What can we learn from studying the effects of children on parents?
The past 10 or 15 years will likely be looked back on as a period when parents sank into a morass of identity crisis, with “helicopter parents,” “tiger moms,” and legions of hand-wringing moms and dads trying to figure out where the line is for good intentions based on sound science. It naturally follows that researchers would turn their gazes away from the effects of parents on their children—enough has been written about that to fill a library—and toward the effects of children on their parents. From the starting point of parenting being a “high cost/high reward activity,” New York contributor Senior delves into a broad survey of the topic, parsing out the different arenas in which children are molding the lives of their parents. Employment, marriage, hobbies, habits, relationships with friends and other family, even a parent’s sense of his- or herself: Senior takes an analytical approach to each of these areas, looking at them through a variety of lenses—historical, economic, philosophical, anthropological. She finds that French mothers simultaneously enjoyed caring more for their children and spent less time actually doing it than American women. She examines the phenomenon of “concerted cultivation,” with kids being overscheduled to boost their performances in years to come, and how both narcissism and concern about future opportunities go hand in hand with this level of control. Teenagers, with a heady combination of being both “wild horses and penned veal,” have a great deal of influence over their parents, and the author does an admirable job of reviewing the current state of affairs with technology—specifically, the reversal of roles, with parents asking their kids to friend them on Facebook.
Senior could have made this book twice as long given the minefield parents and their kids face, but what she did produce is well-considered and valuable information.