Saturday, March 7, 2009

I am just full of ideas this morning. I was going to write about cacti but that will have to wait because I have just read a NYT article about a man and his son in the kitchen and I can't keep my mouth shut. (Read the article here: It was a sweet article, well written and funny, and I enjoyed it immensely. However, the article gives several great examples of an underlying problem: parental impotence.

Yes, I'm on a soapbox. If you don't like it, stop reading. I am so incredibly tired of parents giving up being parents in order not to alienate their children. The man who wrote the article is the food editor for the New York Times and clearly good at his job. He also clearly loves his children, including his 4 year old son. Because he loves his son, he enjoys having him with him in the kitchen and is teaching him to cook. This is all wonderful, and I can relate because my own 5 year old son loves to cook and has been helping me in the kitchen since he was two. I even let him chop things and stir pots on the stove. My issue is with the modern parent's belief in letting the child run the home. Here is an excerpt from the article:

in the morning he will have coffee to brew. He’ll measure beans into the grinder and ask me to do two things I won’t let him do himself: push the button that sets the grinder’s blades spinning and pour boiling water over the grounds. When he judges the coffee rich enough, we pour it through a filter; then he adds sugar and cream. This production, which takes all the focus I can muster in my precaffeinated haze, results in about two ounces of good, strong coffee. Meanwhile, I brew a quart or so for my own use. He is a purist, and I am not, so I have my beans ground at the store. But I can’t have them all ground, because if I come home without some whole beans, there will be tears and recriminations.

Now, learning to brew good coffee and truly appreciate it is a fine skill and valuable to many people. Learning to do so at four years old is wasteful (but they are his coffee beans) and gives the child a false sense of maturity. The father is elevating the son to a level he has not and can not attain at this age. He's a coffee purist? He's never tasted the stuff. His determination of how rich the coffee is comes not from an experienced eye judging color or a mature palate deterimining flavor and body but from a child's arbitrary selection. I'm not even going to get started on the tears and recriminations that come from a lack of fresh beans for the child. Seriously.

The author goes on to say that his child could get a job selecting produce for a chef because of his love for miniature vegetables. My children like them, too. You should hear the squeals of delight on finding baby grapes in the bunch. That said, I'm fairly certain chefs look for more than size when selecting produce.

These are two examples of parent's proclivity to put their children on pedestals. Today's parents have developed the fine art of kinder-worship, as though having phenoms for children will make up for any lack we may have experienced ourselves. A related article (read it here detailed the recent decision to give a 5 year old his own cooking show. Really? Do his parents really believe that he, at five, can teach others a skill he could not possibly have mastered? The article goes into detail about the biological reasons this is improbable, so I won't repeat them here, but they're worth perusing.

I love my children. They are the absolute focus of my world and I would not hesitate to suffer pain, loss or death for them. They are each amazing, gifted, brilliant and insightful. But they are not adults. Not yet. And while I do push them in the areas where they excel; while I want them to succeed in astonishing ways, I am determined to let them be children for a while. A dry sponge, when squeezed, yields nothing. Children need to be taught; they need to experience life when they are small, to fill up their minds with knowledge. Then, when they are full, they can begin to pour it back out. Setting children up as little adults is a dangerous. It breaks down their understanding of their place in the world and deprives them of the security they receive from knowing that place. Without that security they can be paralyzed from moving forward. Their self-confidence can't develop because they are constantly under pressure to perform in ways that are unnatural.

This man and his son are poor examples, I suppose. I would do better to critique the parents who sacrifice completely their children's childhoods in the pursuit of beauty pageant, Hollywood, sport or academic success. But it does point out how mainstream the desire to have the best children has become. It's okay if your child does not have his own TV show. Or best selling novel or newspaper column.

Oh yes, I was going to be spiritual, too. The opening line to the article stated, "Before he went to be, by some miracle, we pried two little sweet potatoes from his 4 year old fist." Getting your child to do as you ask is not a miracle. It's called parenting. Children need to learn that parents know what is best. If it takes a miracle to get your four year old to give up his vegetable pets, what are you going to need when he is ten and wants to try out his new, homemade parachute? Or when he is fifteen and wants to use the car? If we constantly give in to our children's whims, they cannot trust us to be firm when we need to be. If they see us as merely their friends, as big people who enable them to do anything they like, they won't understand our deep love for them. They won't understand that we have more wisdom, experience and understanding and that we have their best interests at heart. So it is with God. He loves us enough to correct us and to shut us down when we start down a path we are not suited for. If we set our children on pedestals, they look down on us. They'll do the same to God and they'll be unable to hear His voice when it contradicts their desires. We are God to our kids until they develop an understanding of who He is on their own. Be the grown up.

P.S. I'm a nice person, so I've got to do a disclaimer here. If you are Pete Wells, or know Pete Wells, don't write me a letter telling me what a great parent he is. I'm not intending a critique of one man's parenting skills, I've never met the man. He just gave me some great material to start with.

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