Claiming Parental Authority, Reprise

I have written before about professionally successful, generally competent people who are nonetheless seemingly incapable of exercising parental authority. Matt Richtel reveals another aspect of this social phenomenon: Parents who feel the need to pay an outside etiquette expert hundreds of dollars in order to teach their children table manners.

What strikes me most about these people is their strange lack of agency in the family sphere. “It’s so hard to get the kids to behave at the table when the TV is on all the time”. Because obviously, if you have a graduate degree and a six figure income, it is beyond your powers to pick up a remote control and turn off an inanimate piece of electronic equipment. The omnipotent idiot box is on, and who are you to question it?

The other whinge about why people “can’t” parent adequately that is highlighted in the article is one I hear constantly in the Palo Altos of the world (An area Matt knows well as he roams these parts): People who grossly overschedule their family’s life and then complain about how overscheduled they are. I have friends with 4 kids who live near Stanford, and other parents constantly say to them “We envy you guys so much because your kids just play after school whereas we are so exhausted with the baseball coach and the Italian lessons and the ballet club and and and…”.

This couple responds by pointing out that they don’t do anything to get the life they have with their kids, it is indeed the natural state. The over-scheduled, panicked, always-achieving life is something affluent parents create and not something of which they are victims. If you are over-scheduled and overwhelmed by choice, don’t complain and certainly don’t hire an etiquette coach. Instead, do less stuff.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

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Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.