With Good Intentions: Parenting in 2011

I don’t think my dad ever knew the words to “Cats in the Cradle” and even if he did, he surely wouldn’t sing them. Like a lot of parents from his generation, he had his work to do, and I had mine. If I ever really needed him, I knew he was out there somewhere, but he was definitely not the first option I’d consider, when dealing with — or dodging — the slings and arrows of outrageous adolescence.

But things are changing. Parents are much more intentional about their parenting, much more anxious about their children’s academic performance, and much more engaged in their children’s lives.

This trend cuts both ways. It’s probably good that the mother of a first year university student read through one of those unreadable “academic program” booklets, so that she was able to encourage her boy to join the peer tutoring or community service programs, when he gets to college. (Even in this case, though, how much better would it have been, if he had discovered these programs for himself?)

On the other hand, there are some kinds of parental involvement that actually undermine a boy’s development. For example, I recently met with the mother of a grade 12 boy, who came in to talk about her son’s courses. When I suggested that it would have been good for her son to initiate this meeting or for him to at least join us, she replied “He needs some down time this summer, and he told me, ‘Mom, you’re better at this stuff.’ So he asked me to do this for him.”

Earlier this spring, I got a voice message from a dad, who said he needed to speak with me immediately about his son’s certification. When I called him back, I discovered that he was actually the father of a teaching applicant, and he wanted to make sure that all of his son’s papers were on file. When I, again, asked, why his son wasn’t taking care of this matter himself, he told me that his lad was on vacation.

A friend told me that he experienced a first recently, when a mom actually accompanied her son to his office for a job interview. “I have to give her some credit; she did not join us for the interview. I was, though, tempted to tell the guy, ‘We don’t have anything for you right now, but tell your mom she can start on Monday.’ That would have been mean, right?”

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