Sunday, August 24, 2008

put on your own mask first...

So I'm joining a new book club this week, made up mostly of moms... and our first book to read is The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine. It's about "how parental pressure and material advantage are creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids". The amateur psychologist in me loved reading it. And the mom in me wants to buy 500 copies and start passing them out to everyone I know. Not that the book gives concrete solutions on how to parent if you are an affluent family, but it does bring up some key points that I think are valuable for a mother's self reflection. And a father's too but it is mostly geared to moms.

What's so great about it? Glad you asked. Here are the highpoints (cliffnotes don't cover this kind of thing...) or what I took from the book.
It turns out, parents really can screw up their kids. If the are depressed, absent, mean, etc, it really messes up their kids. Therapy can and does help, but you should get the whole family started ASAP if you are messed up. And most families don't want to admit they are messed up so instead they choose to be miserable and messed up instead of embarrassed and working on getting un-messed up. Funny how that is. However, whether you are a working mom or a stay-at-home mom doesn't seem to correlate with how messed up your kids are.

According to the book, we are all a mirror of our parents-- imagine that. But really, I like to help others because that's what my mom taught me was the right thing to do. But it also works in reverse. If you are a jackass to others, your kids will be rude jackasses too. And the rest of the world won't thank you for that later.

All ages are important for kids developmentally, but ages 12-18 are key in an adolescent's life since that is when they need to find a sense of self and what they like/dislike, etc. That is not the time to say, "I'm a Dr so Johnny is going to be a Dr too." And really not the time to say, "Susie, I think you need a boob job and some lipo so that you can run with the popular crowd, oh, and here's a new porche for turning 16." It isn't the time to demand perfect grades or steer your kid to be captain of the football team when he wants to play the lead in Oklahoma. No wonder kids these days are completely messed up. Hello! Where's captain obvious when you need him?

As a parent, we also need to be positive and supportive. Not critical, judgemental and overbearing. Involved is good, but over involved is bad. Setting limits and rules is good, as well as enforcing them consistently. Balance. They need space and privacy, but not aloof parents who leave them home alone for a weekend--and then act shocked when they throw a huge keg party and you get a collect call from jail while sunning in the Caymans. Uh, duh. Hire a responsible sitter you moron.

(Some of the stories she tells are so obvious-- or should be-- but parents these days really don't get it.)

What I also like about it is that she says you should NEVER let your kids buy their way out of trouble. And I completely agree. Her kid once had a drinking party that got busted while she was upstairs sleeping and she made her son go to court and testify that the charges against her should be dropped. He and his friends cleaned up the house, he missed several basketball games, attended all lawyer meetings, paid lawyer fees. events, and all in all, she taught him a real lesson and part of his punishment was dealing with the consequences of his actions. Love it.

She also explains 3 types of parenting styles -- Because I said so, I want to be your best friend and then the Authoritative warm parent who is loving but also sets limits. My dad was the first, my mom the second, and Rick's parents were the third. No wonder he and his sisters turned out as good as they did. Not only did his parents pick the best of the three styles, but they both did it. And surprise surprise, you and your spouse really need to be on the same page with how you parent.

And finally, my favorite part of the book is the last chapter where she talks about how important it is, as they say on airlines, to put on your own mask before assisting your children with theirs. We moms need to take care of ourselves and make sure that we are setting good examples for our children, leading balanced lives so we are available to them when they need us, and modeling healthy relationships to ensure that we don't set them up for messed up lives of their own. She makes a point to say she understands all that moms are dealing with and juggling and it is hard to keep up appearances when you are doing so much. Just try your best to keep a balance in life and it will all work out.

Moral of the story: It's a good book, parents make all the difference in the world, and hopefully this book will help them realize how much impact they have on their kid's lives and encourage them to seek help instead of trying to save face if they can't manage--after all, seeing a shrink is a lot better than having a kid hurt themselves or someone else.

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