This morning when I log in for my morning Inter-netz fix I immediately see two of my Tweeps (yes, I use that phrase! My husband hates it! It means a person I follow or who follows me on Twitter, if you are someone like my Mom who is reading this!) have linked to the online Details Magazine article: “Are You Raising a Douchebag?” And I simply can’t help it – I have to click through. For one, I’ve caught the trendy and infectious glee of the insult “douche”, just like everyone else.* Secondly, I feel myself drawn to the latest bit of Parenting Pop-Culture Babble even though, upon bringing the article up, I experience that inward groan as I’m assailed by ALL CAPS:
ARE YOU RAISING A DOUCHEBAG?
YOUR INDULGENT PARENTING IS SPAWNING A GENERATION OF ENTITLED HIPSTER BRATS
Right. That by-line? Chances that this author (one David Hochman) has absolutely nothing valuable to offer in what follows except a series of smarmy zingers that sound kind of truthy about today’s kids – and at some point he will lean back and sweepingly claim these observations apply to a lot of kids, hell maybe even “kids today” if we’re lucky?: One Hundred to Yes.
Sure enough, the following copy is a relatively dense body of pithy snark about Terrible Kids and the Terrible Parents Who Raise Them (yes, “spoiled” gets trotted out, as does “brat”, “fetishized celebrities”, and a handful of other juicy kid-hate phrases). Hochman illustrates in detail the snotty little shits who send back foie gras and “fashion-bull[y]” their peers if the latter aren’t wearing Junior Dolce & Gabbana (I had to copy and paste that from the original article! Because I do not know how to spell fashion houses! Because I know nothing about fashion!). For being a relatively short article (and a remarkably insubstantial one), it is packed with quips like, “Put it this way: If it’s your child, not you, who gets to choose your weekend brunch spot, or if he’s the one asking how the branzino is prepared, it’s probably time to take a hard look at your own behavior.”
Ha ha! Yes! This is so relevant to so many parents I know. Actually, none! Okay! Let’s move on:
Also, Hipster Hate. It’s so fun! I mean, doing an exacting send-up of hipsters means we get to demonstrate our knowledge of said Hip cultural edifices (what’s branzino?) but at the same time sneeringly dismiss those who are enthusiastic about pursuing them. Picking on hipsters – it’s almost like a way to dehumanize a group of people and assume they only have the most shallow, superficial personalities and aren’t real, whole, earnest human beings! Nevermind that I have yet to meet someone who self-identifies as “hipster”, but I have heard about a hundred examples of people smirkingly referring to others as such. I could gladly go the rest of my life not hearing the moniker invoked as a vague, snooty pejorative, but I fear I won’t be allowed to.
Midway through the article there’s a brief, oh so brief, departure from picking on contemporary and/or wealthy parents and their kiddos:
It’s not just about money, though. Since the nineties, a surge in overprotective parenting has promoted discussion over discipline and made leisure activities contingent upon nanny CPR training (have you ever even considered letting your kid play with a pocket knife or a rusty Flexible Flyer, never mind have a paper route?).
Off-topic: at this moment my own children are playing with a pocket knife and a rusty Flexible Flyer (and likely an arc welder to join the two), but let’s get back on point.
So apparently we’ve had some “discussion over discipline” since the nineties. That’s some terrible shit. Or wait – what do you even mean by that? Nevermind, forget a relevant discussion about overprotective parenting (and there are many to be had)** – no, we need hand-wringing and broad statements! Cue quote from author Katie Allison Granju:
We no longer allow children to have personal autonomy, to experience hard knocks, or to take real risks. [...] The result is a nation of overweight, overindulged, overly neurotic kids who whine and moan and often can’t function on their own.
Right. An entire generation. Not one parent allows one kid to take a risk, ever. Oh, and TEH FATTIEZ!
