Thursday, August 1, 2013

How to Go From Voicing Your Opinion To Man-Basher in One Easy Lesson

Recently I attended a blogging conference for women, aptly called BlogHer.

One of the keynote speakers was a guy, aptly called Guy.  

Guy Kawasaki is a baby boomer who rode the first wave of Apple's success (in marketing, I believe) and doesn't seem to have looked back, career-wise. He has more twitter followers than God. I found him to be an engaging, articulate speaker.
Most of the audience seemed to be loving his talk. I was feeling a little suspicious about how heavily he was flogging Google Plus since he, you know, works for them, but I guessed the audience were mostly aware they were being sold to and were cool with that.

Then, he dropped a couple of comments that made me feel uncomfortable- beginning with an ostensibly benign "compliment" about women having great blog names. It felt like women were being bundled together and damned with faint praise. Lea Grover further explains the concept of benevolent sexism here and why that didn't sit well.

After that the  generalisations started coming thick and fast. Next up was  "real women use android." And then "behind every successful man in social media there is probably a woman." When asked how he balances work and family life, he said he has three women BEHIND him- his wife, who runs the family ("God bless her"), a nanny and an assistant. I wondered why he couldn't say they were BESIDE him,  as an equal relationship would imply? Imagine inserting a minority group instead of the word "women": re-read it and ask yourself whether it sounds ok. 

Then there was the remark that he "didn't have the right chromosome" for Pinterest, managing to offend both women and the men who like Pinterest all at once. There was also a generalisation, maybe thrown in for good measure, that he was sure the (female) audience would disagree with his assessment of social media being a tool to market your brand because we all think it's "all kumbaya and sharing your feelings"- patronising much?

I tweeted out my displeasure, as did several others in attendance.  A few days later a piece popped up in the Huffington Post  claiming that "everyone loved it except for one person." Interesting. Untrue. Several women walked out of the talk and several others tweeted and retweeted their concerns. Not a large proportion of the audience, sure, but we're not talking the Lone Ranger here. The piece went on to lambast this mystery woman for her man-bashing, and then extrapolate that criticising one man was the equivalent to hating on all men. Anyone spot that leap in logic? 

The plot thickened when I realised that the piece, written in defence of not just Guy Kawasaki but apparently men everywhere, was written by none other than Kawasaki's assistant, Peg Fitzpatrick.  Although she assured us that she 100% thinks for herself, I do question how much impartiality an employee who presumably likes her job has when discussing her employer's  casual sexism or lack thereof. Call me crazy. I also question whether she has a full grasp of the concepts of casual and internalised sexism.

It feels a little like shadow-boxing, but since I had indeed criticised Kawasaki publicly and since she claimed only one person did it, I will assume I am said man-bashing feminist. Fitzpatrick went on with the dubious assertion that "the damage was done by the attack of one woman who felt it was her duty to project her feminism onto the only man present."  This sentence called to mind, for me, a lone feminist assassin, tweeting from the  shadows dressed all in black, determined to take down the poor, defenceless, solitary male, with nothing but a horde of angry feminists-who-love-men to stop her.

 I can assure you I adore certain men, but not all of them. Because it turns out they're not all alike. Shocking, I know. Also, perhaps equally shockingly, all I was doing was calling out some casually sexist commentary, not executing a personal attack on the dude. Why is it ok for Kawasaki to generalise about women according to his own taste, but when I call out one guy on his comments, I am accused of being a man-hater?

Guy Kawasaki is super wealthy, influential, male, American and a baby boomer. He IS the fricking 1%. Instead of discussing the issues that came out of the comments, maybe investigating why some one else might have a different view, a woman who works for him decided to come out swinging. Really now? Because engaging in reasoned debate is, what.... too hard? Too uncomfortable? 

