Frank Bruni is somewhat of a legend in the New York City restaurant scene. He was the food critic for the New York Times for five-and-a-half-years – all of the years that I worked as a server in the city. His photo was up in every kitchen that was worth a damn. Everyone knew what he looked like on the off chance that he decided to stumble into their restaurant one day, and skewer or praise it for all of New York to see.
Well, now he’s pointing his keen eye for criticism in another direction – at parents. He has an op-ed in the New York Times today called “A Childless Bystanders Baffled Hymn.” I love listening to people who don’t have children talk about raising children. I’m not being facetious. I really like a childless person’s perspective on parenting. Parenting is so all-consuming, you sometimes forget what it’s like to not be doing it. Focusing on it. Focusing on your child. Sometimes it’s refreshing to be smacked awake by someone who is not in a perpetual parental fog. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone say, What the hell are you doing?
He reminds us that kids aren’t adults and is truly “baffled” by the new school of thought that they should be treated like them. I agree. I try not to roll my eyes to much – but there was no negotiating when I was a child. I wouldn’t even dream of it. My mother would have laughed in my face. It was basically, do what you’re told and be good. And we did that. As a parent of a two-year-old I can confidently assert that negotiating with this little man will never work. So right now it is a battle of wills. It will continue to be one until I get my way – because I’m the mother, damn it!
“I’m confounded by the boundless fretting, 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. The counsel keeps coming, from every possible corner and from unexpected shamans.” Somewhere along the way, our children became a product of whether we were “doing it right” or not. I think this is why parenting today is all-consuming. Is your child hitting his “milestones?” Is he talking enough? Responding enough? How’s his hand-eye coordination? Good God, it’s exhausting. Well Frank, as someone who does not have a child you have no idea how exhausting it can be in this new parenting climate – constantly feeling like you need to be doing something constructive to shape your child’s being every minute of every day. I have no idea when this became the parenting norm. And if you’re a parent and it’s not the norm in your house – can we be friends?
I know it’s frustrating to take advice from someone who clearly isn’t in your shoes – but I think Mr. Bruni makes some good points worth reading – so I’m passing the essay on to you. Yes, it is ultimately a little infuriating to listen to someone without children basically say, Don’t worry about it. Your child will be who he is no matter what you do. But something about this line of reasoning also gives you permission to breathe a little sigh of relief.