To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein makes many wise observations about parenting in his recent essay [“From Parent to Parenting,” May], but I fear he misses a few as well. Many of us embark on parenting with a vow not to do certain things that our parents did to us. As Philip Larkin chimes, “They f—k you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do.” Try as we might to avoid the disdain, conceit, anger, and uncertainty that plagued our parents, those uglinesses are, alas, transferrable and stubborn. We vow not to repeat certain unpleasant behaviors of our parents, and yet we sometimes find ourselves doing those very things in the heat of parenting. We hate ourselves for it, but that doesn’t help much. Our children leave home and in time become parents, making, I suspect, vows similar to our own. The aphorists say that one finally understands how to parent just when the children leave the nest, but I doubt that. Parenting is really about being a decent human being. Decent people expect themselves to be perfect when it comes to parenting, but since we aren’t perfect people, we aren’t perfect parents. Then we become grandparents, which lulls us into thinking we would make good parents at that ripe age, but grandparents are not responsible for the final product and can, if they wish, simply have fun.
There are piles of how-to books on the shelves about parenting, generally placed near the ones on sex. In both cases, I’m suspicious that the manuals don’t really offer much that is helpful in the long run. And, as in both cases, what really matters is affection—affection not for one’s self but for others, affection that is tempered with a good dose of forgiveness, for others and for the self. One need not be demonstrative about either one, as Mr. Epstein suggests, but one needs to have them.
Joseph H. Reynolds
To the Editor:
Joseph Epstein is right to argue that good parenting does not correlate with being an intimate confidant to one’s children. Overvigilance can also be harmful A key problem with helicopter parenting is that a child may end up without the inclination, capability, or willpower to fulfill her parents’ (or her school’s) far-reaching expectations, no matter how much they’ve invested in her future. Disappointed in herself, the child can easily feel robbed of her worth and become an emotional husk or start exhibiting behavioral problems. Another big problem with helicopter parenting is that children are shielded from justified criticism, cushioned from routine disappointment and the natural stresses of growing up, all while their abilities are overestimated and their self-esteem artificially lifted.
When parents overestimate the worth of their child’s abilities, the parents feel a certain boost for having an exceptional child—and the child is protected from the competitive world beyond the confines of home and school. Furthermore, the preponderance of helicopter moms and dads ends up crowding the “elite airspace” (leading to the risk of inter-parental collision and conflict).
We should not criticize various fatherhood and parenting styles as long as the child succeeds and is not harmed in the process. There is no standard formula for success, and the secret to success is almost certainly peculiar to each child.