Raising Independent Kids

A friend I saw recently in California, a stay-at-home mom, told me about trying to calm her five-year-old's night terrors with a promise that set off alarms in my head: No one but mommy or daddy would put him to bed. Forever.

"Isn't it wonderful how we parent today?" my friend asked me, her voice tinged with pride. "He will never need therapy like we did."

I looked at her like she was crazy or joking. She was totally serious.

In the future, slapstick comedy writers will mock college-educated, turn-of-the-20th-century American moms as the nuttiest, most control-freakish, paranoid guardians of all time. We don't let our kids walk home from school. Neighborhood parks are filled with dogs instead of 10-year-olds because kids can't go anywhere unsupervised. Moms "help" with homework -- even with kids in college. Under the guise of loving our children, we give them the skewed message that the world is too much for them.

A hidden advantage of working motherhood comes into play here: Work forces moms to let go in constructive, healthy ways. I've always had to trust other caregivers, parents, and teachers. To be so wackily overprotective, you have to be there 24/7 -- at school and play dates and bedtime. I've never been with my kids all the time because a lot of time, I am at work.

Most important, work forces me to trust my kids. My son pipes up when a new babysitter turns on the tv instead of reading stories as I'd asked. My three-year-old tells me whose house she likes to go to for play dates and the homes where she feels uneasy. Bested by the daily rush-home-make-dinner-forgot-to-buy-milk insanity, I've sent my seven-year-old to the corner grocery alone since she turned six. Recently, she popped into the shoe store while I parked, and by the time I arrived, she'd bought two pairs of sneakers by herself.

The truth is that one day, I won't be here to tuck them in or buy them shoes or protect them from cars that run stop signs and strangers who do worse. My kids will have to take life on its terms, alone, as we all do. Part of my job as their mother is to ensure they are ready when that day arrives.

Independence comes their way in manageable doses, and my kids are proud of what they can handle solo. I'm not arguing that working motherhood makes me a perfect mom. I've got my psycho kinks, like we all do. But I'm pleased to say that when the time comes, my kids will be able to find their own therapist -- without my help.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  April 3, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Raising Great Kids
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"No one but mommy or daddy would put him to bed. Forever."

Yikes, as Mary Poppins says, that's a pie crust promise, easily made, easily broken.

How unfortunate for children that they don't have various loving adults in their lives who can tuck them in. How unfortunate for the parents that they are chained to a promise that keeps them from getting away to refresh their marriage. Family emergencies, like childbirth and sick parents can mess that promise up. Life's little annoyances can mess that promise up.

At five and three our kids had loving adult cousins and grandparents to tuck them in while my husband and I attended a wedding in Alaska. At ten, my son went away with his fifth grade class on an overnight outdoor classroom experience. He knew how to ask another adult to help him when he got a little uncomfortable at night in a tent.

My kids are everything to me, but they cannot grow up thinking that the world revolves around them. Their bosses someday will not agree with them. Better they learn from someone who loves them, than in the bigger world.

Posted by: Kate in VA | April 3, 2006 7:15 AM

Nothing like setting up a series of straw men. That 5-year-old probably also still believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, not to mention the Tooth Fairy. The tuck-in promise is harmless in the long term, just like those other beliefs. And the reason kids can't walk to school or play in parks unsupervised is because there are PREDATORS out there, sexual and otherwise. I don't have a problem with working moms per se, but the ones for whom it is optional and yet who wear it as some sort of Red Badge of Courage (I used to work with one) drive me nuts. My first wife was a stay at home mom, and she was wonderful. She died when our kids were 8 and 11, and they were independent enough for me to cope while working full time, with minimal family help. I think you're trying too hard to justify your status as a working mom; maybe YOU need the therapy.

Posted by: Once a Widowed Dad | April 3, 2006 8:41 AM

I live in Spain and kids here are much more independent when it comes to doing things for themselves and being responsible for their own happiness. Kids here are able to play independently, have their own social life, and go into a store and order what they want and pay for it at an age when most American kids are still wearing diapers.

The world is not full of predators. Kids are most at risk from the predators in their own homes. How sad that some people fall for the notion that locking children away in gilded cages is the best way to take care of them.

Posted by: mc | April 3, 2006 8:48 AM

Hmm,I guess we all have different tolerance levels for different things. I have no problem letting my 9 and 11 year olds play outside in the neighborhood common areas with their friends for hours at a time, and they've been doing that for years. But there's no way I ever would have let a 7 year old go into a store alone while I parked the car. Too easy for someone to whisk the child out a side entrance and that child to be gone forever. (But even there, the fear is exaggerated, stranger abductions are very rare).

Posted by: LR | April 3, 2006 9:03 AM

It is interesting to watch kids in Europe - in Parisian parks for example. They run and play (and ride their bikes w/o helmets) with very little adult supervision or intervention. I think many American parents have become too paranoid about things - I understand the fear of predators, but is that really worse than 25 or 30 years ago when my sister and I walked to and from school every day?

Posted by: South Carolina | April 3, 2006 9:04 AM

The writer implies that only working-for-pay-Moms raise independent children. That is a broad assumption that certainly doesn't apply to my parenting style. As a full-time mother, I encourage independence in my children. My boys at ages 6 and 4 do many things for themselves that their peers do not, regardless of whether their mothers work for pay or are full-time mothering at home. My boys dress themselves, do their own seat belts, make their own PB&Js, and pick up their own toys everyday. And once my younger son is in first grade, they will both walk down the street to school together unsupervised.

Posted by: Ann of Alexandria | April 3, 2006 9:21 AM

My sons ride their bikes and rollerblade without helmets. They play in the park with other kids. They participate in lots of rough team sports. I let them play in the mud, and they bring home all sorts of dirty little critters they picked up off the ground. I ENCOURAGE this sort of behavior, and I know I'll catch hell from some of the uber-mommies on this site, but here is why I do it: There is a tiny, tiny chance my sons will suffer permanent or any damage from those activities, but by not letting them be kids there's a huge chance they will grow up to be ill-adjusted sissies. My sons are confident, smart, and competent. Even at the tender ages of 9 and 6, they feel like they can conquer the world. So what if there are a few scars, bumps and bruises?

Posted by: TX Mom | April 3, 2006 9:23 AM

Soon your children will be grown and off to college.I wonder how you will feel at missing so much of their childhood.I have been at home for 17 years with my children and would not trade a day of it for any career.

Posted by: em | April 3, 2006 9:23 AM

Oh TX mom..

"My sons ride their bikes and rollerblade without helmets"

"There is a tiny, tiny chance my sons will suffer permanent or any damage from those activities, but by not letting them be kids there's a huge chance they will grow up to be ill-adjusted sissies"

So, by wearing a helmet they are not being kids and will become sissies?? They have a greater chance of growing up brain-injured or not growing up at all then becoming sissies.

I once hit a patch of wet leaves while riding my bike. I went down hard. Didn't notice until hours later that the side of my helmet was banged up. Could have been my head.

Posted by: Father of 2 | April 3, 2006 9:33 AM

Once again there is no right or wrong for this issue but once again Leslie, you choose language that demagouges one side of the debate. I am beginning to think that YOU have a serious insecurity problem and feel that you must somehow defend the choices you make. The TRUTH is as has been said numerous times there are advantage and disadvantages to both work at home and stay at home moms and one way is not more right than the other.

P.S. my mom was a stay-at-home mom and I am living very well and independently.

Posted by: Commenters rock | April 3, 2006 9:33 AM

It's not so much that kids are overprotected by their mothers as it is that every waking moment of their lives is scheduled. There is no "scheduled" time for playing in the park, playing with friends or anything unstructured. These kids not only aren't independent, they can't even think for themselves. Setting kids up with false promises will severely damage them in more ways than making them less independent. Kids love responsibility and giving them age appropriate responsibilities goes a long way. My kids, 7 and 5, thrive on independence such as being responsible for getting dressed and ready for school each day, making beds, bringing the hampers down to the laundry room, reserving library books online, paying their cub scout dues out of allowance, making their sunday school offering out of allowance, feeding the cats, weeding their own vegetable garden, setting the table, clearing their dishes from the table and putting them in the dishwasher, writing a grocery list and helping to put it in the cart, etc. However, the other day at Lowe's, when I turned to put my bags into the cart, they promptly left the store. 20 people stood in judgment of me as I yelled at them outside for leaving without me. Overprotective, maybe, but there is no way they are going to head out into a parking lot without me. Also, my 7 year old pitches a fit when I take him to the family bathroom at Fed Ex Field during Redskin Games. No way am I letting him go into a men's room by himself there. Increasingly more age appropriate responsibility is the way to go.

Posted by: Jennifer of Potomac | April 3, 2006 9:34 AM

I don't think she's saying that only working moms can raise independent children. Stay-at-home parents get to choose whether to nurture independence or stifle it, simply because they're there most of/all the time. Working parents don't have the choice because they simply don't have the opportunity.

Posted by: SEP | April 3, 2006 9:36 AM

"Soon your children will be grown and off to college.I wonder how you will feel at missing so much of their childhood.I have been at home for 17 years with my children and would not trade a day of it for any career."

Jesus H. Christ!

Superior, ever?

Why would you say something like this?!

What is it about child raising that makes people feel so justified at being so awfully hurtful to each other?

Posted by: anon | April 3, 2006 9:38 AM

I agree with Ms. Steiner that children today are far too coddled and overprotected by their parents (moms and dads). This state of affairs, however, has nothing to do with whether the mother is "stay at home" or employed. By trying to link the two, Ms. Steiner seems to be reaching for another reason to make herself feel good about working outside the home.

I can just as easily make the connection between my being home with my children (I am a stay-at-home mom) and their level of independence. For example, my children spend large chunks of unsupervised time playing in our back yard with neighborhood children, where they decide how to play, mediate their own fights and solve their own problems. I make sure everyone is accounted for by watching them through the window, but I don't rush to intervene if conflicts occur. By contrast, I've noticed that many of my friends who are employed feel the need to "play with" their children, to structure their time, and to be constantly involved in making sure everyone is happy and having fun. Their children seem at a loss when mom isn't telling them what to do next.

Having said this, I think fostering independence in one's children has nothing to do with whether the mom is "at home" or employed -- anecdotes can be described but really prove nothing. Some parents want children to be more independent, others want to protect -- it's a personal style issue, not an employment issue.

