As parents, we understand that the culture has great power over our children; they see the latest ad campaign for jeans and are convinced that their lives would be better if they bought them. However, we may not realize that we're no less immune. If you have a car, ask yourself what it says about you. In full, embarrassing disclosure, I bought an SUV because I couldn't tolerate the image of driving a minivan--which would have been a much better choice because they're cheaper and more fuel-efficient.
We also belong to microcultures where there are similar unwritten rules we "just know" we have to follow. Your children's school, your religious institution, your family--all have unwritten rules you must follow to be accepted, and there are penalties for the people who break those rules.
Cultural rule breakers can make others extremely uncomfortable, so most people don't want them around. These people are seen as "other," possibly tolerated but rarely accepted. Very often, rule breakers aren't respected, their opinions and experiences are easily dismissed, and other people don't want to be seen as associated with them, even when they think the rule breakers are right. If we grow up without learning to question the culture, we take a few lessons with us from our youth:
So how does this affect parents? I think there is a parent
culture that takes its cues from the overall culture,
tricking us into thinking there is one best, most desirable
way to be a parent. I call it Perfect Parent World.
Welcome to Perfect Parent World
In Perfect Parent World, the kids are perfect. They do their homework without nagging, effortlessly get into all the honors classes, get elected to class offices, and give their parents a steady stream of bragging rights based on their scholastic and athletic accomplishments. In this mythical kingdom, the parents are perfect, too. They're financially stable, wear the right clothes, drive the right cars, never crack under the strain of car pool, offer our peers excellent parenting advice, and have great kids whose pockets are never filled with bad report cards, cigarettes, or Ecstasy.
Our family doesn't do average. Tammy, mother of a five-year-old, complaining because her son got an E for "excellent" instead of an O for "outstanding"
No one I know actually resides in Perfect Parent World, but most parents I've met--myself included--measure themselves against this impossible standard, and we imagine that the moms and dads with the most power and highest social status occupy that cherished real estate. But who decides who personifies perfection?
One of the primary ways both boys and girls and men and women define who has power and social status is by how our culture defines masculinity and femininity. Girls and boys are introduced to these cultural constructions very early in life. In middle school and high school they build groups based on how closely they perceive their fit into those cultural constructions, which I call Girl World and Boy World.
Excerpted from Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads by Rosalind Wiseman with Elizabeth Rapoport Copyright © 2006 by Rosalind Wiseman. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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