Jennifer Cowart is a 40-something wife and mother of three daughters. A former elementary educator, she is a freelance journalist, photographer and blogger. She is the winner of three New England Newspaper and Press Association Awards and a Rhode Island Press Association Award. She was a member of the 2014 Listen To Your Mother cast in Providence, RI. In 2012 she, along with her daughter, was the Rhode Island winner of the White House Kids’ State Dinner/Healthy Lunchtime Challenge contest. Her work can be found at www.cranstononline.com and www.thewholebagofchips.com .
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As a new parent, and through the years that have followed, I have found myself feeling cautious about earning a reputation for being a certain type of parent. Maybe it’s just me, and maybe not everyone worries much about being stereotyped, but when you read parenting magazines and blogs, it seems that there is a name and a stigma for every parenting choice and style.
There are people who breastfeed or don’t, people who work or don’t, people who co-sleep or don’t, people who practice attachment parenting (is un-attachment parenting a “thing?”) people who are ‘free-range’ parents, and people who are deemed helicopter parents. I even recently read a criticism of parenting where the writer deemed parenting a “new religion,” and not in a good way. That was a new one for me.
As parents, if we don’t walk a perfect line of balance, we’re either too laid back or too conservative, too nice and wishy-washy, or too strict and mean. You could go crazy reading about them and choosing your stance on each type, but I think ultimately every parent must make choices as to what works for them, their kids, their beliefs, and just go with it.
I’m a particular fan of the saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” and although it makes me smile when I hear it, I really do believe it. You make choices, you live with those choices, and if you’re not happy, or they’re not going the way you imagined, then you adjust and make changes as you see fit. We all have our own monkeys and circuses to worry about, we don’t need to worry about what everyone else is doing. I can worry about trying not to screw up my own kids with my parenting practices, but I can’t worry about whether others will be sending their own kids to therapy down the line with theirs.
That said, I sometimes lose sleep over the helicopter parenting thing. That’s the one I worry about the most. Why? I don’t know, but I do.
Lately,I’ve been considering the whole helicopter parenting stigma. I’ve begun to wonder if it’s something that’s been created by the amazing technology we now have, or whether it’s a parenting style that forces technology to keep up with parents’ needs.
So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?
From baby monitors that allow parents to watch their babies sleep, to preschool webcams that allow you to see your children in their classes, to college “Hi Mom!” cams that let you to watch a live web cam of particular spots on college campuses – just in case your child walks by – we can see or be connected to our children anywhere, anytime, by technology, no matter how old they are.
When I think about these advances in technology, I wonder:
Would I have wanted to have that kind of baby monitor for peace of mind? Probably.
Would it have had the potential to make me crazy, watching for anything to happen to my baby through the night? Very possibly.
Would I have wanted to spend my precious 2.5 hours of preschool time sitting at home with my coffee, glued to my computer screen, watching my kids playing at school? Probably not.
Will I be glued to the college webcam screen, hoping for a glimpse of my 18-year-old walking on the quad? I kind of hope not.
Are we able to, or even encouraged to, keep such tabs on our kids beyond our empty nests because of technology? Or, is technology answering what they see as being our needs as over-protective parents?
Which is it?
We attended a middle school Back to School Night last year, and a similar high school open house this year where we were shown how to access the online parent portal to view our child’s records (absences, grades), but also to log on and view their assignments – upcoming tests, quizzes, essays, projects. We were strongly encouraged to log on daily to stay abreast of their work and keep on top of that work.
Is it me, or is technology fostering too much helicopter parenting? Is that technology pushing us to do more than we should for our kids? Last year, I was shocked to be so strongly encouraged to check the website daily, and I remember thinking, “Isn’t that the student’s job? I have a job. This isn’t it.” By their second year of middle school, I just assumed we’d put this sort of responsibility on the students – not the parents – and most definitely so by their first year of high school.
Maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe I’m not?
I never logged onto that parent portal during middle school. I actually lost my login information. Twice.
But here’s the thing: I knew when my child was absent, because she was here with me and I was taking care of her. That’s my job as her mother. I knew her grades, because she logged on to the student portal herself constantly to check and share them with me. And if she didn’t, I asked her how things were going and had a conversation. I got a progress report mid-quarter and a report card at the end of the quarter from the school, and saw the grades she’d earned.
When she stayed on top of the work.
That’s her job as a student.
This technology, some may say, allows us to support them along their educational paths. I could agree, but I wonder, does this technology allow us to override the conversation part of it? Are we able to parent and support our kids better from the screen than in person?
I don’t know the answer. I haven’t decided what I think about all this, but it’s definitely got me wondering.
I love technology; it allows me to work remotely and do a job I love, and stay in touch with people I love, but it also may not give our kids the tools to be responsible for themselves. It might also foster the problems colleges experience with parents unable to cut the apron springs. It might cause parents to get used to being over-connected.
I don’t know.