Why do I care about this article? I know what you’re thinking: Why fuss? It’s a blip on the screen. Yet, I see so much of this sort of thing: an author inexpert on the topic, gathering up a bunch of “authorities” to make a bunch of sweeping claims about Parents and Kids Today, as if today’s parenting culture was a monolith of Borg-like assholes going through the motions, rather than a complex, heavily nuanced series of mores, values, and traditions being fought in the trenches by, you know, real people. In fact I’d posit that part of today’s parenting culture, indeed, are the throw-away judgy articles like this one, and I cringe when I read them – because I know how bad they make people feel, and not bad in a “Hey, you’re right, thanks for putting your finger on it! I’d been feeling bummed about this. Now let’s motivate myself for some change!” way. Just: bad.
Because oh my gosh! You are not writing this article in a cultural vacuum! Do you have any idea how much judgment/hate there is out there for parents? (especially moms, that’s the funnest Hate there is!). In fact, maybe that’s why it’s so easy to write and publish this kind of thing – that stuff is out there like oxygen, yours for the taking and inspiration!
Do articles like this help anyone? Is there a reader out there who, even though unable to relate entirely to the name-dropping and moneyed institutions referenced therein (or maybe they can; more about this in a minute), nevertheless feels that tug of, “Maybe that’s me, raising a douchey kid”? Oh… maybe. Maybe one or two (note: article will not provide a course of action if this is the case). Are there lots and lots of other parents who read this and feel gripped with a vague anxiety and an intense knowledge of how much they are judged by the public when out and about with their kiddos? Uh-huh. Are there a handful of parents who read this and feel smug that these are other (“rich”) parents raising a generation of jerks? Yup. Are there lots of other childfree people who read this and feel their breeder hate (and profound ignorance of some of the realities of parenting) increase? Oh heck yeah. So hey, good job!
I realize many people write copy to get paid, so a zingy article is the goal in and of itself. I just wish there was so, so much less of this kind of thing. Writing an extremely critical article about Entitled Brats and how many of them there are today – apparently cared for by parents who only, only care about living some hip, urbane life – it just doesn’t match up to reality.
Because you know what’s weird? I actually know parents. I know a lot of them! Oops, I even am a parent! Weird how this happens! And I can tell you, despite the harsh terminology of articles like this, and the inevitable trotting out of the evil “friend” parent (never has any other progenitor assed out so thoroughly on their job, says the finger-wagging expert, than the Friend Parent), I do not personally know a single parent who doesn’t care very, very much about what kind of person their child is, and who he/she is becoming. Daily in my life, friends seek me out to talk about their kids’ development, and not even in some hyper-vigilant, paranoid, fussy way. Like, I’m raising this kid, what should I feed them? & My kid got hit in the face at school. It’s no big deal but he’s a little sad. & Oh, my kid’s having trouble at night, growing pains. What do you do for that? Oooooh, what a bunch of tightly-wound superficial assholes we all are.
So, you know, even if as an American parent you’re wary of the popularity of parent-hate, I think articles like these don’t mean much besides a bunch of judgy horseshit. This particular article is just taking aim and firing at the moneyed, urban (and I daresay mostly white) variety. If you are a parent whose lifestyle touches on some of the cultural markers referenced – you fly first class and take ski trips and go to brunch – okay, then. Good luck with that, because this article at least gives you no help at how to navigate your privileged cultural terrain while raising a conscientious, empathetic kid (and just so you know, I don’t hate on money; our family wage puts us at working class but I myself feel relatively privileged by the world’s standards; besides, no matter where you are in America’s socio-economic specturm, empathy is one of our hardest jobs as parents). Or wait, at the very end Mr. Hochman instructs you not to have such elaborate birthday parties. And to hire the services of Child Minded, a parent-coaching with a fee of $1200 a day.
And if you are a parent, and your kid is kind of an asshole? Well, I for one am not going to hate on you. It happens. BTDT. Call me up, and let’s talk. I’ll put the coffee on.
(Edited to add: my online friend Daniel Bigler penned a less-ranty, more spot-on post re: the Details piece; you can read it at his blog, last link below).
Details Magazine, “Are You Raising a Douchebag?”
* “Douchebag; An Insult for the Ages” at The Rotund
Daniel Bigler’s post at his blog