i saw the greatest minds of my generation avoiding tree nuts


I think I speak for most readers when I say that I could read 150 of yesterday’s comments and still be going – it’s one of those situations when doing it wrong is bad, doing it too much is gross, and doing nothing is worse. When discussing any kind of sex with your kids, you have to walk a tightrope, the fine line between the Scylla of clinical over-informing, and the Charybdis of fucked-up magical bullshit.

It is, to be sure, two entirely different topics: the “where do babies come from” talk, and the “how can we imbue our kid with a healthy idea of romance” problem. They share similar characteristics (respect, self-love, blah frickin’ blah) but most of all, both have to be discovered by your children on their own, where they will learn their own lessons… and truth is, perhaps 51% of sex and relationships simply has to remain ineffable.

Just Andrew made an interesting comment that we might be a generation of parents delighting in how much better we are at parenting than the last generation, and thus probably screwing up our brood in various untold ways. I agree with Deb that I don’t see us as self-congratulatory, but none of us are above discussing how out-to-fuckin’-lunch our own parents were.

Pretty much everyone I know has a “my parents gave me corn whiskey in the crib to make me stop crying” story, or a near-miss from a wayward Jart. I distinctly remember driving from California to Iowa at the age of three, sitting on the parking brake between the front two seats without any kind of restraint. ‘Twas a different era.


But there is no doubt the pendulum has swung very far back the other way – sorry to use the broad generational brush, but the latchkey Gen Xers seem hellbent on giving their kids the attention they themselves never got, in glorious hyperfocused color. For being basically vagabond fuckups who rented “Faces of Death” in 10th grade, many of us have become a nation of tittering ninnies.

Some of the worst offenders are in the liberal enclaves where I (or my family) happen to live: New York, the Bay Area, and especially Santa Monica. It’s a subtly draconian movement concerning organic foods, peanut allergies, RIE aficionados and the occasional Vaccine Crazymom. The rigid strictness around children in such traditionally progressive towns led me to call it “leftensity” around Tessa and my mom (who immediately told me to put the word in a blog).

Despite this, however, this generation of young’uns is going to benefit on the whole. Sure, they might get a reputation for being self-involved, entitled prissypantses, but I’ll take that every day and Sunday over my own peer group’s penchant for self-mutilation, depression and suicide.

Maybe we can even spare our kids the entitled prissypanting. I’ll offer this piece of advice for you to take or leave, but I’ve seen it work in several different lives, and it has been proven by psychological testing: don’t tell your kids they’re smart; praise them for working hard.

Six studies showed that praising kids for being smart utterly demotivated them, and made them less likely to strive for greatness (lest they disappoint the praiser). Kids given kudos for hard work pushed themselves further, and their scores got higher.

I’ll put it another way: “being smart” is a burden you’re always one failure away from fucking up; “working hard” is something you can control. Like Dean Smith says, even if your shots aren’t falling, you can always play smothering defense.

Yes, it’s true that it’s a lot more satisfying to give your kid a hug and say “you’re so smart!” rather than the awkward “I am so psyched about how hard you worked on that!” but it’s all in the interest of making things better for those after us. Besides, no matter what you do, you’re better parents than this family of gormless, fuckshirted yokels:

0 thoughts on “i saw the greatest minds of my generation avoiding tree nuts

  1. scruggs

    C’mon now, easy on the food allergy moms. Our 2 kids both have severe peanut allergies; the rigid strictness on that front (at least for us), is necessary and it sucks.
    But, I’m totally on board with the “praise the hard work” approach. Our son is nine and at the age where one’s effort can begin to close the gap on or trump natural ability alone, in school and in sports. As kids get older and attrition occurs, most who continue to participate in a particular sport are fairly skilled and it is the kid who puts in the extra time and effort who gains the advantage. Effort alone may not make someone into LeBron James or Bill Gates, but it can serve as a tiebreaker when all else is even. It is important for kids to know, though there is so much in life you can’t control, you can dictate how much effort you put into something.

  2. Ian

    Scruggs, you’re right, I was more making the distinction of our parenting vs. our parents (and god knows my lactose intolerance and oat allergy makes me a big ol’ hypocrite).

  3. Will

    I will try not to occupy my entire day with this comment, but the parallel to Carolina basketball, and Dean Smith in particular, is a good one. I don’t even think it’s necessary to separate offense and defense, as you did.
    I think what Dean Smith always tried to drive into his players’ heads, and by extension the fans, is that all they can do is work hard to perfect the process (in this case, of playing basketball), though they couldn’t always control the product. Multiple defenses, the four corners, these were all innovations made in search of the perfect process. I think that’s one of the reasons Carolina has so many comebacks in its history, because no matter what the score was, the focus is on continuing to follow the process and not worrying about interim results.
    This could actually be counterproductive in isolated situations. For example, running the Four Corners in the 1977 title game probably gave Marquette the opportunity to catch its breath and get back in the game. But the process worked an overwhelming majority of the time, and I’d like to think that Carolina fans learned to appreciate that, and enjoy the journey through the regular season and the pleasure of winning so many games rather than the yes/no question of whether the team won a national championship. That’s why when Carolina won the title in 1982, the comments you heard after the game from players and assistant coaches were all about getting people off Coach Smith’s back. It was like, “We all recognize the beauty of our process; it’s nice for Coach Smith to get some external validation.”
    It’s also interesting how Roy is an updated version of Coach Smith, reflecting a greater emphasis on the result. Roy does still believe in the process, but the winning is much more important to him. Roy also continues the unshakable Carolina belief that working from the inside out is the better approach (and the more beautiful approach in terms of pure basketball) rather than relying on the shiny bauble that is the three-point shot. Even when Carolina does shoot the three well, you’ll usually hear Roy refer to that as “fool’s gold.” And this is one of the many ways that will make Carolina basketball always superior to Duke, by the way.
    So yes, the beauty is in the hard work and the process. That doesn’t mean I didn’t cry out when I found out Kendall Marshall’s wrist was broken after the Creighton game (it’s one of those “I remember where I was” moments) but we’ll always have the memory of what a pleasure it was to watch that team play at its peak.