Posted by: Mary | April 3, 2006 9:39 AM

Striking the right balance between protection, support and independence is a tough one, whether you work or not. It only becomes tougher as kids get older.

The world has changed since we were kids. There may not be more predators, but we are certainly more aware of them. There are also new kinds of predators - I'm thinking of the internet here. There are generally fewer moms at home in most neighborhoods to watch over what's going on.

True night terrors are pretty common among young children. The fear is completely irrational. At the time, all a child needs is some comfort and reassurance until their fear dies down. Basically, "mommy/daddy is right here; it's all right; go back to sleep; I'll stay right here with you."

Saying that you'll tuck a child in every night of their life is obviously a silly promise. I suspect that this mom was just trying to reassure her five year old that she would always be there for him. Moms often have a very good sense for what may be worrying a child (my wife does, at least), and I suspect that's exactly the kind of reassurance he needed.

Night terrors are no fun for anyone - I've been on both sides (as the kid, and as the parent). It's more than a little disconcerting to have your preschooler wake up screaming as if they're being murdered. It's not surprising that a parent would find themselves saying most anything to help calm a child down. I wouldn't worry about it unless there are other reasons to believe that the boy is being over protected.

At this point, I would put in a plug for dads. Whether it's cultural, genetic, or a bit of both, in many families the dad seems to strike a little different balance between protection/independence than the mom does. That's one of the advantages of having two parents - it gives children the chance to benefit from the slightly different approaches of two different people.

Posted by: Older Dad | April 3, 2006 9:40 AM

I was the 4th of 4 boys. My parents quit over parenting by the time I came around. Actually, no one ever accused my dad of over-parenting. I once skipped school for a whole week playing in the woods on the way to school, hiding from the cars passing by. It was great fun, then I got busted.

If my parents had over parented me, I wouldn't have had the oppurtunity for such wonderful memories. (and I turned out fine in the end, thank you)

One big difference on the walk to school issue is the roads are markedly more dangerous here and now than they were in my youth. Some pieces of independence are based on the maturity required to handle likely to occur scenarios - which differ from family to family.

Posted by: Pat in Alex | April 3, 2006 9:53 AM

I agree with the writer completely. My wife and I raised 2 independent daughters by letting them go find the world. They were spending nights alone with relatives by the time they were 5. They did not spend their childhood in front of TV, they were outside. They went away to college and to Europe without assistance and hand-holding. They now live independent lives without financial help or other day-to-day assistance. I amthere for them and we talk about life decisions and they visit and communicate. So far, not much therapy, but THAT's a decision I would not want to help them with!

Posted by: dad | April 3, 2006 9:57 AM

Oh, the safety gear is a double edged sword in my opinion. Helmets, pads, etc. While they do protect from bumps and bruises, they also allow children a zone of comfort which enables them to take ever more risks.

The wide-spread trickery done on skateboards, bikes, rollerblades, etc. Millions of kids never would have had the courage (or endurance) to learn without the initial protection provided by modern safety gear.

Posted by: Pat in Alex | April 3, 2006 9:58 AM

My 15 and 11 year-old sons are so much more independent than most of their friends. I'm proud of that because the messages coming at parents overwhelmingly encourage us toward over-protection and isolation. The hardest thing I ever had to do was let my then 12-year-old go to Europe as part of a student ambassador program...in 2003, less than 2 years after 9-11. Was I worried? Of course, but we didn't let the concern overshadow the amazing opportunity that trip offered to my son. Today, he is so much more self-confident and self-reliant than his peers. He does his own laundry, is learning to cook, rides his bike 2 miles to go play basketball with his friends, in short, he is growing up with confidence. I try always to remind myself that I am not raising children. I am raising adults!

Posted by: Kim in FL | April 3, 2006 9:59 AM

I guess I have tried to have it both ways - when my kids were little I tucked them in and read to them and would lie down with them if they wanted, as much as they wanted... all the time encouraging and rewarding as much independence as they wanted and could handle at any given age. I would not allow them to walk to the store alone at 7 but at 9 or 10, OK... and I have always worked and have been a single mom for most of their childhoods. I think you have to strike a balance between independence and nuturing, with a realistic amount of caution but not paranoia. I do think that people overblow the chances of abduction and the like, and have been careful not to give my kids a sense that the world is a menacing place, while still trying to keep them safe. This included almost complete independence and responsibility by the end of high school. Now one is out of college and totally independent, the other a junior in college and doing pretty well. So I think the approach has worked out OK.

Posted by: Catherine | April 3, 2006 10:00 AM

"Soon your children will be grown and off to college.I wonder how you will feel at missing so much of their childhood.I have been at home for 17 years with my children and would not trade a day of it for any career."

I bet that your children feel differently. If you have a daughter, I wouldn't be surprised if she decided to work full time when she has children. Seeing you every day, constantly trying to justify your own existence must have been quite discouraging.

Posted by: LC | April 3, 2006 10:04 AM

My kid has ADD. I WISH I could leave him to his own devices, but I'm afraid he'd never get out of his room (for counting the ceiling tiles). I've also been recruited by the school and the teachers to monitor the homework. I have no idea how this kid will survive in the world.

I second the person who said we are more aware of dangers today. Mass communication and too much "Dateline" have made Americans fearful and over-protective.

Posted by: Lorna | April 3, 2006 10:05 AM

em,
"Soon your children will be grown and off to college. I wonder how you will feel at missing so much of their childhood.I have been at home for 17 years with my children and would not trade a day of it for any career."

Give me a BREAK! I wonder how your children feel having such a smug and self-important-feeling parent.

Even stay-at-home parents miss "so much" of their childrens' days - the several hours a day they're at school. Or maybe you think they should also follow them to school and sit next to them all day? Because, otherwise, they might miss a Super Important Moment in their child's life - the moment they learn to spell a certain word, to do a certain kind of math, etc. Why let a teacher, and not you, share that Important Moment with your child?

Posted by: Happy Child of Working Parents | April 3, 2006 10:05 AM

There's absolutely nothing smug or self-important about valuing the time we have with our kids. Looking back, I wish I'd spent more time with mine - for my benefit. I don't have any illusion that it would have made their lives better - my wife was home with them, and has done a wonderful job. But I've missed some good times - and the opportunity is now gone (unless I'm blessed with grandkids).

Posted by: Older Dad | April 3, 2006 10:16 AM

Leslie,
I agree with your premise here, but I think you once again set it in real "mommy wars" terms, as opposed to "This is what one mom does, what does the peanut gallery think?".

But back to your premise--I couldn't agree more that we don't let our kids grow up to be adults. I have a 24 year old sister (I'm 35) who still wants to be a kid because of coddling by our parents (as opposed to me, who was up and out by 19). Apparently something happened in society between the 80s and 90s/00s that really changed the way kids were raised, even in the same family. I definitely care for my son, but let him test out his wings!

Posted by: PTJob FT Mom | April 3, 2006 10:18 AM

You can value time with your own children. However, it is smug when you make those comments about a stranger.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 10:20 AM

I would sure hate to be a "friend" of Leslie's. You never know when she is going to tell some snide anecdote about you to her public. Good thing she is so perfect.

Leslie continues to invent a war that doesn't need to exist to sell her book. Rather than being informative, this blog is all about Leslie letting people know that she is raising her children better than all the people surrounding her -including her husband.

Independent kids come from all sorts of households. The mass generalizations really take away from any of Leslie's credibility.

Posted by: Give Me A Break | April 3, 2006 10:26 AM

Give Me A Break -- this is not a war of Leslie's invention. There are several books out right now about these existential crises. And unless Leslie is posting comments to her own blog, you can see there are plenty of soldiers on both sides. She's fomenting discussion through her own anecdotes -- and really, what's so harmful about passionately talking about these issues? If you can't take the heat, get out of the blog.

That said, this is problematic:

"Soon your children will be grown and off to college.I wonder how you will feel at missing so much of their childhood.I have been at home for 17 years with my children and would not trade a day of it for any career."

OK, well as the adult daughter of a working mom, sure she wasn't there for every waking moment of my childhood but now that I'm grown, I appreciate and respect her for having done so much with her career. My mom is a brilliant businesswoman in a field dominated by men, and she's given me something I hope to aspire to. That's something that's arguably more important at this stage of my life than it was when I made my own PB&J while she was in a morning board meeting.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 10:48 AM

Fabulous! Your 7-year-old daughter can buy shoes without your permission and your son is an excellent tattler! No wonder you're so proud!

My 8 year-old daughter can strke-out the side and score goals with both feet!

Posted by: pta mom | April 3, 2006 11:07 AM

Lorna, and anyone else whose kid has ADD/ADHD -- you have to read "Driven to Distraction." It is written by two psychiatrists who themselves have ADHD, and it will help you see your child's strengths as well as weaknesses, and provide a roadmap for helping him/her be independent eventually.

Posted by: anon | April 3, 2006 11:09 AM

I for one applaud those who coddle their children to the point where they can't take care of themselves. It means there will be less competition down the line for my own kids once they enter high school, college, and the work force.

Posted by: Indie mom | April 3, 2006 11:13 AM

"Soon your children will be grown and off to college.I wonder how you will feel at missing so much of their childhood.I have been at home for 17 years with my children and would not trade a day of it for any career."

I'm sorry, but you ask for it.

Can you explain to me why your 17 year old needs you to stay home all day while she/he goes to school?

Posted by: Scarry | April 3, 2006 11:17 AM

Until today's blog entry, I felt that some readers were overreacting to Leslie's anecdotes when they characterized them as purposely attempting to instigate controversy. However, today I have to agree with them. The issue supposedly to be discussed is whether or not parents these days are overprotective. But by identifying a mother as a SAHM (which was irrelevant to the point being made) and then pretty directly implying that she is "wacky," an important topic of discussion has again turned into stay-at-home versus working moms. As a journalist, Ms. Steiner knows how important word choice is, and she has seen firsthand in this blog how hers have been viewed as inflammatory. And yet she persists. For readers who don't agree, try to imagine if Leslie had written the exact same story, but instead of specifying SAHM, she had said "Black mom," or "Hispanic mom," or "White mom." Seem inflammatory now?

Posted by: auntie | April 3, 2006 11:19 AM

"But I'm pleased to say that when the time comes, my kids will be able to find their own therapist -- without my help."

