An open letter to the next generation of parents

If you could write a letter to the people who will soon be raising the next generation, what would it say?

Dear parents of the next generation:

Don’t stink at it.



I’m thinking about this because of an informative — for some of us, depressing — op-ed piece in the Star Tribune today by William J. Doherty, a professor of family social science and director of the Families and Democracy Project at the University of Minnesota. In Mom and Pop go over the top, Doherty takes on “hyper-parenting,” specifically, attending your children’s sports events:

The mark of a good parent in today’s world is personal chauffeuring rather than group carpooling, cheering loudly from the sidelines at all games, advocating with coaches for their child’s playing time, and backing away from any activity (such as family dinners and PTA meetings) that conflicts with year-round sports schedules that rival those of professional athletes. The top-rated parents become agents for their children’s sports careers; average parents just try to keep their balance in a world that rewards excess.

… and….

It’s ironic that parents who would never miss an athletic event often overlook what research and common sense attest are the most important activities that parents do with their children, things like having meals with them and quietly reading to them

Hyper-parenting, according to Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld is full of terrible consequences:

We suspect that this hyper-rearing way of life contributes to the increasing incidence of teen-age depression, substance abuse and sexual acting out. So what should parents do? Cutting back just 5-7 percent in scheduled activities can help families embrace sanity. Character development and interpersonal relationships can become central again, as they should, by de-emphasizing activities and accomplishments.

I have recently entered the phase of my life where my children are grown and — mostly — on their own. Neither of them has stuck up a bank (yet) or joined a violent underground movement to overthrow the country (yet). And so I have more time to reflect on their upbringing by reading articles like Professor Doherty’s. It’s guilt time.

bob_and_kids.jpgI was one of the baby boomers who took comfort in the salve of the observation of the ’80s that my generation of fathers would be more engaged in the raising of their children than our fathers who, if we read between the lines of the observation, apparently did it all wrong and we turned out as perfect as we were because of (a) our mothers and (b) our own cunning.

A generation later, we are learning that we did it wrong, too, and the correct way of raising children is — as it turns out — the way our fathers and mothers did. Who knew?

Parents of the next generation, here’s tip #1. There’s always someone out there telling you you’re doing it wrong, warning you to change your ways before your kids rob a bank and undermine the government. Be ready for it.

You’ll be constantly bombarded with studies and articles to make you question the quality of your parenting. Let’s just take this week, for example:

  • Being too strict turns kids into obsessive hobbyists.
  • Pushy mums produce confident girls
  • More family meals equals less teen sex.
  • Pressure of perfect family leads to spoiled children.
  • So many ways to mess up our kids, so little time.

    My generation is now releasing their over-parented, over-scheduled kids to the world. Our job is (mostly) done. We have more time to sit back and read the reviews above, knowing that we don’t get a do-over. It is a moment of parental passage, and it’s way worse than the “terrible twos.”

    So today, I’m calling on the News Cut parenting veterans to compose a letter to the parents of the next generation. Armed as we are with the knowledge we did it wrong, we can nonetheless provide some guidance.

    I’ll start, and you can add your paragraph in the comments section below. Keep it positive and base your paragraph only on your own experiences, not on criticizing others.

    Here’s my contribution…

    Dear parents of the next generation:

    Do the best you can.

    Oh, by the way, I won’t be blogging much today. I’m taking the afternoon off to go golfing with one of my kids. We may stop at a bank first and a government building later.

    — Bob

    • Part of the reason it’s been so hard for me to find work is that I insist on being a part of my kids life. As a divorced dad, I value picking them up at school every day and supervising their homework, piano practice, and some running around for the heck of it.

      The 3 nights a week I have them for dinner we not only sit down together, but we make dinner together – with my oldest recently graduating to Sous-Chef in our own little joke. My youngest is still learning to set a perfect table, but he’s getting there.

      Insisting that I spend all of this old fashioned quantity time very much limits my economic value. I can’t take a job with normal work hours, and I certainly can’t commute an hour or so. That means that I am constantly scrambling for money.

      But I don’t care. I know what’s important in life. If the rest of the world doesn’t want me to be the dad I know have to be, screw ’em all. A man has to have priorities, and mine are my kids. That means that we often ride the bus together since there’s only one car in the family. It’s just more quantity time, is all. I love it. I won’t have it any other way.

    • Mitch A

      Dear parents of the next generation:

      Try to spend as much time at school as you do on the field, rink or floor. Balance is important. Being a math coach can be fun.


    • Al

      And it’s not true you don’t get a do-over. After this morning, I’d let you have the chance at a do-over with my two. It was one of those mornings! So I really could use advice from the veterans today.

    • Anna

      Dear Parents –

      Get in touch with your inner-five-year-old. Play with sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and mud. Dance to Sesame Street songs in the living room. Go on a field trip on a bouncy school bus. Play fair, and don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

      Anna (parent of a four-year-old)

    • tony

      Dear parents of the next generation:

      Use common sense. Do what seems right to you and ignore advice from well-meaning friends, relatives & experts.

      Having said that, one of the best things we ever did was make a conscious decision to leave the television off in the evening. YMMV.

      Good luck.

    • Allison

      Try to only obsess over a few things, not everything. We chose not to have a TV, but we didn’t obsess over plastic toys or having everything be organic or over expert advice about how supposedly wonderful and effective time-outs would be.

      Be a little bit lazy and selfish sometimes. You don’t need to spend your afternoon playing Candy Land in order to spend time with your kid. Invite him into your world of dishwasher-loading and meal prep. Let your kid be bored by how mama wants to do the NYT crossword — boredom is a gift! Give him a spiral-bound notebook and a pencil and tell him to leave you alone for 20 minutes.

      Allison (mom of kids ages 15 to 22 who, so far, have all turned out to be really easygoing, civilized, and intelligent)

    • bsimon

      You people can’t tell me what to do!

      (thanks for the input)

    • Mike R

      I somehow became an obsessive hobbyist without the benefit of pushy parents.

    • AWifeAlreadyandMotherofThree

      Kids need time to be kids, to play together and explore the world without externally imposed objectives or agendas.

      Sometimes kids need to fight with their siblings.

      Temper tears are not trauma tears. Know the difference, and respond accordingly.

      It doesn’t have to be “EDUCATIONAL” for them to learn something from it.

      It is possible to learn from something even if it isn’t fun.

      It’s OK to be a beginner and completely suck at something. It’s not OK to exclude someone because they are and do.

      It’s OK to lose teeth, games, mittens, and lunch money.

      Dirt doesn’t hurt.

    • Michael


      Thank you for the post this morning.

      I’m not a parent, yet (at least that I’m aware of), but I just wanted to pass along a few things my parents did that, looking back on, helped me be the young man I am today:

      *Imbued me with confidence. Even though I grew up in a small town (about 1,500), they told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be.

      *Spent quality time with me. Reading a book to me, helping me with homework, teaching me how to golf, etc. Whatever it was, they always did it with patience and love.

      *Taught me right from wrong. Though it was through the lens of religion (which I am estranged from now), the morality lessons shone through.

      These are just a few, but they illustrate what you prescribe, Bob and tony: Do the best you can and use common sense.

    • Dear parents of the next generation:

      Your kids can play without you. Please let them.


    • Chris

      Dear Parents,

      Listen to your kids teachers, they see a side of your child you never can. And they’re not in it for the money (think 700 billion dollar bailout).