One Nation Under Children

No, this post isn’t about the current self-aggrandizing, blame shifting, egotistic, inept and jejune regime. But, this post just might lend some insight into the domino effect of immaturity that toppled its way into the White House in 2008. In any case, the topic affects us all…

 In his recent essay “The Kindergarchy: Every Child a Dauphin” Joseph Epstein, observes our current parenting culture through his 70 plus years of perspective as a son, later as parent and also as a teacher at Northwestern University:

  In America we are currently living in a Kindergarchy, under rule by children…For the past thirty years at least, we have been lavishing vast expense and anxiety on our children in ways that are unprecedented in American and perhaps in perhaps any other national life. Such has been the weight of all this concern about children that it has exercised a subtle but pervasive tyranny of its own. This is what I call Kindergarchy: dreary, boring, sadly misguided Kindergarchy.

With its full-court-press attention on children, the Kinderarchy is a radical departure from the ways parents and children viewed on another in earlier days….

 Parents didn’t generally didn’t feel under any obligation to put heavy pressure on their children. Nor, except in odd neurotic cases, did they feel any need to micromanage their lives. My father once told me that he felt his responsibilities extended to caring for the physical well-being of my brother and me, paying for our education, teaching right from wrong, and giving us some general idea about how a man ought to live, but that was pretty much it. Most fathers during this time, my guess is, must have felt the same.”

 One of the direct results of the 1960s was that the culture put a new premium on youthfulness; adulthood, as it had hitherto been perceived, was on the way out, beginning with clothes and ending with personal conduct. Everyone, even people with children and other adult responsibilities, wanted to continue to think of himself as still young, often well into his forties and fifties. One of the consequences of this was that one shied away from the old parental role of authority figure, dealing out rewards and punishments and passing on knowledge, somewhat distant, carefully rationing out intimacy, establishing one’s solidarity and strength. Suddenly parents wanted their children to think of themselves as, if not exactly contemporaries, then as friends, pals, fun people.”  (emphasis mine)

 “On visits to homes of small children, one finds their toys strewn everywhere, their drawings on the refrigerator, television sets turned to their shows. Parents in this context seem less than secondary, little more than indentured servants. Under Kindergarchy, all arrangements are centered on children: their schooling, their lessons, their predilections, their care and feeding and general high maintenance-children are the name of the game.

 No other generation of kids have been so curried and cultivated, so pampered and primed, though primed for what is a bit unclear.

 

Epstein goes on to note, “The craze of attentiveness hits its most passionate note with schooling, and schooling starts now younger and younger.”… (emphasis mine)

 He also mentions the obsession of child naming and the hesitation or neglect, as I see it, of punishment for bad behavior. Spare the rod and you produce morally meandering Millennials.

 As I have observed and Epstein cites examples in his essay, our current culture is child-centric. It is Disneyland ad infinitum. The altar of childhood is now venerated with sappy-saccharine-syrupy feelings oriented animated movies. And the child-centric unicorn circling dance does not stop with the kids. The parents are on the same carousel standing next to their child.

 The parent’s toys are adult-‘proof’ but they still toys. The movies are just as inane as the children’s movies. They lack maturity and provide no food for thought, no intelligent repast. The “cloud,” the miasma where adult minds linger, offers nothing that is clearly discernable other than adults being totally distracted. Little eyes and ears take notice and also abstract away reality.

 As mentioned above, Epstein brings up child punishment, spanking and time outs. He notes that today’s parents tend to balk at child discipline wanting rather to make each experience a “learning experience.”

 To dote or not to dote, that becomes the question.  As a parent of four children (three are adults), I view today’s parenting as passing through our morally relativistic culture sieve:  the parent would rather not deal with the issue of bad behavior. The parent does not want to bother delineating good and bad behavior; he or she does not want to set boundaries. Instead, they would rather smooth things over, synthesize. They do so in order, I guess, to keep from being judgmental and to stay in the child’s good graces. And, then there is the matter of feelings.

 The child’s ‘delicate’ feelings, feelings most likely viewed through a parent’s projected sentimentality, those feelings would never be questioned by such a partisan parent.  

There are some who would have us believe that the child is always right; a child’s feelings, whether or not his or her motives are, are always pure, clean and off-limits. The questions a parent should ask him or herself are “Are the child’s emotions matching reality?” and “Does my child know what is truly essential, the gravitas of his or her actions and reactions?

“So often in my literature classes students told me what they felt about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one’s feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power….I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant.

Growing up with only minimal attention sharpened this sense of one’s insignificance…”

 The consequences of so many years of endlessly attentive childrearing in young people can also be witnessed in many among them who act as if certain that they are deserving of the interest of the rest of us; they come off as very knowing. Lots of conversations turns out to be chiefly about themselves, and much of it feels as if it formulated to impress some dean of admissions with how very extraordinary they are..” (emphasis mine)

 The essay is found in Joseph Epstein’s collection of essays titled “A Literary Education and Other Essays.”

 There is a lot to be gleaned from Epstein’s observations, much of which is too obvious to spell out here. But, I will spell M-i-l-l-e-n-n-i-a-l-s.

 

Wisdom is known by her offspring, a tree by its fruit.

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