I'm glad you realize that your kids will need a therapist!! You are just trying to justify your own decision to work. Society today has lost its bearings. According to society (and its experts) :
- Absentee parents are good.
- Stay at home parents spoil kids.
- Mother and father don't really matter.
- Mother and mother will do just as well.
- Father and father will do just as well.
- Its a lump of flesh inside you, abort at your wish and whim.
- Disabled children can be disposed (Peter Singer)
- we are all random products of a primordial slum anyway, no different than animals

and when something like Columbine happens, we wonder why?

Posted by: kart | April 3, 2006 11:21 AM

My 4-year-old is allowed to walk to our neighborhood playground by herself.

Granted, we are in a special case-- we live in a cohousing neighborhood, a collection of private homes that also has shared common spaces. The neighbors share a desire to actually know and support each other-- to be a village. The playground is about 200 feet from our house, and there is only a pedestrian walkway between our house and the playground-- no cars allowed. She knows where to find us if there's a problem-- we're still in earshot. More than that, when she's at the playground we know that there are other kids around, older kids that we know and trust, and we know that other neighbors will be walking by (or have houses overlooking the playground) and are ready to help out if something goes wrong. If there's ever a stranger that enters the neighborhood, they are greeted in a friendly manner and asked who they are visiting. It's a very safe place, and because of that our neighborhood's kids have a lot more freedom than most kids we know-- and even more than I did when I was growing up.

Posted by: Ms L | April 3, 2006 11:21 AM

Hear, hear. We all grew up this way - why won't so many of us raise our kids likewise?
I was riding my bike a mile to the community swimming pool when I was 7. I was riding 3 miles into town with my best friend when I was 12; we bought lunch at the root-beer stand, went to the hobby store and the video arcade, and never ONCE had any kind of trouble. You can't keep kids wrapped in blankets all their lives!

Posted by: John | April 3, 2006 11:23 AM

I am also a working mom, and I fully appreciate the idea that kids should learn to be responsible and independent. It is foolish to believe that we live in a place where children can and should be out unsupervised for extended periods of time, however. I don't know what neighborhood you live in, but last I checked, kids were being inducted into gangs as young as 8 years old right in our own backyard. If those kids' parents aren't out there, somebody's parents better be. When I was growing up, we couldn't spit on the sidewalk without a parent lurking in the shadows and reporting back to our parents what we had done. We always had to illusion of independence with the safety of supervision. There is a balance, and it not found in sending our children out into a dangerous city alone and pretend that we are doing them a favor by spending all our time at work.

Posted by: Monique | April 3, 2006 11:24 AM

I don't get the connection she's trying to make between working mom and not being paranoid/raising independent kids????

I disagree with some of her values- having a kid be aware and trusting enough to say "I don't really like going to that house" is hardly the same as them being able to know what to look for in shoes- fit, style, price, quality. But kids vary greatly and parents are all wacky in all different ways.

The author seems to try very hard to justify her choices on working by pointing out what stay at home moms supposedly fail at. Unfortunately, she fails at both points.

Posted by: Liz | April 3, 2006 11:26 AM

Kart -- not only that but miscegenation is allowed and wives are no longer their husbands' property. Progress is a horrible thing, isn't it?

And what society are you living in that agrees with Peter Singer? He's fringe at best.

Posted by: Ironical feminist | April 3, 2006 11:29 AM

I'd keep an eye on the buying shoes thing. It could get out of hand easily.

It's good for kids to be out and around, but I like a derivation of the 'left alone' rule from the state of Maryland: A child under the age of 8 shouldn't be left alone, and a children under the age of 13 shouldn't be left to watch younger children. I think this legitimatly applies to outdoor/public place excursions. It's one thing to be in the yard playing ball with Mom inside, and another to be at the park several blocks away by themselves.

On the issue of helmets. My boys ditch helmets whenever they can. So I feel I need to harp on helmets, and not let that slide. All it takes is a small tap from a car bumper or a spill to crack a head. I know they won't always wear them, but it won't be becaues I didn't tell them to. By the way, I ALWAYS wear my helmet.

Posted by: Roseg | April 3, 2006 11:36 AM

Kart - get our own column to push your agenda.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 11:39 AM

Ironical feminist: The same logic that leads you to call "abortion" as progress also leads you to Peter Singer. You can classify him as fringe, but you can't logically defend abortion while decrying Singer.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 11:44 AM

Granted I don't have kids yet, but isn't this debate relatively simple to boil down? I'm considering having children in the next five years and this seems to be the breakdown:

SAHM
Pros: Can give full attention to children's needs, enjoys relaxed pace to life/no deadlines, no need to outsource housekeeping or help with children
Cons: Isolation, less intellectual stimulation, total reliance on one income, potential for boredom

Employed mom
Pros: Regular social contact with peers, increased financial security, intellectual challenges, independence
Cons: Reduced time with family, increased stress

Shouldn't we all just decide for ourselves which fits better with our personalities? And are there any major points I'm missing?

Posted by: Not a mom | April 3, 2006 11:44 AM

With our 1st child, we sterolyzed the kitchen floor, used the babygate, plastic outlet guards... By our 4th, we didn't even flinch when he dropped his lollipop in the dirt and, pick it up to put it back in his mouth. There is an agency in our county called the Child Protection Service (CPS) which publishes age-based parental supervision "guidelines". This is necessary because there are so many people making babies in my community that don't have a clue on how to raise them. I've heard statements like "I can't wait till my son turns 8 next month because I'm allowed to let him stay at home for an hour while I go shopping".
I taught my 3 year old to ride a bicycle. (Actually he taught himself, all I did was take the training wheels off and give him a push) I taught him rule #1: Never ride without a helmut. I'm not worried about the safety issue, what I'm really worried about is one of these coddling Mothers in my neighborhood who have the CPS phone number posted by their phone along with the emergency numbers that use the CPS as a tattletale agency to harass the families they don't like. The CPS has a tremendous amout of authority over parents. One of the last things I need is to pay a lawyer to have my child raised in a family where he is loved, and I've already been put on the "watch list" by the pack for bringing my 6 year old to the park barefoot. So for those of you who let yourr 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grader walk to school on their own, just to let you know, some of the Mothers I live next to consider it a definate act of neglect.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 3, 2006 11:54 AM

Not a mom:

That's exactly right. The issue becomes heated because of two things. First, people believe that they can, by looking at the particular choices people make, draw some inferences about the weight others place on the various considerations you mentioned. Second, the issues involved cut to the heart of our lives and families - we all tend to look back at the results of our choices and ask "did I do the right thing?"

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 11:54 AM

It seems like fearful parents run on the assumption that the world is more dangerous than it's ever been. But is this true? How different is today's fear of terrorism than yesterday's fear of mushroom clouds? Are there more sexual predators on the streets than there were 20 years ago or are we just more aware of them? Crime rates are down across the nation. Childhood diseased like polio have been eradicated. Fewer people are smoking. More of us wear seatbelts and helmets. So what's the deal?

My sense is that the enormous amount of fear-oriented media we absorb each day has warped our sense of safety. So even though I agree that some parents' fears seem over the top I understand how they acquired them. Magazines, TV news, etc... are flooded with fear-based info. "Top ten things you can do to protect your family from 'X' today!" That sort of thing...

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 12:02 PM

Re: the fear-oriented media, I agree with you although I'd place the burden on the newsmakers, not the news. The current administration has used fear as a political tactic to unimagined success. As long as we feel beseiged by danger that only certain politicians can protect us from, it will continue to dominate the news and affect how we view the big, evil world.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 12:11 PM

Wow, as someone who does not yet have kids, reading this blog and the comments does not make me want any. Why would I want to be so insane? The SAHMs seem to be bitter about not working but are high and mighty about giving up their happiness for the "sake of their kids" (how can you say you are not when you start posts saying "I left an executive track job") and the ones who are working seem to think they are better because the other side "has it so easy".

Why can't you all make a decision you are happy with and enjoy it? Is there anyone out there who is just happy to be home/working and not worried about what the other side thinks? Seriously. And if you don't like the choice you made, change it. Everyone makes mistakes. The only thing that makes them wrong is complaining about the outcome rather than doing something about it.

Not matter what you chose, you are going to have a negative affect on your child if you are bitter and arguing against people who make other choices. What kids need is for their parents to feel confident and happy. Remember, they are also learning from watching you from afar and not just from what you say.

Posted by: No Kids | April 3, 2006 12:13 PM

"The current administration has used fear as a political tactic to unimagined success..."

Yep, I agree. At the same time, having worked in media (TV, etc...) production for nearly 10 years, I know first-hand that sensationalism sells (Exhibit A: Leslie's blog)!

I'd like to start a family but am not rushing into it. Still lots of questions about what being a parent in our current culture means. I've watched many of my formerly interesting, accomplished girlfriends become obsessive and judgemental upon the births of their first children. Interesting...

Posted by: Friend | April 3, 2006 12:25 PM

TX Mom:

"My sons ride their bikes and rollerblade without helmets. They play in the park with other kids. They participate in lots of rough team sports. I let them play in the mud, and they bring home all sorts of dirty little critters they picked up off the ground. I ENCOURAGE this sort of behavior, and I know I'll catch hell from some of the uber-mommies on this site, but here is why I do it: There is a tiny, tiny chance my sons will suffer permanent or any damage from those activities, but by not letting them be kids there's a huge chance they will grow up to be ill-adjusted sissies. My sons are confident, smart, and competent. Even at the tender ages of 9 and 6, they feel like they can conquer the world. So what if there are a few scars, bumps and bruises?"

Um... they're 9 and 6. They CAN'T conquer the world. No part of their body or brain is fully developed.

If you're lucky, they'll avoid serious injury, infection, etc., but it seems they stand a good chance of growing up uber-macho and misogynistic ("sissies"!?).

Come to think of it, does "encouraging" this behavior mean that you DISCOURAGE them -- impugn their masculinity -- if they decide one day to wear a helmet? Will you call them "sissies"?

Playing in the mud is harmless. Playing with your kids' minds at this tender age... not so much.

Posted by: L.R. | April 3, 2006 12:26 PM

Kids shouldn't be over coddled or over protected, but I agree with the comment that letting a 7 year old go into a store alone is not very wise...

