Thursday, August 7, 2008

I’m not flying this helicopter, but if I were, I’d hover a bit less

Quite a few of my friends are the parents of teenagers. Lately there's been a lot of publicity about helicopter parents, generally baby boomers who are over-involved in their own childrens’ lives. (Read this Subsidized in the City essay in Newsweek for a first-hand account of twenty-something “kids” who don’t know how to balance a checkbook, and the parents who don't seem to care.)

In the past week I personally have had two separate encounters that illustrate how helicopter parents are actually holding back their children:

Incident one: Last week, my friend L called and asked me to run over to the Walmart nearest me to scoop up some 5 cent notebooks for her son, who is heading to college in the fall. Without questioning, I jumped in my car because L, a single mother who has ably stretched a buck to send her son to private schools since the third grade, deserves a break. (Alas, Walmart was sold out, proving that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. It also proves my "Walmart is evil" theory, but more on that another time.)

The drive there, the frustrating and ultimately futile search through the giant store, and the empty-handed ride home gave me plenty of time to think. First, I was peeved that in the era of $4/gallon gas, I was driving all around metrowest for a 5 cent notebook. But second, why is L buying her son his college supplies? Why isn’t this 18 year-old, gainfully employed, legally adult person getting his own damned notebooks? Not to act like the old man shaking his fist at the folly of youth, but you can bet that I bought my own notebooks before heading off to college. And my pens, too. (And I even had money left over for the $3 cover for the keg parties.)

Incident two: A few days later, we had friends over for dinner when the phone rang. Normally, I would not interrupt dinner to answer a call, but caller ID told me that it was the girl I had hired to babysit the following week. I picked up the phone, hoping she wasn’t cancelling, and was surprised when her mother, my friend S, greeted me. S informed me that she had good news and bad news. The good news was that her daughter could still babysit, but she, S, wanted to let me know that since her daughter is a sophomore in college, she normally charges $15/hour for babysitting rather than the $12 she quoted me. But, since we’re such good friends and she adores my children so much, she offered me a friends and family discount. And S, being a self-employed lawyer, educated her daughter on making business connections and discounting her rates for good customers. I was too dumbfounded to answer her…was she telling me to pay her daughter $15?

So, if this girl is such a good babysitter and worth $15/hour, why couldn’t she tell me herself what her going rate was? I think S should have had the conversation with her daughter, and let the girl learn a lesson: you get what you ask for. Maybe next time a customer asks her her rate, she’ll tell them the truth.

(Oh, and totally unrelated, the bad news was truly bad: S’s dog and beloved companion for more than a decade passed away; the juxtaposition of these two bits of news only confused me more.)

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So, what will happen to these kids as they go through college? I don't know, but I'm also not sure that they're prepared well to do it on their own. My friend L (buyer of notebooks) has created a poster-board schedule for her son, showing him when his classes are, when he has time to study, and when he can go to the gym. S the lawyer is equally involved in her daughter's campus life, texting her between classes and scheduling her time off.

I'm trying my best not to judge, but I'm failing. I can't help but think this is too much, and I hope I learn from them so I fly a bit higher when my kids get to be young adults. The worry, to me, is that they're not helping these kids grow into productive, self-sufficient adults. And, ultimately, isn't this our job--our duty--as parents?

I wonder if these parents, who want to give their children the world, are raising a generation of people who wouldn’t know what to do with the world once they got it in their hands.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When well-rested becomes restless

I'm turning a corner that I'm not sure I want to turn.

I quit my job two months ago for many reasons: stress, burnout, lousy work situation, lack of work/life balance, insomnia, floundering marriage, bratty kids, general unhappiness, you choose.

For the past two months, I've been pausing, taking a breather, getting my head and my home back in order. I've gone on vacation, taken day trips with the kids, gone to the beach, weeded the garden, and cleaned the house. I've started to be a professional stay-at-home mom, which means that I've started volunteering.

Now, after more than 60 restful nights, I'm looking at the corner and trying to see around it. I feel restless and I want to know what's next. I've updated my resume and have started to look at job boards. I am talking to recruiters. I think I might be ready to jump back in--but this time, it's going to be different.

This time, I will be patient, because I want the right role. It needs to be a flexible, maybe part-time, gig that allows me to use my brain and my experience. A job that ends when I turn off the computer at the end of the day. Something that energizes me, instead of draining my energy, and doesn't keep me tossing and turning all night. Something that doesn't pull me apart.

Does it exist? Or will I have to create it for myself?

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Christmas Tree and the Toilet

Now that I’m not working, I’m watching some daytime TV. Not a lot, because I actually have a lot of work to do. A few weeks ago I was watching the Rachael Ray show while I was doing some of my work for the IABC. I figure the TV is nice background noise, and maybe I’ll be inspired to cook something new for dinner!

One of the guests on the show was a stay at home mother who felt left out. She quit her job to stay home with her child, but she found that it’s not all that she expected. She didn't think that she was connecting with her son and felt like a third wheel when her husband gets home because her son is overjoyed at seeing him. She said she "feels like the furniture."

Aha! I’ve been saying this to my husband for years—maybe a bit more crudely, though, to get my point across. Even when I worked—full time or part time, it didn’t matter—I was the primary caregiver. I was the one who managed most of the daycare issues, handled the meals, did the grocery shopping, dressed the kids, made sure the house was clean. Essentially, after working a full day, I came home to another full time job. And I’m not alone—many of my working mother friends say the same thing (and this study backs it up).

And the kids never thanked me for it. My husband just expected it.

I told him that I felt like the toilet—literally crapped on all the time. I was useful and necessary—in fact the house would collapse if I were not working (just think what would happen if your toilet stopped working)! The worst thing, though, was that the kids treated him like a Christmas Tree! YAY, Daddy’s here!

But the show did provide some helpful hints to battle “third wheel syndrome”. I’ve paraphrased them here but you can also go to the episode and check out the whole segment.
· Look at your sleep and ask if you feel rested.
· Make sure you are eating healthily, as a family unit.
· Is your work fulfilling? If not, find something that can make you happy
· Are your intimate relationships where you want them to be?

So, being the action-oriented person I always told everyone at the office I was, I have to bottom line it: Bottom line, you need to take care of yourself if you’re going to take care of others. You have to acknowledge the issue(s), then address it, so you can take responsibility for your own actions.

Now, back to cleaning the toilets!