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Posts tagged ‘anxiety’

Bringing Up Baby

Tom Ashbrook’s show On Point challenges the notion that there are universals in parenting in last Tuesday’s episode, “Bringing Up Baby.” He interviewed Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, and developmental psychologist, Jennifer Lansford.

The French focus on a balance between parenting and being adults. According to Druckerman, parents interfere less with their child’s experiences, believing that “kids and adults need space and privacy to cultivate their inner lives.”

Peter Stearns, in the chapter from Anxious Parents entitled “I’m Bored”, explains how much of modern American parenting is a response to children’s boredom and the guilt felt by parents to entertain them.

"It was so easy to think of food as a legitimate reward for being a child when a parent was too busy to offer more elaborate entertainments or felt guilty about not having enough time to spend." (p. 25) (click for source)

Druckerman’s discussion of children’s food made me reflect on my childhood. My poor mom must have had such a hard task pleasing my very picky sister and me. She likes to joke that always if one of us liked a meal, the other wouldn’t. Druckerman says that there are no kids foods in France. Kids inevitably won’t like every food they’re given, so parents just require them to taste the food. The American way, in contrast, is indulgence. Peter Stearns, in his book Anxious Parents, argues, “Tolerance of children’s eating habits… resulted from the real commitment to providing pleasure” (p. 25). In other words, eating is another way to entertain kids.

The perceived frailty of American children is discussed both by Druckerman and Stearn. Druckerman says that French children are more autonomous, and French parents are more comfortable setting boundaries.

Childrearing beliefs are strongly tied to the culture they are found in. I think Stearn’s observation of parents’ obsession with entertaining their children are reflected in our society’s own entertainment consumption habits among adults.


A "Goosebumps" series favorite among readers.


The Goosebumps book series is a mammoth collection of children’s horror novels published by youth literature giant Scholastic and written by author R. L. Stine (real name Jovial Bob Stine) between 1992 and 1997. The series rocketed to popularity and inspired a few spin-off book series as well as a TV show that had me glued to the set in the same vein of programs like Are You Afraid of the Dark and So Weird. While the series is supposedly intended for middle school readers (or older readers in terms of some of the spin-offs), I seem to recall there being a certain pride and competition in comparing the number of Goosebumps books in your repertoire early in elementary school while cautiously avoiding the eyes of disapproving teachers.

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Parents in Films and Parents at Home

According to the article Parents Under Pressure in Films (Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 2012), “parenting – specifically parental guilt and anxiety – is the subtext of a surprisingly large number of the year-end and awards-season movies”. Parents have always been a subject of interest for filmmakers, and the resulting movies have always spoken of the time in which they were created. The “hyper-self-critical, stressed-out parents” of today’s movies reflect a “culture of self-conscious child-rearing”. This is, of course, because of a societal shift in ideas of parenting. Back in the day, parents based their techniques on their own upbringing and on instincts. Today people think, analyze, and worry much more about parenting. In today’s movies, often mothers are out of the picture and fathers are portrayed as inadequate. In one such movie, 2011’s  “The Descendants”, a father has to deal with his problematic daughters while his wife is in a coma. Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of the novel “The Descendants” says of parenting,

“My grandfather would come home and have his martini hour and engage with his kids, but then he clocked out as a parent. You don’t do that anymore. I joined this mothers group, and it was just sort of this absurd culture to me. I was overwhelmed by parenting…. The focus on having the right things and what are they eating … lactation consultants, crib consultants, I swear to God there are curtain consultants. Parenting has become this whole other culture.”

Other recent movies speaking of failed parenting or parent/child relationships include “We Bought A Zoo”, “Carnage”, and “We Need To Talk About Kevin”. The main emotion that can be gleaned from these movies is guilt over parenting and how it should (or should not) be done.

This article connects to the “Anxious Parents” reading (Peter Stearns) in the course reader in that both talk about the shifting views on and anxiety around parenting. Stearns writes that the 20th century was “a century of anxiety about the child and about parents’ own adequacy”, a phenomenon which is clearly reflected in these recent films (2). Stearns also writes that children were seen as more vulnerable, fragile, and in need of protection (3).  Parents feel that they have little control over who and what influences their children, and often believe that children will act out the images they like or are influenced by, which generates more concern about parenting (10).  Also, issues such as new technology/consumer products, fears of diseases, and changes in family structure have caused parents to feel guilty about the environment in which they are raising children (3). Parents feel a huge sense of responsibility, and thus have anxieties about how they should treat their children.

These movies play to parents’ fears of bad parenting, but simultaneously alleviate guilt by showing that other parents are also not perfect.

(Below, Trailer for “The Descendants”, 2011)