 I don't think any one is calling Kawasaki a raging misogynist. What I, and others, are saying  is that nice guys perpetrate sexism too. It's casual, it's insidious, and it's a product of the culture we live in. I have no doubt that Kawasaki probably doesn't think he is sexist at all. Fitzpatrick assured her audience that  "if I felt something that he said was sexist, believe me, I would have been the first to call him on it." So what, if you think something is sexist it's ok for you to say so but if someone else has a different view that's not ok, they have to be quiet lest someone tells them they aren't being nice? If I see sexism,  I feel the need to call it out, whether that makes you uncomfortable or not. That makes me neither a man-basher nor slandering an entire gender.

One issue Fitzpatrick and I agree on is that bashing men is not a feminist act. I just don't think that voicing a disagreement over some comments one man made during the course of an interview I attended fits into this category. Five years ago, I may not have taken issue with Kawasaki's comments either, but I like to think I would have been open to other people's interpretations. Since then I have listened, I have read, and I have learned. Fitzpatrick would do well to do the same. In the meantime, I'm sure Guy Kawasaki is doing just fine- possible flesh wounds excepted. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

For Maya Who Is Five

I did one of these for Alex a couple of months ago and now it's Maya's turn...avert your eyes if you don't want to read a completely biased account of the wonderfulness of a particularly spectacular newly minted five-year-old.

1. I love your sense of humour. I love your belly laugh, I love when you crack a joke and then laugh at yourself. Raising your glass to your dad when you were three, you announced, "Dad, you are a glorious man!" then gave a chuckle. You invented a one-year-old bald baby with a moustache named Gordon who is responsible for any malodorous smells that permeate the house or car. You are a great mimic.You're just damn funny.

2. You are a ray of pure sunshine. "Don't worry Alex, I still love you." You're affectionate and warm and always see the good. You sing and hum to yourself all day. You draw light in from all around you and reflect it back tenfold. You smile more than anyone I know. You are radiant.

3. Your creativity. You sing, dance, write stories, draw. You make up wonderful names for all of your toys. You perform hip hop and jazz without music. You make up your own song lyrics. "Family is important, they make me glad, I go and give a cuddle to my mum when I feel sad."
You are always expressing yourself. You write beautiful stories. "Damia's eyes were bursting with bigness."
Your love of books and stories, the way you get totally absorbed and lost in imaginary worlds.

4. Your temper. You throw things, get worked up, scream, spit (!), throw yourself on the floor, and then five minutes later the cloud has passed and it's like nothing has happened. Let it out girlfriend. Your spiritedness. If it's something you believe in, you don't take no for an answer.

5. Your self assurance and individuality. A relative commented on your round belly. "That's how my body is supposed to be!" you protested hotly. When asked what you would like, you don't murmur meekly, you boldly state your preference. "I don't really like macaroni but I would like some spaghetti, please." Your suggestion that I "decorate the lounge room a little" during the night so you would have something nice to wake up to on your birthday. "It's a school day but it's still special", you reminded me.
Lately you've taken to wearing a different coloured sock on each foot, because you like it. You know exactly who you are.

6. Your generosity. You would share your last grape with any one who needed it. (you love grapes). You are always looking out for other people. You're always willing to lend a hand, to try to make someone feel better.You lavish people with good feeling, you share your natural resource abundantly.

7. Your enthusiasm, your appreciation of the little things, your perception of detail - smells, sights, sounds, you revel in it all. You embrace life. You inhale deeply when we hug and say, "Mama, you smell so good that my mouth gets extra spit in it when I smell you." You run off the bus every day and into my arms. Your love of reading, and how pleased you are with your own efforts and progress.

8. Your optimism. You always want to believe the best in people. Sometimes I want to protect this in you, from people who might take advantage. You don't have a cynical bone in your body. This is a gorgeous part of who you are. You're always looking for the silver lining.

9. Your empathy. When Alex worries about the duties of adulthood, and who will help him when Mum and Dad die, you say, "Don't worry Alex, I'll drive you places. You can live with me."

10. Your affection. Your little hand slipped into mine that feels just like a tiny hug.

Happy birthday to my opinionated, creative, curious, free-spirited Maya.

Once upon a time you see
In a strange land not far away
I met perchance a little bee
In a most unusual way

And when I asked her who she was she told me Maya
No other bee could ever be like Maya
Maya why'd you question me?
Why is "no" no answer for a bee?