  4. LFMD

    I don’t agree with you that “this generation of young’uns is going to benefit on the whole.” I think leftensity is turning kids into a BUNCH OF WEIRDOS. WEIRDOS! I see it every day. Kids with strange food issues who think the world revolves around them and are afraid of everything around every corner.
    I have one child who is 13 now. . . I did not raise her with leftensity because I was working full-time and did not have the energy or time to be as leftensive as I could have been if left to my own devices and neuroses. It took a village to raise my daughter, and that village involved formula, day care, cereal for dinner, vaccinations, non-supervised TV viewing, biking riding sans helmet, and sports team in which NOT everyone wins and some teams lose. When she was born, I was so anxiety-ridden about parenting the right way that I could not sleep at night for weeks. Eventually, I learned to unclench, and my little family has been the better for it.
    So many of the parents I see nowadays need to unclench. Why is that so hard?
    Personally, I think that leftensity wanes as the children grow up. You can control every aspect of your child’s life from, say, infancy to maybe 5th grade, but once middle school starts, you have to LET GO and allow your child to think for herself.

  5. Chuck B.

    “Despite this, however, this generation of young’uns is going to benefit on the whole. Sure, they might get a reputation for being self-involved, entitled prissypantses, but I’ll take that every day and Sunday over my own peer group’s penchant for self-mutilation, depression and suicide.”
    You might think differently after reading this New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/07/02/120702crbo_books_kolbert?currentPage=all). It’s a pretty damning look at the parenting approach many are taking today that is making our kids wholly unable to make decisions on their own. Especially since self-mutilation, depression and suicide rates don’t seem to be any better now than they were 30 years ago.

  6. LFMD

    I was not familiar with the RIE movement. Thanks for the link. I needed a good belly laugh this morning!
    RIE: “All of this honors the baby’s “struggle” and builds a more “authentic self,” proponents believe.”
    For reals?

  7. Lara

    I had to look up gormless (does that make me gormless), but it was worth it. Great word. Pathetic video.

  8. jje

    LFMD, your words come across as awfully judgmental for those of us who either fully participate or just dabble in leftensity (me, although technically I’m more of a rightensivist, but details…). I’m a SAHM, I nursed both until they were two, heavily considered the Dr. Sears vax schedule, have done all the Mommy & Me classes, will be schlepping my overscheduled oldest to swimming and chess and soccer this year, and I would sooner stab forks in my eyes than let them ride without helmets (made my oldest ice skate with one), yada yada yada…and I am feeling a bit peevish with the implication that I am neurotic or need to unclench. Or that my rockstar boys are weirdos. ;-)
    I fully admit that I’m probably overcompensating for my classic 70s latchkey child of divorced working parents childhood, but this is the style of parenting I’ve embraced and I think I’m doing a pretty damn good job most days. Sure, I turned out fine and have a positive outlook on how I was raised, but I often ponder how my life might have been slightly different if my much beloved mom had been able to spend the kind of time/offer the opportunities I am able to with my boys.
    We are our own worst enemies when we fight The Mommy Wars. :-(

  9. Karin

    Ian, curious if you’re read The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin. It’s about vaccine/autism hysteria and the very first chapter talks about the enclaves of liberal, highly educated families who are making choices for their children totally contrary to science.

  10. LFMD

    JJE, I AM judgmental and I tend to leave unfiltered comments on Ian’s blog when I am inspired by a topic. Feel free to disregard my comments. . . they are simply overgeneralizations stemming from my own observations.
    My main point in relating my parenting experience was not to convey that ‘”my way is better”. I was trying to convey that I initially planned to create a leftensive environment for my daughter, could not because reality got in the way (how can I control every bite of food and nap time duration while I am at work?), became more flexible in my parenting in ways that would horrify the leftensives, and 13 years later, EVERYTHING IS FINE. I wish I had spent more time embracing the idea of being a parent rather than fretting that I was doing the wrong thing.
    I disagree with Ian’s comment that this generation of children will be better off than our peer group. Being raised like a hot-house flower doesn’t seem compatible with being able to deal with disappoint, stress, or adversity.
    And, I have seen my share of weird kids.

  11. Just Andrew

    Thanks for that link Karin, I’ll be interested to read that – I’ve been having some such conversations recently especially about GMOs. Fascinating to watch folks that pick and choose what science they like – I find a lot of people that have no problem with global climate change and the efficaciousness of vaccines, but then they rail against GMOs.

  12. dob

    On the last point, there are honest-to-goodness rational reasons to be skeptical of GMOs. My two favorite:
    1. GMOs produce organisms artificially selected to provide commercially useful traits. These traits may come at the expense of protection against systemic natural attacks; we don’t know anywhere near enough about gene expressions or ecological engineering to know. It’s all well and good until 90% of the corn crops are destroyed by a hitherto harmless fungus.
    2. The proteins created by newly inserted genes may have harmful effects on human health when ingested. For instance, it turns out that when you edit corn to express insecticidal properties, consuming that corn has toxic effects on the liver similar to, wait for it, eating insecticides.
    Time and again, megacorps have demonstrated they give only as much a fuck about consumer health and safety as they’re forced to, and the enforcers in the FDA and USDA are overworked and hobbled in their mandates. Skepticism about GMO’s may not necessarily always be informed by the data, but by the state of regulatory affairs in our country.


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