Saturday, January 16, 2010

Perfectionist Parenting

I’m a big fan of The World’s Worst Mom. Lenore Skenazy received this dubious title after letting her nine-year-old son ride the NY subway alone. She’s a believer in free-range parenting, letting kids have a little more freedom than the average parent today can handle, and this radical belief launched her blog and her book on the same subject.

I try my best to be a free-range parent. My kids are 12 and 15. Little by little I’m loosening the apron strings, but it’s not easy. I give Lenore a lot of credit for her ability to give her son all the freedom he needs to learn true independence. And I read her blog every day.

One of the themes she talks about a lot is perfect parenting – not really to be confused with helicopter parenting, this is the idea that parents can and must do every little thing to ensure their child’s needs [and wants] are met 24/7. A recent blog post talked about this new item, to help crazed, perfection seeking new parents keep track of baby care responsibilities, like those easily forgotten chores of feeding, changing and bathing a newborn. You know how that is if you ever had kids, right? Hmmm...the baby doesn’t smell bad and isn’t crying...I wonder what I should be doing right now? Oh, ding...the timer says I need to put Baby Einstein on TV for him.

Let’s take a reality check. If you’ve ever had an infant, you know they come with a built in timer that tells you when to snap into action. One end smells bad when they need changing. The other end makes noise when they need feeding, burping, holding or sleep. Bathing usually causes that end to make noise too, so you do it at your own discretion. You don’t pay extra for this service, it’s all included in the purchase price – a mere $18 to $21 years of your life. Eventually they learn to take care of the smelly end themselves, but the noisy end never stops needing attention. They’re always telling you what they need and want and when you need to get it for them.

This product is just another example of the need to relieve ourselves of personal responsibility. You no longer have to keep your head about you while caring for your baby. This device will tell you exactly what to do and when to do it so you can relax. Because parenting is all about relaxing...or it should be, right?

I see this conversation happening:

Mom: I feel like I should be doing something for the baby.
Dad: The timer hasn’t gone off, so you’re golden. Relax.
Mom: Don’t you think it’s been a while since the timer went off?
Dad: No.
Mom: Maybe we should check on the timer.
Dad: Trust the timer.
Mom: I can’t. I’m worried about the timer. Did you set it the last time you changed the baby?
Dad: I didn’t change the baby last. You did.
Timer: Ding!
Mom [smiling]: Good, so that means it’s your turn now!
Dad [tossing timer in the diaper pail]. This thing sucks.

I’m all for trusting the timer. The one that comes with the baby. And trusting your instincts when it comes to parenting. I’m not sure I’d let my kid ride the NY subway alone – in fact, I wouldn’t even let my husband ride the NY subway alone, but I check out Free Range Kids for my daily dose of reality.


  1. Hadn't heard of the perfection parenting thing, but I have a good friend who works at a college who rants about helicopter parenting.

    Oh, and there are days that I live by my timer. Otherwise I'd never remember to take the laundry out of the washer....

  2. Helicopter parents are the subject at Free Range a lot. I know quite a few of them myself. Timing the laundry is something I can get behind. I can never remember to take stuff out of the dryer.

  3. We could probably all stand to be a little more "free range" in our parenting styles but for most parents their own self-image is so wrapped up in the achievements of their children, it is really hard to let this go. I have been writing all this month about perfectionism and today talked about the parent-child dynamic which many feel is the root of perfectionism. You may be curious to read it.