Oh my she's always in a pretty pickle Maya
Helping everyone is little Maya
Maya everyone loves Maya
Maya Maya
Come tell me what you see.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Always on Time

A tweep recently commented that he always shows up 15 minutes early so people don't have to wait, and asked: don't other people do this?

This got me thinking about the psychology of tardiness. It is as straightforward as rudeness? Do people who are always late value their own time more than others?

Personally, I find it annoying when some smug early-comer who has been waiting 15 minutes for me acts slightly peeved when I turn up *on time*. And yes I do know people who do that. If you're going to some one's house, I think early is actually more rude than late. But in a public place, every minute standing waiting for some one feels much longer. So ideally you both get there within minutes of each other. At least there are phones to let people know whether and how late you are running - I remember meeting people as a teen and having to agree to an exact time and place before leaving the house and then that was it - no second chances - show up or stand some one up.

I am definitely sympathetic towards people who find lateness in others supremely frustrating. And certainly it may *seem* like they just don't value your time as much as they value their own. But just because *you* think it should be easy or at least achievable to be punctual the majority of the time, doesn't mean it's as easy for other people. You can't assume that something that seems logical to you, or even to them, translates into something that is easily done. Humans are tricky that way. Isn't there any annoying habit you have yourself that you're not overly fond of, that you know you should probably do better at, that seems easy for other people to just do/not do? I know, the difference here may be that this is something that affects others too, but that doesn't mean that it is easier to accomplish, or that the reasons for not being successful are selfish ones.

I think it's more complex than just feeling other people should wait for you. I think it's tied to personality to a degree. Latecomers tend to be disorganised - maybe they just don't manage to judge the time it will take to get somewhere correctly. Maybe they were distracted, lost in their own world. Perhaps they are trying to please too many people, have over-committed themselves elsewhere and are trying to be all things to all people. Maybe they have a pathological fear of being early - I know that my mum was *always* late when I was a child, and I hated waiting for her so  much that even now I feel anxious about waiting for people to arrive. I also hate to keep people waiting, so I try to be exactly on time. As you can imagine this can be a recipe for disaster.

I have to admit that I tend to be more often  late than early - due to any (and sometimes) all of the reasons above (and my track record is improving - those who have known me for a long time may have put me in the 'hopeless' category but these days I am just as often right on time). When I am late it is usually  not by more than 5 or 10 minutes. I don't even know if you would call that late - to me, a 5-10 minute window is acceptable. It doesn't bother me at all when others do this, however I do apologise when I do it because for some people it's firmly in the 'late' category. Again, this may be down to personality - your more exacting, A-type personalities tend to be sticklers for punctuality, and I imagine the more creative types among us tend to define it more loosely. Maybe there are some people who just meander along and don't care less whether they keep people waiting interminable amounts of time, turning up whenever they feel like it, but I don't know many people like that. Being late causes me no small anxiety.

When you throw small children into the mix, of course, the concept of being 'on time' has to be continually modified to suit the level of urgency. You just can't force it all the time - and if you do, you end up one very stressed out parent. Even then, the number of variables outside your control shoot up exponentially.

When some one is deeply, undeniably, frustratingly late, and often, I think that's a whole other ball game. When people invite you some where and tell you the time is an hour before the start to try and get you there on time, things are bad. I'm still not convinced that even this kind of tardiness is connected to pure arrogance though. I am sure there is a more complex psychological reason for their subconscious reluctance, even fear, of being on time. And each case is different. But as with any behaviour that affects the functionality of your life or those around you, if that's you, it may be time to do something about it.

Just for fun, and oldie but a goodie:

I also came across this interesting piece in Psychology Today.

How do you feel about lateness? Which side of the fence do you sit on? Do you think it's a sign of rudeness or are you one of the ones who can never quite get there at the appointed time? If so, why do you think that is?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Choices We Make


n. An act of selecting or making a decision when presented with two or more possibilities.

