How to Resist The Latest Parenting Racket

They say that there’s a sucker born every minute, so what does that say about the people that brought that thar sucker into the world?

That’s right — it takes one (or more accurately, two) to make one.

And today’s parents that are so fully devoted to providing our precious offspring with “the perfect life” and getting a do-over for perceived deficiencies in our own upbringings are perhaps the biggest chumps ever created.

Don’t believe me? Let’s review for a minute your childhood vs. your child’s/children’s:

YOU: When you were born, your parents took you home in an outfit provided by the hospital. Later, the blanket you were swaddled in became the perfect rag to clean off your spit-up and sponge down your changing table.

YOUR KID(S): Your child(ren) came home in a photo-shoot-ready coordinated outfit from the Gap or better. Baby’s first blanket was as much a fashion statement as it was a lovey.

YOU: You rode home from the hospital in your mom’s arms. As you grew, you bumped around in the back of the family sedan, or if you were fancy, a station wagon — no seatbelts required. Extra points if mom or dad or both chain-smoked with the windows up and the heat on during the winter. Outside of the car, you were moved from place to place in a simple stroller that you graduated from the second you could walk.

YOUR KID(S): Left the hospital in an infant car seat that required a master’s degree in physics to install properly. As s/he grew, the car seat only got more elaborate, with all sorts of built-in safety features, special padding, cup holders, and more. The booster seat you moved the child(ren)into once they headed into elementary school was a bit less intense — someone with a solid B.S. in engineering could install that puppy properly. Forget a sedan or a station wagon (if that even exists anymore!); you had a mobile playpen/home entertainment center also known as a minivan (or SUV for the “cooler” parents, lol) with all the space necessary to accommodate a car seat or two or more as your family and their friends grew. Outside of the car, their rides —  a whole stable of strollers, from convertible car seats to standard to jogger to lightweight/umbrella — cost almost as much as yours, with extra points for investing in the Beamers of the Baby Set (Bugaboo, Britax, etc.). Why would you have made the kiddies walk when you could push them around in style? My teenagers would still be in their strollers if only I had taken Pilates and the benefits of a rock-solid core more seriously.

YOU: Played with wooden blocks, maybe a Barbie or a G.I. Joe, a bike (that as you grew you tore up the neighborhood with), a dollhouse, toy cars ‘n trucks, and perhaps a pair of roller-skates or a skateboard. And the only “electronics” you ever had was a Lite-Brite and maybe, if you were super lucky, an Atari set with the extra-exciting “video game,” Pong and later, Pac-Man.

YOUR KID(S): From the first black and white mobile guaranteed to stimulate brain development, to tricked out Pack ‘n Plays, rooms full of “must have” toys that refined motor skills, sharpened acuity, and drained your bank account; and to electronic games for infants on up, even playtime was a race to the top (or nowhere, depending on your perspective). If your kid didn’t have a full-sized playhouse, a motorized toy car, and his/her own electronic devices (tablet, video games, etc.) from an early age, then they risked being left in the virtual and real dust. And even if you didn’t get junior his/her own smart phone on principle, I guarantee they took yours all the time (and probably still do, even if they have their own!)

YOU: Had gym class daily and also (free) after school sports, so that might have been enough for you, athletically speaking. Maybe you played soccer, baseball/softball, volleyball, or basketball in your local rec program. Perhaps you took dance or skating lessons, did gymnastics, played tennis, swam, or ran track. Sports had seasons, so you might have played year-round, but it was different activities all the time. And whatever you did, it was mainly about you and your own enjoyment. Parents certainly didn’t hang out to watch you practice, and often times, they didn’t even come to watch your games.

YOUR KID(S): I’m not saying you had your child(ren) in Olympic training (maybe you did? I’m not judging…), but from the toddler years of wee ball and gym programs, through rec league sports on to travel teams, professional-level private coaching, and even school teams where fundraising and fees can run you four digits and more — this is not their mama’s athletics. And forget seasons; if your child isn’t a specialist playing their main sport year-round by they move on from the beginning level, then they are cooling their heels and warming a bench for the rest of their athletic “career.”  You sit with them through practices, games, tournaments, and more; in the rain, cold, beating hot summer days — whatever it takes, your endurance is as crucial as theirs. (See Ask Bitch’in Suburbia: Youth Sports Edition.)

