel their luck or hard work is at last cemented into a genuine legacy through the clear superiority of their children.

Let's stop the insanity. We can end the hovering, the suffocating direction, the "hurried child" syndrome, by paying better attention to the needs of our children to choose their own path. I do feel we are doing our level best as parents when we help our children along, provide information to guide their choices, point them toward opportunity... but the freedom for our kids to quit soccer, choose a professional skill and not a college degree, wander for awhile to "find themselves" - this is nurturing, the antithesis to hovering. It is not the child-as-me, but embracing the unique independent spirit of each child to become a self-defined adult.

We could begin by ending the toddlers and beauty pageants nonsense. Open the dress-up trunk and let their imaginations play.
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