I encourage everyone to check out their neighborhood's sexual predators on:

www.familywatchdog.us

You might be surprised at who lives around the corner. The media does hype things up, but there are also real threats out there-- not only to kids, but to women and all of us. My husband and I were floored when we found out a convicted child molester living in our building (there are many kids in the building and in the neighborhood).

Posted by: JustAThought | April 3, 2006 12:30 PM

Few things are as scary as parenting. My son is encouraged to be independent about many things. However, there is no way that I am running the risk of abduction for him. While he is small enough to be picked up physically by an adult and put in a car, and unsophisticated enough to be possibly lured away, he will not be left unattended on the streets and in public places, even (especially) those geared for kids. He will also not be left with people I do not implicitly trust.

Pedophiles are everywhere. I've known a few. Some were relatives. One was one of my teachers, who taught Sunday school and molested several of his male students.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 12:31 PM

I've often wondered if the world has become more dangerous in the last 25 years, or if we as a nation have become more paranoid. I suspect the latter.

That being said, my brother and I ran around completely unsupervised for most of my childhood. Although we never came into any harm or were threatened by an "predators", we did get into a great deal of trouble. I wouldn't give up those memories for the world. :D

Posted by: LB | April 3, 2006 12:32 PM

Someone on the post mentioned that Leslie is a journalist. Actually, her career seems to have been focused on advertising and promotions, according to her bio information, with no journalism experience listed. This blog is not considered to be journalism, merely one mother's opinion, educated by her personal experiences and whatever research she may be doing to suplement it, research that is not fact-checked by editors. It is an important distinction.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 12:33 PM

Actually, Monique, I don't live in a city. I live in a small town. My neighborhood owns more than 30 acres, of which houses are clustered on about 4 acres to preserve the woods and prairie. It's definitely rural. The only kids we see are the ones who live here, and anyone they invite. We know all of the kids here (about 20 of them) and all of them are great. Because the neighborhood is pedestrian-oriented, there are adults -- that we know well and trust-- walking by all of the time. The playground is not several "blocks" away, but 3 houses away. So maybe it's not 200 feet, but more like 150. Oh, and my kids have an at-home parent.

Since we know all of the kids pretty well, and know their parents, we have a pretty good idea of what their parents will and won't let them do. If the kids are doing something they shouldn't in front of my house, I tell them to stop and, possibly, let the parents know about it. The kids obey the other adults in the neighborhood-- perhaps because we interact with them positively-- through parties, having them over for snacks or bringing out the sprinkler-- as well as the more negative discipline.

Cohousing neighborhoods are different than most other neighborhoods-- an attempt to try to go back to a small-town, village feeling. I know it doesn't work for everyone, but it works for us.

If anyone wants to talk about or dissect this, great. But I would like to request that people ask me clarifying questions about my life before making assumptions about me.

Posted by: Ms L | April 3, 2006 12:39 PM

Actually I am a happy working mom, I don’t envy SAHM, I don't fell guilty and I don't think I miss any important moments. I am not the best teacher for my children, I have one child with ADHD and my youngest possibly may be as well. The education and socialization my kids get at school is great, especially since 1. I am not the most social person and 2. None of my friends have kids. I supplement what they learn with what ever else I want them to know. My kids are happy and don't ask for me to be "home" with them. I think you can take care of your children and work, but you can also neglect your children while you are at home. Moms who work aren’t necessarily putting themselves first and SAHM are not necessarily putting their kids first. This is definitely a "gray" area; you just can’t generalize.

Posted by: Mommy | April 3, 2006 12:40 PM

I really hate the stay at home versus working mom thing! It all depends on the woman. There are plenty of slacker moms who stay at home and slacker moms who work. To the woman who sniffed and said she spent 17 years with her kids, I work full time, go to work at 6 am and am home a 2:30 pm. I probably spend just as much if not more time with my children that you do. Casting aspersions as working moms and or stay at home moms is old and lame. Get a life!

Posted by: Sara | April 3, 2006 12:43 PM

My husband and I raised one GREAT kid...hardworking, happy, brilliant, successful and responsible. Now 32, married and a (very good and caring) father himself.

One thing MY mother told me was that the greatest thing you can instill in your child is a sense of their own competence. When a child has everything done FOR him,every decision made FOR him, he learns to be dependent and helpless...he BELIEVES he must be incapable and have poor judgement, because Mom or Dad or Grandma won't trust him to do things himself. My son taught himself to read by the time he was five, with a series of Charlie Brown Snoopy books and records. He didn't want to be READ TO, he wanted to read books by himself and he did.
I think that whether you stay at home or go to work, letting your child have his own successes and develop confidence in himself and abilities is the most important aspect of his development.

Posted by: RN, ESQ | April 3, 2006 12:46 PM

A. Children are statiscally more likely to get molested by someone they know.

B. Just because someone has been convicted for child molestation doesn't mean they're going to commit the same crime again.

How do you protect your kids from harm? You can't. You need to accept this from the get-go, because it will save you endless hours of worry and grief. Then you teach your children to "NEVER talk to strangers", to yell as loud as they can if someone tries to grab them, to always tell you if someone is doing ANYTHING that makes them feel uncomfortable, and hope and pray for the best.

Your kids are going to have to face the real world eventually; might as well EMPOWER them with this knowledge now. What are you going to do when your daughter goes away to college and has to walk home from campus late at night? There's just as much risk of her getting hurt at 18 as there was at 9. Hopefully you've invested her with the right knowledge to make a good decision and take care of herself, because you won't be there to walk her home. You can't control everything that ever happens to your child. Kids get hurt. It sucks, but that's life.

Posted by: LB | April 3, 2006 12:56 PM

"Few things are as scary as parenting..."

This is an interesting comment to someone whose not yet a parent. Something I've noticed from talking with my new-parent friends is that parenthood is often described using extreme language. Most scary, most amazing, most blissful, etc... I don't remember my baby-boomer parents talking about parenting this way. It's almost as if parenting has become fetishized. Isn't htis what Leslie's talking about? Again, all this is very curious to me as a not-yet parent.

Posted by: Friend | April 3, 2006 12:56 PM

An interesting issue - but I don't understand why it has to be couched in terms of working vs. stay-at-home??? I think independence, apron strings, confidence, whatever you want to call it - issues vary by person/family and not by whether you work or not.

Posted by: Maria | April 3, 2006 12:56 PM

It truly amazes me sometimes the back and forth re: SAHM vs. working outside the home mom.
As someone said: everyone should do what is best for them - would everyone please stop judging others?
I was home until son #1 was 3 1/2 and son #2 was 6 months. So those people who thought: oh, she's so wonderful, home with the kids seemed disappointed when my husband and I decided it was best for the family for me to go back to work - and those who were working thought I validated them somehow.
And my decision has nothing to do with anyone besides my family - why worry so much about what others think (and get self righteous about it?). What a waste of time.
In any event, I bemoan the fact that there are so many parents babying their children - it's a horrible way to parent. Kids should be allowed to be kids, and they should also learn that it's a cruel world - and they need to do for themselves. Our (now) 4 YO is learning every day to do more for himself and to have more responsibility (just wait til he has to mow the lawn! Woo woo!) and that he has a job in our family and that he has to 'do his work' (something his teachers taught him!).
Kids should not be expecting their parents to help them out with homework -ever- let alone in college, but they do anyway...

Posted by: mom in atlanta | April 3, 2006 12:57 PM

Thanks to all of those who are advocating reason, balance, moderation, and letting the families choose what is best.

I really don't think that self-reliance is a SAHM or working mom thing. My mother had a SAHM who made her and her sisters do a huge amount of housework. She didn't want that for us, and wanted us to enjoy our childhood. So even as a WM she did almost everything for us. I graduated from high school, and the only chore I knew how to do was my own laundry. I think the "real world" was more of a shock than it needed to be because of this. I think her mother probably overdid it, and my mother probably overdid it -- though in opposite directions.

Posted by: Ms L | April 3, 2006 1:04 PM

When I was a little girl walking home from school, I was offered a ride home by a stranger. In school that week, we had been told not to accept rides from strangers. Luckily, I remembered that information and said no and ran away from the woman approaching me. I hope that all you parents who are letting your children run around without supervision are also providing education about what to look out for.

Posted by: DD | April 3, 2006 1:07 PM

SAHMs get "Less intellectual stimulation" than working moms? Well, maybe that's true for 98%, but I hated the work world and all it's gameplaying. There was little intellectual stimulation for me there. Staying home with one child, I can read and pursue any course of study that I want; go to films, museums, and galleries; walk in the park, take photos, and pay attention to the changing seasons. I love this life. It cracks me up to think that being stuck in some job would be more interesting or fulfilling than my life is now.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 1:08 PM

I used to joke with my husband that when Phil Donahue ran out of ideas he'd just invite a working mom and a stay-at-home mom on the show to duke it out... always entertaining. The factors in deciding whether to work or stay at home are different for every family. How flexible is the job? How "needy" are the kids? (I had a good friend who described her kids as "high maintenance") Is there a dependable support system available in case if babysitter problems or sick kids?
Decisions about how much freedom to allow also vary depending upon a lot of circumstances. Again, how dependable/sensible are the kids? How safe is the neighborhood? Are there other dependable adults around who would intervene if there's trouble?
My own personal choice was to stay at home until my children were high school age. I spend many hours as a PTA volunteer to get the adult interaction I needed but it meant a lot to me and, I believe, to my three sons, for me to be there when they got home from school every day. Those few quiet moments to hear about the ups and downs of their day are what I was afraid I would miss. Every family has to find their own way...

Posted by: PTA mom | April 3, 2006 1:13 PM

OK. We can all agree that the choice of the woman who is always at home (the 17-year home stayer) may not be for each of us. Personally I'd like to stay at home without any kids, but my being a wage slave pretty much precludes that. Also, we can two-bird-one-stone the Texas Mom in particular, and all Texans in general, by setting off fusion bombs over every Texas population zone worth its salt, and even those that aren't.

Posted by: Tom Canick | April 3, 2006 1:14 PM

I agree with Once a Widowed Dad. The comment was just meant to soothe the child. Don't put too much meaning into it.

Just because I foster my children's fantasies of fairies and pixies in the wood, is that bad? I know the truth will be found out eventually, but I still do it.