YOU: Went to public school, which only cost your parents what they paid in property tax. Maybe you went to private school, but that was only for the most posh among us. And if your mom volunteered at the school, it was for a very limited situation — a school play or possibly as a field trip chaperone. Your dad only set foot on campus in the evenings if you had some kind of performance.

YOUR KID(S): If they go to public school, you spend a small fortune on fundraisers (gift wrap, cookie dough, magazines, direct donation, etc.)… and this doesn’t include the value of the time you volunteer. By you, I mean you and your husband or partner, your parents if they live near you, maybe an aunt/uncle/cousin/pet if s/he has special skills, because nowadays it’s all hands on deck. And private school is no longer a luxury — in fact, many consider it a necessity. Maybe you weren’t planning on blowing your college savings on kindergarten, but just know that there is a feeding chain that starts in preschool and goes all the way through to grad school. One false academic move, and your kid will be looking at a career slinging Frappuccinos… if s/he’s lucky. (See Ask Bitch’in Suburbia: Back to School Edition.)

This all leads us to the latest scam in the parenting racket — college admission prep.

YOU: Maybe met with your school’s college counselor once or twice in the late spring of your junior year (or early fall, senior year), just to get an idea about the schools you could get into, including available scholarships. If you were super motivated, you might have picked up a brochure or two about a school you wanted to go to, and maybe even went to visit the campus. You took the PSAT once, and the SAT once, possibly twice if you really bombed it the first time. You filled in your own applications, wrote your own essays, and mailed everything off yourself. Your letters of rejection or acceptance came to your house, and that was the moment mom and/or dad jumped in to either join you in celebration, or comfort you, depending on the situation.

YOUR KID(S): College prep started in preschool, and it’s only gotten more competitive since then. Your middle schooler has probably already taken the PSAT, so that gives him/her two more times to take it so by their third time, junior year, they might possibly have the system down enough to get that golden ring (a National Merit Scholarship). That same middle school student may already be signed up for an SAT prep class — or ACT prep, depending. By the time s/he is in 10th grade, this party train better be in high gear or you’re screwed.

Wait, did I say YOU’RE SCREWED? YES I DID!

If you haven’t hired a private college counselor to work with your child ($2,000-$6,000 on average, depending on where you live) by the time 10th grade has ended, then you’re too late. If your kid hasn’t taken a full SAT or ACT yet, you might consider starting to panic. The last SAT that students can take before the Common Core change-over is this coming October — after that, all bets are clearly off because what will the students study from at their test prep centers when it’s a brand new type of test? (OHHHH and did I mention, it’s another few grand for test prep, which is NOT to be confused with college counseling.) And while there are still “free” resources out there (school counselors, online systems like Naviance that your child’s school might use), you will not be competitive because everyone around you is paying the piper for private counselors that advise both on the admissions process AND edit applications, plus the aforementioned test prep.

Wait, did I say YOU again? Sorry, I meant your student.

Fuck it, I meant YOU.

The same person who will be shelling out a small fortune just for applications, never mind college tuition, which is another story.

It feels like another one of those parenting rackets, and I for one am doing my damnedest to resist. This of course means I have to do my homework, so I have a long list of to-do’s that will help me AND my child understand today’s admissions process before I bite any bullets and open up my wallet.

Moreover, this time I’m listening to that little voice in my head that says the same thing that it always says — from strollers through youth sports and school daze — don’t believe the hype.

So if you see me putting down my No. 2 pencil, just know that I’m finally realizing that there are no right or wrong answers in the parenting racket. All you have to do is accept there are multiple choices, and the real test is choosing what’s right for you and yours, without being influenced by them and theirs.

It takes balls to resist the racket, but once you do, you’ll find the playing field is more level than you thought.

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