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A Parenting Slippery Slope

Oct
12
2007

We’ve recently found we can get Monk in English on one of the TV stations here, so lately I’ve been catching the adventures of the obsessive-compulsive San Francisco detective. Germs and dirt are one of his anxieties, so his assistant is always ready with a wipie for him anytime he touches anything.
Which looks perfectly normal to me. I mean, where else do you see people whipping out wipies at every turn? Try your local play group. Or how about your neighborhood grocery? Has it installed wipie dispensers yet for the cart handlebars like the one near us in San Diego?
I don’t want to trivialize a debilitating disorder – that’s a whole different order of actions obviously – but boy, it does look like there’s only a fine line between some of what’s considered normal, careful parenting these days and psychiatric illness. After all, OCD is an anxiety disorder, and anxiety is part and parcel of parenting, as the author of this essay points out.
Writing in Brain, Child magazine, Elisabeth De Vos talks about being a mom with obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as one who has strongly progressive childrearing values. She’s deciding whether her toddler daughter should go to Kindermusik classes and writes well and sympathetically about trying to sort out what’s a reasonable concern and what’s, well, just nuts.
The writer asks the Kindermusik director about whether the carpet’s new and about the paint on the walls and how the instruments are cleaned, and it’s interesting that the director seems to take most of the questions in stride – she must be used to at least some of these questions from parents, and she knows that “’gallons’ of hand sanitizer” are what some parents consider de rigueur these days, just like tons of baby oil used to be the trick for tanners. I don’t know how kids were gathered together before hand sanitizer gel, which is a fairly new offering. (It seemed to appear in stores just around the time Son the Elder made his appearance but I’m pretty sure that’s just my impression.) Before, I guess children just – washed their hands. Sometimes.
So while the KinderMusic director seems used to fielding all sorts of levels of parental obsession, I was reading about the OCD mom’s concerns and thinking maybe she had a point – and I even thought this as the poor woman makes clear how difficult an illness her thoughts reflect. But, you know, she’s right – those popcorn ceilings can have asbestos, and I never noticed where they might be lurking.
This is ridiculous – that OCD childrearing doesn’t look that off – but an attitude that’s probably not helped by reading too many of certain news items. It is one reason it helps to raise children with a partner; odds are each person has different preoccupations, so there’s a chance of a reality check when you wonder if it would be useful to have a waterproof helmet to keep the kids safe in the bath. Also, some of us (I hear) are saved from obsession by being too lazy and distractable to actually hold down the children and spritz their hands every time they might have come in contact with dirt.
It’s a well-meaning attempt to positively control kids’ environments, as parents these days have all sorts of concerns about what their kids eat, and what they touch, and what sort of toys they play with or what shows they watch. You can’t argue with that. And yet, let’s not get too nutty about it all.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 5:01 AM | Permalink

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