Are any of you mad at your parents for fostering the belief in Santa Claus? You figured it out, right? I don't have a bitter taste in my mouth at all. It was a sweet time and then I grew up.

I, by the way, was on my own after undergrad at age 21.

Posted by: bkshane | April 3, 2006 1:20 PM

Why is it that the writer feels they need therapy for working and being a "mom"?

Part of being a parent is to know when to educate and when to let go. This in turn can be influenced by where you live and what you do.

Working at home full time or working at a job full time should make no difference in your childs basic values and moral fibre.

Posted by: Mike Z. | April 3, 2006 1:27 PM

wow - you must be quite wealthy then. We do okay - but I still didn't have the disposible income to do whatever I wanted while I stayed home. It was a constant struggle to find the free stuff going on and try to do everything that needed to be done on our income.
My mom was a SAHM and didn't require us to do anything around the house. She cooked and did the laundry and we had a housekeeper come once a week - we had a live in person who looked after me til I was probably 5 (until we could no longer afford it) - but we were hardly rich. My mom was out and about doing her stuff - so not home when I got home from school (my sisters looked after me). I'm none the worse for wear, I think. I don't understand the idea that SAHM's are sacrificing everything for their kids yet others are not.
And, anyway, where is the dad in the argument? Why is it assumed that they will be working? Why is the mom to 'blame' regarding who stays home? Why doesn't anyone assume the dad should stay home?

Posted by: mom | April 3, 2006 1:28 PM

To mom,
Most of those things that she mentioned were "free".

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 1:33 PM

"Staying home with one child, I can read and pursue any course of study that I want; go to films, museums, and galleries; walk in the park, take photos, and pay attention to the changing seasons. I love this life. It cracks me up to think that being stuck in some job would be more interesting or fulfilling than my life is now."

Your life does indeed sound fulfilling, lucky you for having a full-time vacation. But the SAHMs I know spend more time watching TV than the changing seasons. And forget taking kids to anything more thought-provoking than Finding Nemo, or infants to really any movie.

Posted by: ... | April 3, 2006 1:36 PM

All my kids grew up so self-sufficiently they could read and make their own breakfast without any help from me or my wife at age two. They were anything but coddled.
Not only could they pick out there favorite box of pop tarts, they could open the package and eat them all by themselves. Pampered Brats? Certaintly not! Independent is the word that comes to mind.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 3, 2006 1:40 PM

Claim: Work forces moms to let go in constructive, healthy ways.

Proof of claim:

Let
A = The author is a working mom who has to let her children do certain things on their own due to lack of time.
B = The certain things the author lets her children do on their own are constructive and healthy.
C = All working moms let their children do what the author lets her children do.

Assuming A,B, and C are true, the statement "Work forces moms to let go in constructive, healthy ways" is true.

QED?

Absolutely not. There exists no proof here. A is self-evident, but even if we accept B as true (for the mere sake of being polite), there is no evidence/reason/cause to accept C as true. Or perhaps I've missed the leap in logic here...?

Posted by: FS | April 3, 2006 1:43 PM

To...

Blogging in the afternoon doesn't seem too challenging either.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 1:43 PM

So much of the way we raise our kids is shaped by the way we live, too. How many of us live in communities without sidewalks? Or without backyards? Or without traffic whizzing by? Or with a corner store? How many of us know our neighbors, much less know them well? And of the neighbors we know with kids, how many share our world view (predator paranoia vs. what's-a-bruise-here-and- there). All of those things contribute to how independent your kid can be on a day-to-day basis, no matter whether you're a working mom or a stay at home. Just a thought.

Posted by: Hon | April 3, 2006 2:33 PM

Validating one's own decisions risks invalidating others decisions. There is a group in this discussion that has no choice. Some in this have placed their priorities as "best" and then "best for kids." As one family, we decided a one income household was worth to us sacrifices in lifestyle because the kids would benefit most from that lifestyle.

Time spent with young ones can never be underestimated in terms of value. Seems that some cherish the time being with their children until school age. Even the before and after school times are still times spent with those you love. It is not all a vacation, but quantity can be as valuable if it contains quality as well.

For myself, I am able to spend time with kids after work until their bed time. It does not seem to me to be enough time. Satuday's are a highlight especially for my son because it is Daddy's stay home day and we have more time together.

Posted by: Hubby of SAHM | April 3, 2006 2:37 PM

Hubby of SAHM

"As one family, we decided a one income household was worth to us sacrifices in lifestyle because the kids would benefit most from that lifestyle."

Might want to reword
"...because WE BELIEVE the kids would benefit most from that lifestyle.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 2:48 PM

My mother stayed home for 13 years after her first child was born, because of a divorce she had to A) finish her college degree, B) get an advanced degree, C) get a job and D) look after 3 kids. She married young and although she loved having kids she really yearned for an intellectual life. I admire the decisions she made in her life and I think she was much happier working. I think she did a good job raising her kids we are all successful in our chosen pursuits, one daughter is a SAHM and the other a WOH mom and I think if you put our four children together you would not be able to tell who has a working mom and who had a stay at home mom. We are both good mothers. Neither feels guilty for the choices we have made & nor should any of you out there. The key is to turn a blind eye and ear to barb throwing mothers of both ilkes who have nothing better to do than denegrate other women.

Posted by: daughter of a S0HM/WOH mom | April 3, 2006 2:52 PM

I'm wondering if all of the people (including Ms. Steiner) who made snide comments about parents not allowing their children to bike or walk on their own, have ever biked or walked around their neighborhoods...or tried it in other areas? Maybe their neighborhood is OK, but so many aren't. It's not fearmongering to say that there's a lot more cars out on the road now than there were 20 or 30 years ago - that's unfortunately the reality of our lives (and I'm not anti-auto...I just wish that walking could be a realistic transportation option in more places).

I don't have kids (yet), but I am a bicylist and I've also lived as an adult for several years (in several different communities) without a car...unfortunately, a lot of our nieghborhoods nowadays really aren't built to accomodate pedestrians and bicyclists, and many motorists are such in a hurry, even on residential streets - it's often really SCARY trying to get around out there without a car, even as a tall (i.e. much more visible to drivers), experienced and competent adult.

Growing up, I wasn't allowed to walk by myself to the nearest corner store or home from school(~1 mile away) until I was about 11-12. This wasn't because my parents were coddling me (or were "nutty, control-freaks"), but rather because we lived in an area with no sidewalks; no crosswalks; no berms on narrow, windy roads; high speed auto traffic; and lots of blind corners. This description fits a lot of supposedly residential areas. I don't think that the majority of 6-9 year old children have good enough judgement (or visibility to drivers) to be walking in high automobile traffic areas (especially if no sidewalks) without some sort of adult supervision. There are plenty of ways to build independence and self-reliance in children without offering them up as likely roadkill.

Posted by: silver spring, md | April 3, 2006 2:53 PM

You may very well be able to do your job well while working part-time. The fact is that whatever you do part-time will be done better full-time.

You may very well be able to raise your kids part-time. The fact is that you will do a better job if you do it full-time.

You can't change the laws of physics.

It is valid for a working mom to say that her life is more interesting because she works. To say that her kids are better off because she works than those of an equally competent mother who is a SAHM is ludicrous.

Besides, your examples of your kids being better off (more independent) are pathetic and scary.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 2:55 PM

In my neighborhood, we know the kids of both parents working: they stay in the health clinic with a 102 fever because mommy has a meeting, they don't have their homework done because daddy didn't pick them up from daycare until 7:30 pm, their parents don't attend the PTA meetings because it would mean missing a yoga class. The kids show up at my door to play with no time to go home but being so lonely. Yes, they are independent, but are they happy? As an Ivy Leaguer who is staying home (for now) there is no doubt my brain is shrinking, but looking around my community, the high achievers have strong parent involvement.

Posted by: Karen | April 3, 2006 2:57 PM

Daughter of a SOHM/WOH mom -- I think you raise an interesting point. I agree that children who have parents who love, support, and trust them are the ones who turn out the best. It doesn't matter if those parents are single, married, divorced, gay, straight, employed or not -- if you have good kids, you have good kids. And don't forget to feel lucky!

If on the other hand you have kids who are constantly falling into trouble due to lack of oversight or, conversely, who are spoiled or chafing under constant oversight, perhaps review your strategies. There's nothing wrong with therapy either; people ask advice all the time from doctors, financial planners, and other types of professionals. There's no shame in not knowing what you're doing if you take steps to improve.

Posted by: ... | April 3, 2006 3:05 PM

Karen,
Your example is based on one family. Do you really want everyone to start posting about the kids of SAHMs? As an IVY leaguer, your logic (based on a sample of 1) is flawed. Not to mention your grammar.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 3:05 PM

Interesting comments, Silver Spring. I think the presence or lack of pedestrian-friendly areas in a neighborhood has a lot to do with its success as a community. There are some forward-looking communities (such as Albemarle County, surrounding Charlottesville, VA) which are requiring a "neighborhood model" with sidewalks and common areas and less of a car focus. I think this kind of development is good for kids and parents-- though of course even then you must be very careful.

Posted by: Ms L | April 3, 2006 3:06 PM

Since I've lived in this community two little girls were hit by a car while walking to the park unsupervised. Both died. A boy riding his bike without a helmet was hit by a car and has suffered permanent brain damage. Just last week an older boy died while riding his skateboard without a helmet. A few years ago all of our street corners and shops had a picture of a missing child. Her body was found a few months later.

How special that you're raising independent kids.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 3:08 PM

Karen,

Your being steriotypical. Its a shame that someone with your education would say such a thing and in such a tone. I don't attend PTA meetings because they are beyond boring and I can accomplish more dealing directly with my own child's teacher. In addition, our school sends home a weekly newsletter that adequately recaps whatever went on in the PTA meeting and negates the need to devote 1-2 hours away from my children to attend the PTA meeting.

Posted by: Sara | April 3, 2006 3:08 PM

I agree with the poster who wrote, "Why can't you all make a decision you are happy with and enjoy it?"

Having been both a SAHM and a PWOHM (Paid work outside the home mom - thank you that's my term!), I have experienced the best and worst of both worlds.

I have indulged my kids, been too strict, not strict enough, and have made every mistake in the book. It had little to do with whether I was working or not at the time. I breast-fed both children for the same length of time (long time), and when I had my first child, we lived in a small apartment, so I was either at work, or at home, interacting and playing or taking care of my baby/toddler. I didn't have to spend any time on cleaning or home repairs. And, I had virtually no outside interests during those years, because I was either working, with my baby, or asleep.