Choices are not made in a vacuum. The choices we make are dependent on our circumstances. This should be self-evident, but it seems that the notion of "free choice" irrespective of station or context remains a popular one in our society. The possibilities we are presented with in order to make a selection are often dependent on factors beyond our control. This is what makes the notion of "choice" such a loaded, and sometimes dangerous, concept.

When we think about choice we need to think about privilege. Because the more privilege we have, generally, the greater the number of choices. I am privileged in a number of ways. I'm white, educated, comfortably off and I am fortunate to live in a country where I can vote and my rights are protected. Therefore, the choices open to me are far greater than for some one with fewer privileges. Still, there are limitations to my choices.

"I do not believe things happen accidentally. I believe you earn them" - Madeleine Albright. This sentiment goes hand in hand with the idea that we all  make choices in life. And it's up to us to choose wisely in order to "succeed."

When I was younger, I may have found these words inspiring and encouraging. Fresh out of university, the world was my oyster. I was only limited by my imagination. I was young, lovely, smart and healthy. The hardest part was having so many choices. Until then, my life had been steered in a certain direction thanks to other people's choices. I didn't consider whether I would go to university, rather - which one, which course. My choices in that area were somewhat limited due to the fact that I had to work to support myself so didn't feel like I had the choice to take on a degree that required a heavy study load. Luckily, though, my first choice was a communications degree anyway.At another point I was waylaid by illness and had to delay study for a year. I made the choice to defer in order to get better. It was a good choice. I went back when I was well and completed my degree. So far, all my choices had been fairly simple.

 Then one of my best friends got gravely ill with cancer. She spent six months in hospital undergoing chemo and radiation, and a stem cell transplant. I made the choice to get a job as a medical receptionist in a dermatology clinic next door to the hospital so I could visit her every day at lunchtime and after work. Looking back, I'm so glad I made this choice. It was another no-brainer. Important, but easy to make.

I went on to make various choices around where I worked, lived and travelled. I never considered my fate to be anything but my own making. Nothing was happening accidentally. I was earning things. I  made the most of opportunities. I moved ahead, took chances. I had choices.

Fast forward years later. My career was doing well, such that it was. Despite any real forward planning I had stumbled from one interesting-looking job to another and managed to work my way up to a fairly high level position for my age, with a salary to match. In fact, I was earning more than my husband. Then, I had a baby.

And this is where "choices" got complicated.

Before I go on, I want to acknowledge again that I do have a lot of privilege. And there are many, many women with far fewer choices than me. Single mothers, women on disability allowances, women whose partners are on low incomes and who have no choice about whether to work or not, women for whom working is too expensive. I'm saying I am privileged and yet my choices are still limited. I'm just talking about me.

I took a year maternity leave. I imagined that a year was a very long time indeed to be away from work, having not been out of work since I was 15. I imagined my baby would be very independent by then, and that I would sort out some form of childcare when the time came. Oh, the naivete! But I saw other women who worked and had babies. I heard people agreeing that a year was more than enough to be away. And that I would have to get back to work at least part time if I wanted to continue having a career.

A year later, things changed. It turned out I had a high needs baby. One who was very attached to me, and my breasts. One who didn't like to be put down, let alone left with a carer. One who wouldn't take a bottle. What's more, I had spent the year researching different parenting approaches and philosophies. After a fairly inglorious trial-and-error start, it turned out I was an attachment parent. I wanted to be with my child, not just him with me. I wanted to be the one to teach him and help him grow, I wanted to be around him. Yes, all the time. This may seem extreme. But it's how I felt. I wasn't ready to let go and neither was he.

So this is where the choices become tricky. I was able to extend my maternity leave for another year, re-labelled into a vague 'general leave' category. But my  husband and I soon realised that without my salary we couldn't afford to keep living in Sydney. We could barely afford to rent in an area that was close to his work -  our hope of buying somewhere to live had faded into a pipe dream. Again, even being able to rent withing a short commute from the office was a privilege denied many. But we didn't want the "choice" of buying a house if it meant a 1.5 hour commute each way.

