Wednesday, February 11, 2004

TV, A Counter-Culture, and the Dads

Yesterday, there was a very interesting discussion at Crooked Timber about TV. Some felt that children's TV had too many commercials and promoted a materialism that they were trying to avoid. Others felt that their kids should be exposed to mainstream culture, because it is better produced than the alternatives, and that kids should learn to filter out the good from the bad early in life.

I surprisingly had few opinions on the subject of TV. My philosophy is just let them watch as little as possible. My kids watch a bit in the morning, so that I can take a shower and a bit in the evening, so that I can make dinner. They are young enough, so that all the shows are basically harmless. Until Emenem shows up on Sesame Street, I don't have to worry that much.

I have many more views on their toys, music, and books (that's for another time).

I do like the notion of a counter culture though. We have one going on here in my neighborhood, which is part of my hesitancy to move to the suburbs. Many of the families are part of the new educated lower middle class. Teachers, professors, and artists, who despite their education and skill, now make less money than unionized blue collar workers.

The counter culture that I'm embracing puts the kids forefront in the lives of the parents. Parents take a career cut to spend more time at home. Dads are home in many instances. Kids are not hidden away from the rest of society in backyards or daycare. There are sidewalks for the kids and large playgrounds. The birthday party we went to on Sunday was a simple affair. Two of the dads played guitars for the kids, who danced around to Beatles tunes. There were no ponies or other expensive outsiders brought in to entertain the troops. Everybody is equally poor, so there is no competition for nice clothes or private classes.

As part of my counter culture utopia, the parents also have lives outside of the kids, too. I despise those simpering parents who kowtow to their tots. Balance.

I am not suggesting a tall wall separating my kids from an outside culture. But I do think there should be a strong influence at home. And there can be much learned from religious conservatives who think deeply about what values they give their children and who minimize the pressures of the outside world. Russell Arben Fox writes, I'm grateful for my faith, because even though it isn't nearly strong enough, it helps me be content with what I've got, focus on my children, and get off the clock.

There is one big downside to making these lifestyle choices. Education. If parents are around a lot, they aren't earning money. And the only way to get a decent education for the kids is to buy into a pricey community. The school in our neighborhood is mediocre at best. The kindergarten teacher will have 25 five year olds with no assistants to help. A good number of the children have never been to school before; others don't know English. The room is so small, that I doubt that all 25 kids will be able to stand up at the same time.

On to the dads... Tim Burke writes about the distribution at his house. Overall, men seem to be doing more around the house than their fathers did. But is it enough? Is it a fair distribution? Based on my highly unscientific poll, women would say no. Are women just asking too much? Are women never happy, as Alison, a commenter from yesterday, claimed?

Housework aside, men, especially the self identified slackers, do really seem to putting a lot more into their care of the kids. Nobody is complaining about that. Tending to the kiddies is much more important than cleaning the tub, so I am heartened by this discussion.

It's funny that I should be writing this pro-parenting post today. I did get in a good two hour hike through the park this afternoon, but otherwise, the day sucked. The kids have colds. Geysers of snot shot out with every sneeze. There have been lots of tears. Not a second to myself to read the paper or the New Yorker. The super turned off all the water during the day, so I didn't get a hot shower, and a mountain of dirty dishes piled up in the sink. Then a couple of Steve's friends stopped by at the last minute, so I had to whip up a second dinner for them.

Thanks to everyone who wrote to tell me about their home arrangements and give me their thoughts on parenting. I hope to respond to everyone later. After Steve's friends leave. Alright, I have got to go be social.

UPDATE: Mental Multivitamin has thoughts on defining the educated lower middle class.
Fiche Reader, an academic parent, has good stuff on her style of parenting. Is there any commonalities among parenting and academics (that's my question, not hers)?

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