Ignoring My Kids — For Their Own Good

Why Our 'Look at Me!' Culture Is So Wrong

thinkstock

By Jordana Horn

Published February 02, 2014, issue of February 07, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

‘Mom! Hey, Mom! Look at me!”

“Look at me!” has probably been a refrain of parenting small children since the days of “Mom! Look at the drawing of oxen I made on the wall of the cave!” It can seem constant: “Mom! Look how high I can go on the swing!”; “Dad! Come look at my drawing!”; “Mom! Look at me! I’m standing on my tippy toes!” And in the age of the iPhone camera, we as parents can easily capture all these adorable moments and send them out to friends and family, and post them on Facebook — which basically is the adult way of saying: “Look at me!”

Implicit in all our exhibitionism and “Take pics or it didn’t happen!” culture is the idea that it’s the acknowledgment from the outside world that makes an endeavor worthwhile.

As a parent, I think that’s dangerous, and I want to try to stop it in my own home.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s hard for me to retreat. I adore each one of my (five) kids. Through the rose-colored glasses of my adoration, they are all little geniuses, even the 3-month-old. But if I leap to obey each time I am told to “look at me” — or applaud them for everything they do — they will have a distorted sense of what “accomplishment” really is.

These days, parenting means schlepping to games and meets and performances hours away. It even means sitting through practices for these displays of “skill,” often in quotes: “Mom, did you see that catch I made?” Oy.

I have a sneaking suspicion that all this “Look at me!” is more than just narcissistic — it’s self-defeating. Because if a kid feels that her actions have no worth until they’re observed and applauded by someone else, then how can she develop an inner compass? How can my son develop a sense of what gives him personal satisfaction if doing a good job hinges on my attendance or approval?

In other words, it shouldn’t be the stamp of my eyeball or my presence that makes something worth doing or accomplishing. It’s the personal satisfaction of having done your best that conveys real worth, and self-worth.

And I’m trying to put my money where my mouth is by taking a step back.

I don’t watch my kids at practices. I don’t go to all the games or performances. You might think I’m being lazy, but actually, I’m doing it on purpose.

I encourage my kids to write in journals. One son of mine is artistically inclined, and I’ve gotten him a sketchpad to use as a cartoon journal. He draws a cartoon for each day of the year, and it’s a drawing of something that happened to him that day. When my kids ask me if I want to see what they’ve written, I tell them that these things aren’t for me, they’re for them. And in a few years, if I’m invited to do so, maybe we’ll look back on them together — or maybe not. But in the course of this project, they’ll have developed their own self-conception of what works in drawing or writing and what doesn’t, what’s funny and what isn’t, what conveys how they feel and what falls flat. And it will have come from them, not from me.

According to the Talmud, we Jewish parents are obligated to teach our children three things: to earn a living, to study Torah daily and to swim. The last part is not only, I believe, in order to save a life from potential drowning (pu pu pu!) — it’s to teach independence. No one swims holding someone else’s hand; swimming means an ability to dive into the darkness alone, and to come up and breathe. Swimming means the assurance to step into the tide and know that even if there is no one there to watch you, you will not drown. And it’s that independence and resilience that I want to convey to my children.

This spring, I just refuse to be on the sideline of every single baseball game with the other parents, equipped with the requisite foldable chair and coffee thermos. I know that for some parents, this truancy is tantamount to heresy. In a suburban community like mine, attendance at all children’s sporting events is seen as mandatory.

But it makes sense — both for me and for my sons — to stay away. Because when I’m not there, my sons won’t be performing for me, or be validated by my presence. Instead, they’ll be doing this rare, esoteric thing called “enjoying themselves” or “having fun.” They’re not going to be worried about how they will be reflected in my eyes, or whether I saw a particular play. Instead, they’ll get to spend time with their teammates and themselves. They won’t be worried about how they will look in my camera lens, but instead will just be spending time in the moment. You know — like kids.

And the unexpected flip side? When I did go to the last flag football game of the season last year, my son made sure to come over to me numerous times on the sidelines and thank me for coming.

“I really appreciate you being here today,” my 8-year-old said before running back out onto the field. “Thank you.”

“Wow! My son’s never thanked me for coming to anything,” a dad next to me remarked. “You must be doing something right.”

Or maybe I’m just doing less of something.

Jordana Horn is a contributing editor to the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.