I love kids. Honestly. For years I dreamed of adopting one, but my partner has no interest in being a parent and, truth be told, the happier I became with my own life the less I wanted a child. We have a lot of friends with children. In fact, most of our friends have children—and we love them to death. But we also have—even among those beloved friends—a number of child-centric friends.
These are friends who are unable to build boundaries when it comes to pursuing the everyday activities of their lives and the whims and desires (not needs) of their children. This is the person who while in deep discussion will tolerate all sorts of interruptions from a child who wants the parent to come and play with the train now. I’m not saying children should not be allowed to interrupt adult conversation. I am saying that there are two words: “Excuse me,” that all children should be taught before they are inserted in the public space. The child- centric parent likes being watched and likes knowing that you know she or he likes being watched—watched tickling the child, kissing the child, and getting on the floor and crawling on all fours with the child. It’s all about ‘look at me being a good parent.’ It’s really about ‘look at ME!’ only it’s a legitimate plea because it is mediated by the child.
The child-centric parent will leave your house when the child demands he wants to go home now; cancel a long-planned Sunday at the beach because little Colin wants to play with his blocks and he’s really, really into playing right now. God forbid you interfere with what the child wants in the moment, in every moment that she or he utters some unintelligible sound that is elevated to the level of elocution-in-the-making. Sometimes children just babble and gurgle and make strange sounds for no other reason than they are learning the art of communication. The child-centric parent takes every sound literally to heart.
Let me say that in America parenting is rough. There is rarely an extended family to absorb the extra-demands of the child, and since time has to be heavily structured most working parents legitimately want to get the most out of their time with their children. Child-centric parents are not bad people. It is not a moral issue, rather, in several cases an understandable weakness of will. Society is as much to blame as are the parents themselves. If we had more social networks that offered time-support to parents then parents would probably feel less guilty in saying No to every demand. Children can survive the word No. They adapt and move right along. I’ve seen it happen many times.
It seems, though, that there is some degree of narcissism on the part of some parents. They are vicariously living through the child in the sense that they are manufacturing a world where the child’s every desire, need and whim gets catered to. Psychically they are reliving the world they longed for but never had. Parenting becomes a performance, a stage-show in which the parents are the lead actors and the kids the bit players. The frustrating thing about this kind of parent is that it’s really not about the child. It’s about their sublimated need for glory and affirmation. Which in all honesty every parent should receive—affirmation, that is, given the near virtual isolation in which child rearing takes place.But it’s not parenting that needs glorification. Part of the solution lies in reassuring parents that their near pandemic fear that their child will hate them if they learn to broker his or her demand has no basis in reality. But this has to be done gently and with compassion. As I said, parents have it rough. For my part, I intend to do as much baby sitting as possible. Children need alternate realties that are as supportive as home base. That way they learn the art of navigating among a multiplicity of cues of multiple caregivers who care for them as deeply as if they were their own.