Both of my kids are independent and dependent in their own ways. My daughter has wanted certain types of independence from a very early age, yet my son would love to be waited on hand and foot. I am guilty of treating him like a "prince" in some ways, but in other ways, not really.

Yet, he was able to go into a store at a young age and handle an entire transaction. My daughter who seems more independent in many ways, is sometimes overwhelmed if she is asked to handle giving the cash to the cashier and waiting for the change. They're just different kids.

In my family of origin, as it's called in therapy, boys were treated differently than girls. They were helped in finding jobs, getting cars, etc. I was not helped in this way, and found that I had to be so independent-minded that in some ways, it immobilized me, but also energized me in others.

My mother stayed home for over 20 years and then returned to work. I had her as a SAHM and a PWOHM. Working was great for her, because she really developed her own interesting life outside of her many children. And, she was a great employee, beloved by the many people she worked with, too.

My mother was so reliable in her job, though, I think sometimes she was not there for me...I remember being out of school for many weeks because of an illness. I was an early teen, and I stayed home alone all day, every day. It was lonely and sometimes frightening. I let Mormon missionaries into my home and they dogged me for weeks...the most frightening aspect of course is not that they were proselytizing (although I felt powerless to stop them) but that they could have been a threat to me -- they could have been violent predators, but I still would have let them into my home, because I didn't know enough to protect myself.

On the other hand, my mother's salary paid for my braces (thanks, Mom) and those of my sister. During the 1970s when wages really stagnated, and inflation was a problem, the second income helped our family thrive.

Having done both, I think the SAHM gig is not for everyone, and there have been times when it has worn me down, especially when there are challenges in the marriage or extended family. I believe a separate work life can be a great emotional anchor, depending on the type of work and how much it contributes to one's well-being.

On the other hand, plenty of people have no choice about working or staying home. Some women do backbreaking work, do not have access to health insurance, and feel a lot of pain that they cannot be home to be available to their families, and they also cannot make enough money to provide good childcare or supervision after school.

It would be interesting to hear from some of these women, rather than the same middle and upper middle class women (and men) who have somewhat more of a choice in how they make their living, or where they live, etc.

Posted by: Kate | April 3, 2006 3:11 PM

"Since I've lived in this community two little girls were hit by a car while walking to the park unsupervised. Both died. A boy riding his bike without a helmet was hit by a car and has suffered permanent brain damage. Just last week an older boy died while riding his skateboard without a helmet. A few years ago all of our street corners and shops had a picture of a missing child. Her body was found a few months later."

Just a thought...You might want to move

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 3:11 PM

I don't think the world is that terribly different from when I was growing up, not even two decades ago. I think the media loves a missing child story - preferably one involving adorable blond children. These stories are so pervasive that parents are arrested by their worst fears, and children in turn, suffer from arrested development.

Posted by: Helly | April 3, 2006 3:12 PM

"You can't change the laws of physics.

"It is valid for a working mom to say that her life is more interesting because she works. To say that her kids are better off because she works than those of an equally competent mother who is a SAHM is ludicrous."

You make two assumptions that I disagree with: First, that childrearing is a full-time job. Second, that the only thing kids need is constant supervision.

#1: I agree that while children are quite young, they need someone within arms reach 24/7. But once they're in school? Really?

#2: Working moms provide positive role models for daughters who want to pursue careers, and a second income to keep the household financially secure. It's not really fair to dads to require them not to lose their jobs, since that's not exactly within their control, and kids can pick up on money troubles more acutely than you think.

Posted by: Another daughter of a WOHM | April 3, 2006 3:18 PM

A poster wrote, "You may very well be able to do your job well while working part-time. The fact is that whatever you do part-time will be done better full-time."

I couldn't disagree more...it's a wrongheaded view that something done well requires lots and lots of time. Some people will never be able to paint like Picasso no matter how long and hard they try. Some people will never be able to play the piano like a concert pianist no matter how many lessons, or how long they practice.

And, we all know people who supposedly work "full-time" but they are putting in a part-time effort (just full-time face time).

So, I disagree, both from a working point of view and a parenting point of view. Effort and quality count. Regardless of the relationship or the job.

You can be constantly at home with your family but emotionally unavailable. This is worse than not being there physically. Think about it.

Posted by: SAHM | April 3, 2006 3:20 PM

...

Your right, if I had a child who had greater needs I would readjust my life to accomodate those needs. But then, At this point in my life I can afford to do that. I think though that many women cannot afford to make their desired choices for their children and have to struggle along doing the best they can and hoping their children will land on their feet. I am lucky, I have a spouse, an in-come of my own, a boss who values both children and flexibility in the workplace. I knock on wood every day and wqhen I look at my beautiful children I am often overcome with such emotion that it brings tears to my eyes. They are the most wonderful creatures and I am so lucky to be a mom.

Posted by: Daughter of a S0HM/WOH mom | April 3, 2006 3:24 PM

Hello "not a mom",

In your post, you described one Pro of SAHM situation as '. . . no need to outsource housekeeping . . . "

HA! Actually, I have to say I needed to get a twice a month housekeeper when I was staying home with my child. The house was a mess otherwise. Now that I am back at work, it is much easier to keep the house clean because I don't have all the crazy craft projects going on like i used to.

You also referred to a SAHM Con as: "Isolation, less intellectual stimulation." These cons can be avoided. You can teach a foreign language or sign language to your child, for example and use these skills to communicate with other caregivers in your neighborhood, thereby keeping both your interpersonal and intellectual skills sharp.

Good luck, whatever you decide!


Posted by: L.smith | April 3, 2006 3:24 PM

Nicely put FS - truly the independence debate isn't about staying at home or working. Children of both 'types' of parents aren't left alone to the masses to raise. It would be interesting to hear from parents of teenagers - because it seems rather simple to talk of the bundles of id and wearing knee pads and walking all the way to the park which is still within sight and sound. Will everyone's 6 year old be a competent 16 year old? What is acceptable for teens to do and not do? Are there any firm rules or are the rules up to each family? How do you overcome meeting new parents and getting to the "do you let Jimmy and Jenny drink or sleep together at your place?" Can you always trust the other parent?

Posted by: Way to be FS | April 3, 2006 3:37 PM

Why must this be framed as "SAHP vs. WOHP"? I know both WOHP and SAHP who are control freaks.

This column might be better framed as, "What can parents do to promote safe independence in our children?" It would certain make for a much more productive and interesting discussion than the one-upsmanship presented in this column.

Please, Leslie, stop stoking the fires of the WOH-SAH debate. You'll find yourself unable to keep readers over the long term if you keep rehashing the old debate.

Posted by: HollyP | April 3, 2006 3:40 PM

After listening to my wife read so many of the postings with frustration and disbelief, I’ve decided to make a comment myself…

With fear of sounding self-righteous myself, I have to say that three out of four postings on this blog are mean and really self-righteous. Is everyone really this sure of themselves? Does anyone really think they know with certainty how their actions will affect their child a decade or more from now?

Couldn't all of this indignation be masking guilt for decisions made and a strong desire to exert control over uncertainty?

Posted by: Chicago Husband | April 3, 2006 3:45 PM

As soon as I read this post, I knew the blog would go nuclear. Some people have such easy buttons to push...

And I suspect that, despite all of the holier-than-thou self-righteousness so proudly on display, you secretly love having your buttons pushed. Just look at how few comments there are when the posts are of the "constructive" type that you so earnestly plead for. You feel a little disappointed when Leslie posts tips for negotiating workplace flexibility or talks about the Daddy Track.

It's just like TV news...people SAY they want to hear more "good news" stories, but ratings spike every time they do the sweeps-week "10 Common Household Items That May Maim Your Children" pieces.

Posted by: /// | April 3, 2006 3:50 PM

It's a shame that the author chose to premise this discussion as a "stay at home moms are wacky control freaks whose kids will never be as independant as mine" sort of thing. In fact, because of a more laid-back lifestyle, many kids with a parent at home have the time to learn how to do things on their own and be responsible for their own time. Of course, there are stay at home moms who won't let their kids become independant (I knew one mom who was proud that her 10 year had learned to use the toaster!), but in my experience, these moms are few and far between.
Also, I just wanted to put in on the idea that staying at home is necessarily less intellectually stimulated than a working mom. If this is the case, it is the fault of that particular person, not her situation. First of all, there is little in this world which is more complicated and challenging than a human being, and most mothers I know find the process of helping their kids grow and develop fascinating. Secondly, kids don't need your attention 100% of the time, and I think most stay-at-home moms know this. What parents who stay home are doing isn't only making sure that they're their chld's primary caregiver, but they are providing a particular lifestyle for their kids which they think is beneficial for them. I do think that some SAHP's feel pressure from people like the poster who looks at staying home as a vacation, to be overly involved in their kid's lives and be as busy as they can be in order to justify what they do in the eyes of a world which places little or no value on what they do. But, like someone else said, why bother worrying about what other people think? I found this quote recently and rather liked it:
"To be Queen Elizabeth within a definate are, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it might narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute." -GK Chesterton

Posted by: Rebecca T | April 3, 2006 3:52 PM

TX mom is brash, but I think I get her point. Kids need to be kids. I teach fifth grade, and I see firsthand what happens when kids are sheltered, inexperienced and afraid. In my view, these kids are the most likely to have bad things happen to them, simply because they don't have a broad worldview. Small, controlled amounts of risk are good for kids, it helps them understand their boundaries, as well as their possibilities. To the chagrin of many of the posters on this board, kids grow up and you can't keep an eye on them all the time. A parent's responsibility is to develop their child into an independent, intelligent adult who is capable of contributing to society on their own. I think that a sign that you have done well as a parent is that your child eventually does not need you anymore, but wants you there anyways.
Now back to the angry mommy mudslinging...

Posted by: A mom to be | April 3, 2006 3:56 PM

Wow, this blog is like watching pavlov's dogs . Ol' Leslie just lobs the inflammatory bomb , and everyone gets predictably up in arms over the slightest perceived slight. My gosh leslie , you must be getting paid by the comment , you set these people off on purpose , ostensibly to "provoke discussion " , but you must concede to some extent that little of what happens here could be considered discussion . It seems to revolve around self reassurance , or going on the attack in order to feel reassured. Hope you sell a lot of books.