So we chose to leave town. We moved north and settled into a new life. Of course, for me, this meant making a more permanent decision about leaving my career behind. Because I couldn't have it both ways. See how this choice works? Luckily my husband was able to keep his job and his salary and transfer to a different office, in a more affordable city. More privilege.

Now my choices were less about getting my career back on track and more about whether I wanted to or could work at all. It would mean a new job where I had no credit or track record and a lower salary. I still didn't want to work full time and part time jobs are not that easy to come by. Choice, reframed again.

By this time I was pregnant with my second child and sick throughout. So the idea of work got shelved again. When my daughter was born, I was as attached to her as I had been my son. I couldn't think about leaving her for at least another two years. Lots of people asked me about my work plans. When describing myself as a stay at home mum brought the conversation to a standstill in certain circles, I found myself delving into my past to explain my qualifications and previous work experience, as though to assure the acquaintance that I do have an actual brain. People expressed surprise, or said "I couldn't do that" with a mixture of admiration and bewilderment. It says something about the way our society views caring work when the idea that I want to be around my children a lot seems like the lesser choice, the extreme choice. It didn't seem extreme to me, and certainly not to my children.

It had now been over four years since I had had a job. My choices were getting slimmer. I had no family nearby since the move, so the only real possibility for childcare was long day care. With two small children in long day care, I would have had to earn a small fortune to break even. Suddenly the word choice seemed slightly laughable. Yes, I would tell people, I choose to stay home with my children.

Four years out of the workforce. Four years out of the loop. Four years of doing other things. It felt like a chasm. I became anxious about jumping back into the fray. Who would do all the things I had been doing to keep the home fires burning? I had friends who were working mothers who hung out washing at 5am, and did midnight grocery runs. I suppose that's their choice. And I had made mine.

I made a deal with myself. When the first child started school, the day care fees would be reduced. I'd look for a job then. But what? The part time jobs still seemed thin on the ground. And full time, with no family, seemed daunting. Who would take time off if the kids were sick? It would have to be me, since I would certainly be earning less than my husband. Who would have to leave at 5 on the dot to collect the kids? Me again, for the same reason. My husband couldn't afford to jeopardise his job.

By the time the eldest child was in school an opportunity came up for us to relocate to Canada for two years. It was a wonderful opportunity. We thought about it. It would mean a lot of adventure. Since I didn't actually have a job it seemed churlish to wonder what impact it would have on my (non-existent) career. We thought it would be a good time to go before I got stuck into anything and it became too hard to leave.

So off we went. We arrived, again with no family support and this time not even a network of friends to lean on. There was the summer, finding a place to live, settling the kids into school. My youngest is still only in school every other day. I have a work permit, so I have the choice to work. However this would mean long day care in an unfamiliar environment. If there are any places available. And with a summer that lasts two and  a half months, that is a lot of expensive summer camps. Times two. I have applied to couple of places but nothing has panned out. My availability is limited. It's just the way it is. I'm not unhappy at home. I still enjoy spending time with my children. I don't bake. I'm not a particularly good housekeeper.  When I'm not with the children I am reading, writing or tweeting. I'm expanding my mind in my own personal ways. If you care to pay attention, children give you a hell of an education as well. I find interacting with them far more fulfilling than sitting through another meeting on customer retention rates.

I have made decisions based on the choices available to me at the time. I'm happy with that. But all of a sudden, it has been seven years that I have been out of the workforce. My husband's earning capacity has long since far outstripped mine. I have broken every rule in the feminist handbook. Some would say I have sabotaged myself. I have flipped the bird to all the women before me who fought so hard for me to have the choice to maintain a career and have children. I am totally financially dependent on a man. I am a stay at home mum. Not just that, but a long-term one. How many workplaces would welcome back some one like me with open arms? How many have flexible work conditions, not just in policy but in action? How many would pay well enough to allow for before and after and school holiday care and still allow me to earn a decent living?

 For me, I could not have my children, my career and my sanity. I had to pick two. That was my choice.

Gatsby, Baz, and the Society of the Spectacle

I'm not sure whether this is going to be a popular opinion, because haters gonna hate, but: I really enjoyed seeing Gatsby given the Baz treatment.

