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From the Hart

Parenting isn't fun with a child pedestal in the home
Scripps Howard News Service


July 22, 2005

Desperate for answers, one beleaguered mom wrote to the experts at Parenting magazine this month.

The mother of three kids - ages 4, 3 and 14 months - told the folks at the "Smart Solutions" page: "I can't even go to the bathroom alone. How can I get some peace - and privacy?"

Here are a few ideas from the experts at Parenting for all those dealing with this problem:

- Have the child whisper a story to you through the bottom of the door;

- Give the child a box of Kleenex from which to pull tissues as a distraction while he waits for you;

- Hand over a clock and have him watch the second hand to see how long it takes; then next time, say, "Let's see if I can stay in even longer!";

- Take the little arms from around your knees, attach them to her favorite stuffed animal, and tell her that Teddy needs a nice long hug, too.

In the end, the experts write, just consider yourself lucky if you get one quiet bathroom trip a day.


There are lots of things I like about Parenting magazine. But this advice came straight from what I call today's "parenting culture" - or the accepted dogma from experts that intimidates moms and dads into idolizing their kids, often making parents and little ones completely miserable.

When I want some time alone in my home, I tell my four young children, "You have to leave me alone now," or, "Dear, I can't focus on you now," or "Get away from the bathroom door this instant!" Not only does it work, but their psyches have apparently remained intact and, to a certain extent, mine has, too!

After I suddenly became a single mom, I started a routine of earlier bedtimes for all of them. They complained. I told them it had less to do with their need for rest than it did with my need for quiet time in my own home or, as my own mom used to wisely say, "Early kid bedtimes are for the parents, not the children." (Yes, mine still might complain, but at least that ends the "I'm not tired" routine.)

Of course, they do benefit from extra rest. They also benefit from knowing they are not the center of the universe, and that at any one time there are four other people whose needs in our home need to be considered. Including mine.

And guess what else: They somehow remain (correctly) convinced that I love them like mad.

I have no idea what's going on with the mom who queried Parenting. But I would suggest that if she really can't get to the bathroom alone, she may have problems bigger than difficult-to-arrange potty breaks.

I wonder why her children, at least the 3- and 4-year olds, are so on her heels that they always know when she's going to the bathroom anyway. Assuming they are normal, healthy kids, they should be able to play together safely, and without her entertaining them for good periods of time. (I tell my kids when they whine about not having anything to do that that's why we had so many of them - so they would always have playmates.)

And has someone talked this mom out of appropriate playpen use for the 14-month-old?

Can she do anything by or for herself - or is she just going nuts?

Now forget this mom's particular issues - I see an epidemic of idolized kids in this country. But one of the many problems with treating children like precious little hothouse flowers, instead of the hearty geraniums they generally are, is that it can sap the joy of family life from everyone. Mom and Dad are left exhausted and overrun. And the little ones, whether or not they become tyrants, may at least come to believe that they are not really free to fail - I mean, they've got to stay on that pedestal and be the center of everything, right? That's pretty sad.

With all of its difficulties and challenges, parenting should be joyful, too, and often downright fun. But it seems to me that it's awfully hard to get there with a child pedestal in the home.


Betsy Hart is the author of the forthcoming "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids - and What to Do About It."
Contact her at


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