Posted by: shoreman | April 3, 2006 4:00 PM

L. Smith,

Well put...I would add that gardening and walks in park also afford time of education for both child and parent. My wife wants to start a bug and rock collection when the weather improves. It is always interesting to hear how my wife has comes up with creative ideas for our son to learn. Boredom is a choice and watching too much TV plaques both SAHP and working parents.

Posted by: Admiring Husband | April 3, 2006 4:04 PM

"Child found dead", pedophile living in neighborhood, no one knew", "Priest molests 20 children" "Child hit by drunken driver". No thanks, I will take responsiblity for my child's safety and if that's nutty so be it.

Posted by: Pat | April 3, 2006 4:06 PM

"B. Just because someone has been convicted for child molestation doesn't mean they're going to commit the same crime again."

Are you joking? Of course you can't protect your children from everything, but your "b" would imply that child molesters can be rehabilitated. They should either be in jail or dead.

You may want or trust people like that around your children, but most people I know don't regardless of whether they work, stay home, are over protective, or are overly liberal.

Posted by: Scarry | April 3, 2006 4:06 PM

That's right Shoreman.
Just like reality TV. Put a bunch of insecure people together and let them try to solve an unsolvable task. Eventually, they turn against each other and provide great entertainment for everyone.

Posted by: LC | April 3, 2006 4:07 PM

I just graduated College last year and have noticed something very disturbing that shows the ills of coddling and protecting children to the degree that seems prevalent today. Very few of my friends who went to college when I did have finished, they all are on the five year plan and those that have finished nearly all live at home and do not have serious jobs. Almost no one in my generation has the ambition or the knowledge of how to live by ourselves or even start a career because our parents have spent so much time protecting us and helping us get "ahead" in school we never learned how to do it for ourselves. Independence is key to solving this problem.

Posted by: Coddled child | April 3, 2006 4:10 PM

Ah you've given Leslie a topic for a future post - the ultra guilt pleasure of the TV. Studies show one thing but apparently every one on the planet does another. Every commentor would have to honestly post the average hours of TV watched per day or week at the beginning of every entry though. Can't wait for the fast food blog (it is quick and I work so it must be ok to dine at mcdonalds every night) or the 'should I give my child name brand clothes' blog (please I'm upper middle class give me an outlet to vent about the woes of buying my child Tommy or Guess or Huggies or Osh Kosh).

Posted by: TV | April 3, 2006 4:11 PM

Teenagers are tough. If you think about the big picture, you want your son or daughter to reach adulthood with confidence, good judgement and the ability to take care of themselves and their future families - without being seriously injured physically or emotionally in the process.

That means that they must, before reaching adulthood, have an opportunity to practice making their own decisions, and living with the consequences of those decisions. It also means that they have to be supervised closely enough that the decisions they're allowed to make don't have fatal consequences, or consequences that are likely to ruin their lives.

So, at a fairly early age they need to be allowed to make some decisions. The younger they are, the more circumscribed those decisions should be. I believe that the most difficult trick is to get the progression of increasing responsibility right. Thinking of the beginning and end points can help. The decisions we allow elementary school kids make are going to be relatively minor. When a kid heads off to college - very likely in another state - they need to be ready to take care of themselves in all routine day-to-day matters with no parental supervision at all (because at that point they'll be beyond their parents' control).

What are the limits? I really do go by the "how bad would the consequences be?" test. A 17 year old staying up all night talking to their friends on-line when they have school the next day? That's a sin that comes with its own punishment, and can be a valuable learning experience. Spending the night at a friend's house when there won't be a parent at home? That can result in drinking or - depending on who drops by - a teen pregnancy. You can't afford to let them go there.

My wife and I have had pretty good luck discussing these issues with other parents. People's standard vary - particularly in the movies and music they allow their kids - but most are concerned about substance abuse and teen sex. We haven't had any instance where another set of parents haven't understood our insistance on an adult chaparone (even those who hadn't initially been concerned themselves).

I don't know if you can always trust the other parent or not. We have had some instances where we assumed to much - that a parent wouldn't leave kids alone for an extended period of time. As far as I'm aware, we've never had another parent lie to us, or attempt to mislead us. My advice would be to ask more questions than you may think is necessary, because not everyone will share your assumptions, but to assume that other parents are trying their best also.

Do be sensitive, however, to other parents' circumstances. Job demands may make it impossible for them to provide the same level of supervision you would prefer. Our son has a good friend with a working, single mom. Through no one's fault he has often been left alone - sometimes until farely late at night. We dealt with it by telling our son we didn't want him staying with his friend's house without adult supervision, but he could invite him over to our house whenever he wanted (my wife is at home, so she's available to supervise).

Posted by: Older Dad | April 3, 2006 4:17 PM

I grew up in a Leave-It-To-Beaver neighborhood, with lots of families, where the kids all played throughout the neighborhood, and everyone knew and trusted one another, etc. As kids, we had lots of autonomy and parents all looked out for each other's kids. We had block parties and holiday open houses, sleep-overs and many neighborhood birthday parties. It felt very safe.

Years later as a grown-up I got together with some of my old pals, and it was amazing once we started sharing stories, how interesting our neighborhood really was. Collectively we remembered about the alcoholic father who tied his kids up in the living room while he beat the mother; the teenager who used to break into various homes to steal women's underwear; the pyromaniac who started fires all over the neighborhood; the boys who progressed from burning garden snails to blowing up toads with firecrackers; the father with the drawer full of child pornography; the house that gave out alcohol-laced candy on Halloween; and more, all of this quietly noticed by the kids in our "normal" neighborhood. Kids don't always have the frame of reference to know what is healthy or "normal", and what is not.

My point is, I don't think the world is any safer or more dangerous than it used to be necessarily. Sure kids used to play alone in the woods and ride bikes without helmets--they used to get hurt and go missing, too.

I think it has always been good to listen to your kids and pay attention to where they are and what they are doing.

Posted by: no answers | April 3, 2006 4:22 PM

"Couldn't all of this indignation be masking guilt for decisions made and a strong desire to exert control over uncertainty?"

I don't have kids yet but I'm reading this blog because it's a hot topic among my friends (we're all 23-25). However, I find myself defensive of working moms who generally seem to bear the brunt of the criticism by being called bad mothers. Calling someone a bad mom is far more hurtful than calling someone uninteresting, wouldn't you agree?

Posted by: not a mom | April 3, 2006 4:23 PM

I can't wait until these coddled, over-indulged and over-protected kids hit the workforce. They're all going to break down and cry / call mommy the first time their boss tells them they did something wrong.

Not only parents, but schools are contributing to this "you're a winner" mindset. Playing musical chairs with enough chairs for everyone is just silly. Kids need to learn to be good sports, and that there will likely always be someone just a little bit better than them.

Parents don't seem to want to let go, let kids learn for themselves. Maybe they'll cry or fall down...but that's part of life. They need to learn how to pick themselves up and carry on - without mom or dad two steps behind to pick them up and blame someone / something else for their child's shortcomings.

Posted by: DC Working Woman | April 3, 2006 4:42 PM

Leslie, the fact is that you WANT to trust your kids. You even NEED to trust your kids. So you do.

That, however, is different--completely different--from saying you CAN, or SHOULD, trust your kids in the manner you describe.

And it's entirely unrelated to your choice to work: plenty of working parents set up their childrens' lives in a strict and regimented fashion, and plenty of stay at home parents are encouraging of childhood freedom.

What you're doing here is making a simple statement about what you, personally, like for your kids. Nothing wrong with that. The dishonesty starts when you try to attribute it to a lartge logic or overall scheme. You're not a good enough social scientist to pull it off.

Posted by: Erik H | April 3, 2006 4:45 PM

not a mom:

Don't know . . . some SAHM's feel as if they're being told they aren't interesting people, aren't making their best and highest possible contribution to society AND are bad mothers who are coddling their kids. That's pretty harsh too. Don't know that either side is being particularly helpful here.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 4:51 PM

Working moms has long been a hot topic for me. My mom stayed home with her kids until the youngest went into first grade. Then she got a job as a nurse. We had 7 kids; it was an economic necessity that she work. But it was the early '60s and most mothers stayed at home. Although I was only 14, I saw some pretty significant benefits in my family beyond the salary. 1. My mother was happy in her work, which made her happy when she was home. 2. My siblings and I were old enough to clean up the house and have dinner started when she got home. 3. Everyone--including my 3 brothers--learned how to run the washing machine. One of my brothers even learned how to use the sewing machine. The bottom line: I learned that the object of parenting is to teach your children how to take care of themselves. Once they learn to do that, get out of their way. It was a very valuable lesson that I taught my own children. As a five-year-old, my son learned how to call stores for information before we went shopping. He learned to cook as a pre-teen and we encouraged him to fix breakfast or dinner for us at least once a week. My daughter enrolled herself in 4 AP courses in high school and the year was half over before I learned that was too much. No use telling my daughter that. She aced her courses and started college as a sophomore. I know this is sounding revolting, but the point is--teach and then get out of the way. It does everybody a lot of good.

Posted by: kathleen | April 3, 2006 4:54 PM

I agree with your main point kids need to develop their independence etc. Your examples however concern me. For your sake, I hope you don't live in Maryland because your actions are illegal here. State law says children under 8 can not be left without supervision by someone at least 13 years old.

Posted by: Melanie | April 3, 2006 4:58 PM

Not a mom,

I would add that several have pointed out that their working parents were good role models that would not have happened if they had a SAHM. This would insinuate that SAHM can not be as effective role models. My wife's mom was a SAHM with a degree in geology and my wife obtained a medical degree so I think her SAHM was just a good role model as any working parent. Her SAHM taught her the potential she could become similarly to what a working parent can teach their kids. I have also seen in other posts for “On Balance” people say that parents who homeschool their children are going to raise co-dependent social misfits. IMHO both sides have drawn an equal amount of blood.

Posted by: Admiring Husband | April 3, 2006 5:08 PM

I don't understand why everyone is so quick to dismiss the importance of the second income. Has anyone looked at the price of college?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 5:08 PM

"Has anyone looked at the price of college?"

