By Paula Marantz Cohen
As I have written here before, I was born into a family of teachers. Overall, this has not been a good thing. I love being a teacher—but it has not helped me so much as a parent. In fact, if I were to single out one great failing in my role as a mother, it is that I was always too much the teacher.
Every child-rearing experience had to involve a lesson, with even the simplest query from one of my children giving rise to a lengthy exposition. My husband and I (obviously, I had to marry an enabler to carry off this sort of thing) would look for a productive element in anything we did with our kids. We liked museums and books, were proud not to have cable television or Nintendo, and were able to avoid going to Disney World for a very long time (and when finally bullied into going, took pride in not enjoying it). Our kids fought us every step of the way. They turned out fine, but they have since let us know that we were not “fun” parents.
This saddens me. After years of therapy and the mellowing that comes with age, I see things differently now. Why did I have to cram a lesson into every moment of my children’s lives? This approach thwarted their ability to discover things for themselves and to see learning as joyful rather than parentally prescribed. If I had a chance for a do-over, I would combine waterparks with museums; I’d not only let them have Nintendo, I’d play the games with them.
My husband and I are hoping to behave differently if we have grandchildren. We’ll take them to Disney World at least once a year and let them veg out in front of our recently acquired 50-inch flat screen TV with its premium channels.
That is, if our kids let us. When they become the parents and we the grandparents, all the responsibility will be theirs. They will undoubtedly have their own ideas about how their kids should be raised. It’s possible that they will do the opposite of what we did. But it’s also possible that they will carry on the tradition that we set—or even do us one better, and not let their kids watch TV at all.
Paula Marantz Cohen is a distinguished professor of English at Drexel University and the author of the novels Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death and the SATs and the recent What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper.
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