Idealism vs. Experience in Parenting


Should we parents of preschoolers be wide-eyed idealists and reject what we see around us for schoo-aged kids – i.e. no neighborhood play, lots of indoor screen time, and packed schedules of activities?

Or, should we just learn from parents of school-aged kids and drop our idealism? Well, that’s analogous to what the Republican Party will try to convince young, idealistic voters to do this November: learn from McCain’s experience and drop notions of Obama-esque idealism.Now, obviously, you could argue that the stakes are very, very different between raising your kids and voting for our next President. So, perhaps you could reconcile raising your kids overscheduled to the max and voting for Obama, or, on the other hand, you could waive the Playborhood banner and vote for McCain. However, please bear with my analogy for the moment.

Barack Obama is articulately appealing to voters’ hopes and dreams for the future. He’s found a language of “change” and bipartisanship that has caught on with millions of primary voters. He’s done this in spite of the fact that he has practically no record actually doing it in his career. He has all sorts of grandiose “new” ideas about foreign policy, but he’s hardly had any experience making foreign policy decisions or meeting with foreign leaders.

Playborhood is appealing to our dreams for our children’s futures, and we’re trying to change how kids are raised in America. We’ve inspired thousands (someday, millions!!!) of parents. However, most of us who’ve contributed to Playborhood, most notably myself, don’t have kids over preschool age.

What expertise do we have that would enable us to repudiate most of modern parenthood? What the hell do we know?

Well, we were kids once. Our experience as kids, before the current regime of school-aged parents was in power, was quite different, and far better, than that of kids today. So, we have our own childhoods to inform our vision of what we think a good childhood should be. Certainly, America (or Canada or Europe) of the 21st Century isn’t exactly the same as it was in the 1960s, 70s, or 80s, but I would argue that it’s not as different as people sometimes say it is. Here are some changes that are pointed to as excuses for kids’ overscheduled, play-deprived lives:

  • Videogames and the Internet: These are new and powerful time sinks for kids, but parents can limit them if they want. (You wouldn’t give your kids alcohol even if they said all their friends were drinking it, would you?)
  • Safety: I strongly disagree that kids are relatively less safe in their neighborhoods today than they are in their scheduled lives. See this article.
  • Fewer Stay-at-Home Moms: Yes, there are fewer stay-at-home moms, but this factor is overrated for two reasons: a) kids aren’t playing outside in their neighborhoods even when parents aren’t working on weekends, and b) nannies, when they’re employed to take care of kids, could let kids play outside in their neighborhoods, but they don’t, for the most part. I grew up across the street from five kids whose mother worked every day, but their nanny let them play outside every day. Nannies of today tend to take kids to parks where they hang out with their nanny friends.

So, in sum, I’d say that my “radical” ideas for parenting aren’t actually radical at all – they’re conservative, but adapted, I hope, to new realities of 21st century society.

By the way, don’t get caught up in trying to map parenting philosophies on to the American political continuum of conservative/Republican vs. liberal/Democrat. Is letting kids play in neighborhoods rather than scheduling activities and playdates Republican or Democrat? Isn’t that a silly question?

I do think it’s important, though, to invoke the “conservative” label for Playborhood to show that we’re not wacky idealists coming up with ideas that have never been tried in the real world before. Our idealism is rooted in our very real experiences as kids. (Is Obama’s idealism deeply rooted in something that he and we are very familiar with, or is it really new and untested?) The trick for us is to make that work in 21st Century America, where videogames, the Internet, and working moms have changed the context.

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One Response to Idealism vs. Experience in Parenting

  1. lattebuyer says:

    Dear Mike-

    As a parent of children who I am extremely proud of, and the husband to a wife who I am in awe of, I find this post of yours both irresponsible and cowardly. I have been blessed over the years to have my children raised in a home with idealism as a guide book, values to show us the way and unstoppable character teaching us when to use compromise or chutzpah to live in this world. I feel incredibly lucky for this and I do not need to either flaunt it or push it onto other people.

    For you to use my wife and child as a negative example to promote your personal views in a public forum is bush-league. Furthermore, to personify yourself as Obama and my wife as McCain is sensationalism that will get you nowhere. You need to remove your article and this response immediately from your website.

    If you would like to talk about this any further after you remove the article and this response, please feel free to call me by phone at any time. You know my number.