Looked at it, getting ready to pay for it in September. Start saving early (the day you get home from the hospital is not too early). The pre-paid college plans that many states sponsor are worth looking into (that's what we've done - which is one reason I'm not panicing).

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 5:11 PM

Uh oh, Leslie. You shouldn't have phrased your entry like that! It's not just the stay-at-homes who have the potential to be overprotective or controlling. In fact, it can be any parent.

Yes, that woman was a nutcase (you're right about that), but there are working moms who are even worse, I'm sure. You can't generalize--you can't ever generalize. That is an automatic out. Think of it as a conversational Godwin's Law. The second you generalize, what you say has a great many faults and can be argued to death.

Now, about the issue-at-hand. I know someone whose mother wants to control every aspect of her existence, from what she wears to whom she knows to how her grades are to where she will go to college. This girl is seveteen, going on eighteen, and I have witnessed many occasions where the mother gets angry if the daughter has not washed her hair in two days, or gone shopping to get new clothes so she doesn't look 'sloppy' (her mother's opinion), or protested against being tutored in subjects she is not struggling in. The woman is self-centered nutjob, whose intentions aren't just to make the 'perfect' kid, but to have success with that child that is up to her par. Something she can brag about.

It's a disgusting trend as parents feel there is more competition to have a kid come out on top. As if Johnny's failure to make med school is a direct reflection on his parents' kills at raising him. Uh, no. Johnny is his own person.

In your anthology, I noticed a few mothers who seemed to have bizarre ambitions set out for their children, assuming what will be good for them and not letting them have a word in. College, success, marriage, babies. It doesn't always work out like that and not enough parents detach themselves from it. I wonder how those children feel about being in this book. I wonder if they are angry.

Posted by: CFM | April 3, 2006 5:11 PM

I have young children, no teenagers (or even any children in the double digits). I definitely appreciate letting your children become slightly independent. Mine make a great many decisions and do things on their own (brushing teeth, getting ready for bed, dressing before school on time). I know it's good for them to have a sense of self.

I'm a teacher at a local high school. I have hundreds of students a day, thanks to overcrowding, but I am attentive to each student. And to each parent. But I know a mother who says that her daughter is too much of a child to make any decisions (her daughter is a junior, seventeen years old). She hires help for every aspect of her daughter's education and extracurricular activities, whether the daughter needs the help or not. And the worst part is that she e-mails me about it, talking about her child's weaknesses so that I'll make exceptions. I wonder if the mother even understands what she is doing by inhibiting her daughter's independence because the mother doesn't understand why she's not doing more, more, more.

Yes, that's the main issue. I am often asked, both in person, when the mother can, and through emails, what her daughter can do more of. I hear about the things that her mother thinks are holding her back. Should she hire help? Should she take extra summer courses? Should she be doing this or that? And no one seems to tell the daughter. I ask her often. She says her mother doesn't let her say no to most of what her mother does. She gets called irresponsible and bratty if she does.

I wonder how it will be for her when she graduates and goes off to college. She won't have dozens of tutors or a mother who makes all her decisions for her, so failure is almost inevitable. At least, it would be inevitable if the daughter accepted all of the help. She works hard on her own and ignores the crutches, but her mother insists that they always be there, even though they always won't. And what child, teen or adult will have a sense of self after being told they are too much of a child to have a sense of self at all?

Posted by: Yikes! | April 3, 2006 5:22 PM

"A. Children are statiscally more likely to get molested by someone they know."

Right. So go to www.familywatchdog.us and see if any of the "people you know" are also registered sex offenders

"B. Just because someone has been convicted for child molestation doesn't mean they're going to commit the same crime again."

I agree with Scarry, Pat, and No Anwers-- the rate of recidivism for sexual predators is extremely high-- you really want to take that chance with your children or yourself? The website I mention is only one tool, granted, but one that could save a life.

Information is power, not paranoia, and empowering our children is the point, isn't it?

Posted by: JustAThought | April 3, 2006 5:33 PM

My 10-year-old daughter is quite independent. As I am a single mother, she and I are a team in many ways (my closest family is 2,500 miles away, and her father is on the other side of the world). She has chores and receives an allowance, and I do depend on her to keep her room clean, help with her pets, etc.

The whole WOHM vs. SAHM is a moot point for me, but I am fortunate that I maintained my career after I had my daughter (I worked part-time for the first two years, then back full time). SAHMs really put blind faith into their husbands. If I had done that, my daughter and I would be in dire straights right now as my ex-husband left the country and I have never received a dime in child support and never will. I don't want to put complete control over my fate (and my daughter's) into another human being. Too much power. The quickest way for many women to have a fall in socio-economic status is for their husbands to walk out on them. That was not the case for me as I maintained separate finances (I'm a Plan B type of person, and I saw what three failed marriages did to my mother...and I grew up in poverty as a result). Given the rates of divorce, the odds are not good. (I'm a risk management type of person as well).

I suppose I'm the control freak here!

Posted by: Single mom | April 3, 2006 5:36 PM

This conversation (when the shouting dies down) dovetails nicely with the commentary in the Post over the weekend about boys who don't leave the nest. How do we promote independence in our kids?

If you want your children to grow up and be independent adults, start when they're kids. Setting the table, washing the car, raking leaves, making their own purchases and interacting with cashiers.

Now that mine are teens, my DH and I still give "life lessons" -- my 14 yo can cook for a crowd, my 15 yo is comfortable hopping Metro and meeting us at the Smithsonian or friends at the movies. Both can do laundry, though cleaning their rooms is one of those lessons that just hasn't stuck. Guess they'll learn the consequences of THAT one when they get roommates in college... (insert wry grin here) I don't drive their homework to school that they left on the kitchen table, and I make *them* look when they come to me asking "where's the ....."

My feeling is that their actions have consequences, and better to let them make those mistakes and learn from them while the stakes are still small. By high school, my expectation is that they are fully responsible for school work and I will not run interference. We do try to create an environment where they can succeed based on their talents, but if they want the glory, they have to go out and earn it.

One of the biggest things my kids have had to learn is how to approach other adults (esp. teachers) when they need help or to plead their case. Self-advocacy is a terrific skill to have; not having it really affected my life in college and in the workplace.

At our house, this has nothing to with who's working outside the home. These are responsibilities, and they have to get done. Period.

Posted by: Mom of 2 teen boys | April 3, 2006 5:43 PM

TX Mom:

I'm not an uber-mommy -- and I like to encourage appropriate risk-taking with my children as well -- but your comment on not requiring your children to wear a bike helmet moves well across the appropriate line.

Some simple numbers:
* 153,000 individuals are treated in emergency departments with bicycle-related head injuries every year.

* 17,000 individuals are hospitalized with bicycle-related head injuries every year.

* Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk for head injury by as much as 85% and the risk for brain injury by as much as 88%.

There are some safety features, bike helmets and car seats come to mind, that should be beyond the discussion of strategies for fostering independence.

As an FYI, here in Maryland a child under the age of 16 riding a bicycle on any public property is legally required to wear a helmet.

Posted by: A Dad | April 3, 2006 5:48 PM

For everyone who thinks this blog is just Leslie throwing out a provocative statement and then letting the battle commence, I think it's set up that way because her "success" as a Post blogger is going to be rated not on the quality of the blog or the comments it receives or discussions it provokes, but the average number of comments it receives. As long as she can keep her numbers high, the bosses think she's "getting an audience" and doing a great job. Hackwork.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2006 5:54 PM

This is an issue I struggle with daily. As a working mom, I'm forced to trust other people to look after my children (aged 6 and 3), and I'm forced to trust my children to be responsible. I'm glad I'm forced to do these things, because if I wasn't, I think I would be hyper-overprotective. And my children constantly surprise me by how responsible they can be.

Posted by: Janine | April 4, 2006 5:45 AM

If you want to see a totally different take on some of these issues, take a glance at the study at:

http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060209_love_altruism.html

Posted by: Curious | April 4, 2006 9:09 AM

The attitude of the parent mentioned in this article has nothing to do with the fact that she is a stay-at-home mom. It's her parenting style, and would be even if she was at home. My concern is that promises like this have to be broken eventually, teaching kids not to trust.

My daughter was so independent even at a very young age that parents invited her over to entertain their kids so they could get some work done. Part of it is her nature, and part is because I want the best for her so I did what I could to raise her that way. Honesty is a huge part of it.

You can't tell whether or not a kid has a working mom by the level of independence. The most dependent child I ever saw had a working mom, but one that liked to promise she'd stick around and then sneak off on her.

Don't confuse the attitude of one stay-at-home mom with all stay-at-home moms. Working moms don't have to fight with stay-at-home moms if we would all stop generalizing, and if we'd all appreciate the love and effort involved in motherhood of any kind. My Mom was a working mom, and I was so priviledged to have her. I stay at home, for which I am also greatful. Both kinds of moms can raise their kids right.

Posted by: Janet | April 4, 2006 12:28 PM

the woman who writes this column is a witch

Posted by: cancel this itch | April 4, 2006 3:06 PM

I didn't have time to read all the responses, but Leslie's example of sending her 6 year old to the corner store would be illegal in Montgomery County. I looked up the law, and children under 8 have to have supervision. I just wanted others to know before everyone sent their 1st graders to the store!

Posted by: Laura | April 5, 2006 12:04 AM

I find it very interesting that the blog on parents of teens is so much more rational. Parents of little kids are too much in the middle of it all to see very much very insightfully. The teen blog was much better because these parents have gained a little more perpsective. By the time they are teens, I think a lot of parents realize they are who they are and we as parents matter a whole lot less than we expected.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 14, 2006 5:14 PM

I just find it amazing that not one single person here says "I have a pretty much ordinary, average garden-variety kid". Everyone's little angle is brilliant, well-adjusted, great grades, other parents dote on them and use them for examples, precocious and responsible.

I have two garden variety teenagers... one did maintain a 3.9 gpa with honors classes (teee heeee... i'm as bad as the rest of ya'll) but quite honestly... it was just a result of hard work, not super-genetics.

Raising children is a crap shoot. Do what you will, you're going to end up with whatever you end up with. Good kids come from bad homes and bad kids come from good homes. Roll the dice!

Posted by: Tina | April 20, 2006 5:44 PM

angels too (not just angles) :)

Posted by: Tina | April 20, 2006 5:46 PM

I would say "turn of the 21st century."

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