For starters, the soundtrack is a stroke of genius. Especially the jazz/hip hop fusion but all of it. Just the right mixture of modern and nostalgic. And in true Baz fashion, the film is a visual spectacular par excellence. The party scenes will blow your hair back. The attention to detail is exquisite.

If it's a triumph of style over substance then it's perfectly poised to deliver the book's central message. The fall from grace and the emptiness behind the opulence is well rendered on the big screen. The melodrama serves the narrative well, particularly in the hot and highly charged hotel room scene with the showdown between Tom and Gatsby.

Daisy is vapid, selfish and distractable. Tom is boorish, arrogant and racist. Gatsby is obsessive, possessive and somewhat delusional. Nick is annoying in that wide-eyed, "who me?" way of his. All true to form.

As for the casting: I have issues. Mulligan at 28, and Fisher at 37  are closest in age to their characters. Di Caprio is 38. He doesn't pass for 32. Do you think they would have recycled Claire Danes or Kate Winslet from ten years ago to play the female lead? No. Also, I  know it's part of the look but Di Caprio's make up artist went too far with the bronzer. The permatan went George Hamilton ways. And he would have had that frown botox'd to hell if he was a woman.

Joel Edgerton was too old to play 30 year old Tom. He was meant to be a young arrogant buffoon not a middle aged one. Of course my main issue with these male leads is the age discrepancy with the females. Fisher's character is supposed to be mid-thirties and therefore older. The two male leads are supposed to be around the same age as Daisy, whom they are  both ten years older than. And Daisy, pale-faced Daisy, looks even younger than that. Not a line or blemish on her face.

Fisher's character Myrtle is described in the book as being "stout, thickish, no facet or gleam of beauty." This description does not hold true whatsoever. I did read that Fisher "ate lots of cupcakes" to prepare for the role. It didn't work. Film is open to interpretation of course, but it's more than slightly suspicious that every other details is rendered with painstaking accuracy except the one character who is not conventionally attractive. We can't have stout, thickish, non-beautiful women playing some one's mistress now can we?

I read Baz's explanation for making Nick narrate the whole thing from a sanitarium. He researched it. He felt the film audience needed more context. And it fit with Fitzgerald's other stories. But still: NO BAZ NO. Bad idea.

Similarly the extra dialogue. Well-researched to fit Fitzgerald's lexicon and at times even lifted straight from his other work. But still, no. It was clunky. And why do American movies always have to over explain everything? The beauty and simplicity of the novel was as much in what was left out of it.

Gatsby is a romance in the same way that Every Breath You Take by the Police is a love song. Or in the way Romeo & Juliet is a romance. It's not about love. It's about obsession, possession and the surface of things. The desire for loyalty above all else. And how meaningless it is when it's attached to arbitrary principles.

Humans get caught up in the simulacra of love: romance. They think romance is proof of love. Sometimes the distinction between love and romance can feel infinitesimally small. Other times gapingly large. It's easy, even human, to believe the hype. It's also foolish, and dangerous, if you mistake one for the other, and you perpetuate it. It's a zero sum game. It certainly was for Gatsby. Gatsby the film takes us on this ride just as well as the book did.

Guy Debord wrote a book called Society of the Spectacle in 1967. Gatsby describes the same thing. It's been going on for a hundred years. Debord describes the history of social life as "the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing." He says "all that was once directly lived has become mere representation." (this was 40 years before social media btw).

Debord posits that the spectacle came into being in the late 1920s. So just after Gatsby.

Gatsby started it! Gatsby caused the decline of modern civilisation!

And Baz, you have carried the torch.

Monday, May 13, 2013

When bad things happen to Mother's Day

I hate the "supermum" meme. I hate the "I don't know how she does it" trope. I hate the "Mother's Day is your one day off for the year" joke.

Mothers shouldn't have to be superhuman. The humanity should be shared around. It's an empty compliment.

Mother's Day shouldn't be to thank mothers for doing more than everyone else for the rest of the year. It shouldn't be about looking at mothers in amazement and awe because they cope with most of the burdens of family life.

