Monday, March 07, 2005

Parenting In An Age of Specialization

The days of “broad” casting are over; the days of “narrow” casting are upon us. Given the amount of information available on every subject imaginable, it’s no wonder we find ourselves living in an age of specialists. In nearly every field, people’s area of expertise is shrinking to miniscule proportions, and the impact is felt acutely by parents.

We want our kids to be healthy so we make sure they have a doctor. But we don’t want them to have a regular doctor. In fact, it’s hard to find a good, old-fashioned general practitioner these days – someone who cares for people “from the cradle to the grave.” Nowadays, we want our children to have an age-appropriate, gender-specialized pediatrician, someone who only treats left-handed girls between the ages of 18-24 months.

We want our kids to be intellectually advanced, so we choose the location of our home by school district. And we grill their teachers to ensure that our little Einstein will have the best environment possible to develop his mind. Gone are the days of the one-room schoolhouse with a dowdy schoolmarm who taught everything from reading and writing to arithmetic. Now we want young, attractive, energetic, multi-lingual math teachers who come in for one hour a day to teach only math (in a young, attractive, energetic, multi-lingual sort of way). If we want Alexandria to learn Spanish, we’ll find her a good private tutor out in the suburbs somewhere who specializes in teaching suburban Spanish to suburban children.

We want our kids to be athletic, so we enroll them in sports programs. God forbid one kid in America might miss out on youth soccer! It’s become like the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt pay hundreds of dollars so your child can play bee-hive soccer. Here too, however, we find that coaches tend to concentrate on one sport. After all, what hath basketball to do with soccer?

We want our children to be cultured, to appreciate the arts. So we enroll them in piano and art and ballet lessons. Can we be honest about something? Ballet lessons for a four year old are really just an excuse to dress your daughter up in a pretty outfit. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s more than it is.

On and on it goes. We send our overscheduled, under-rested, stressed-out kids from person to person, trying to make sure they are having a well-rounded childhood. Is there an appropriate balance of physical, cultural and academic activities? Are they growing up with all the advantages we never had? Is there a specialist out there whose help we have not sought out? A time-management expert or a nutritionist? Is there someone who can teach my child the most beneficial way of playing in the backyard?

There’s nothing wrong with specializing in a particular skill. And there’s nothing wrong with seeking out the help and expertise of someone uniquely qualified in a given field. If you can afford to give your child a leg up, go for it. After all, you’re not responsible for teaching them history and science courses. No one said you have to coach little league or learn a foreign language in order to parent your kids.

But what about when it comes to your child’s connection to God? What about your child’s worldview? Who’s responsible for that?