If it is any of that, I don't want it. You don't hear similar things about Father's Day. Think about it. You don't hear "Dad, you work so hard for us, take the day off." Fathers are congratulated simply for being. Mothers are congratulated for always holding down the fort. For being everything. It's too big a burden. Don't thank them for that. Lighten the load.

Fathers and mothers should be supported and and acknowledged for the gifts of humanity that they hand down to their children. For their unique and important role in society. Raising children. Fathers who do this are just as important as mothers. But we expect so much more of mothers.

It's sexist to perpetuate the "put your feet up, love, I'll do the dishes tonight" attitude towards Mother's Day. If you're doing something that should be shared equally on any given day as part of generally being a decent human being, and you think it's doing a special favour to volunteer for it on Mother's Day, you're doing it wrong.

The reality is most women do bear the brunt of the household manual and emotional labour. But a day of fawning doesn't cut it. I think symbolism, ritual and gratitude are important, don't get me wrong. A day to celebrate mothers is welcome. But don't co-opt it.

Mother's and Father's Day, any day of celebration, should be a chance to honour the unique qualities of that individual in a way that they would like. Say thank you. But mothers deserve appreciation and support every day of the year.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Advice on how other people raise their children: proceed with caution

So here we have yet another childless guy handing out advice on what parents  are doing wrong, and why they should all just relax because it's really got nothing to do with them. Kids will turn out how they turn out, our nature is ingrained in us and there's not much we can do as parents to change or  modify it. It's a brave dude who wades into this debate wielding nothing more than an opinion.

[F]rom my vantage point, watching the kids of my three siblings and of my many peers grow up, I’m struck less by the genius or folly of diverse child-rearing techniques than by the way most of the children matured into who they seemed, from the get-go, destined to be.

I'm sorry, I didn't realise that Frank Bruni has a PhD in psychology. Despite the reams of research to the contrary he seems to be insisting that it's almost entirely nature that determines how we turn out. Why? No reason - well, no factual reason is provided, just it's kind of what he's noticed among his (no doubt middle class, white) relatives' and friends' kids. And really, (should I say Frankly? lol) I would be equally as unlikely to take his advice even if he did have children, because of the limitations of extrapolating what's good for us all on the basis of one's own experience.

So here's the thing. He gets it half right. We are all born with certain temperamental traits that aren't going to change no matter what we (or our parents) do. However, this is very different to saying that no matter how you parent a child, their outcomes will be the same. Bruni has a very eloquent, witty style. His argument is not only persuasive, it's funny. And I'm sure many readers will recognise themselves (or people they know) in his anecdotes. But 1 + 1 does not equal 5. Even though some  of his criticism is valid for some  parents, the alternatives he is suggesting are not. And neither does he take modern parenting in the context of modern life.

There is no accurate way of knowing how a whole generation of today's children (with their disparate circumstances) are going to "turn out"  because, quite simply, they are still children. We can't study something that hasn't happened yet.

Above all I’m confounded by the boundless fretting, as if ushering kids into adulthood were some newfangled sorcery dependent on a slew of child-rearing books and a bevy of child-rearing blogs. The counsel keeps coming, from every possible corner and from unexpected shamans. The actress Jessica Alba just produced a book, “The Honest Life,” which includes her take on mothering, and she noted pointedly in a recent interview that it’s more relevant than the tidbits proffered by the actress Gwyneth Paltrow in her online newsletter, goop.

It's true that this generation of parents has way more information immediately available to them than any prior. And with that information comes anxiety over whether we are doing it right. This is a double-edged sword. Why can't we just muddle along like we used to? There is more than a bit of revisionist nostalgia in this argument. Every generation has faced its challenges. In 'our day' there were no teenagers with mobile phones, but we didn't have access to the amazing raft of knowledge that kids these days have at their fingertips either. It's possible to deny a modern teen a phone, but don't kid yourself that you're harking back to a simpler time by doing so. Most of the other kids will have access to one and it's in this context that you're making your decision.

We also didn't wear seatbelts as much so more kids died in car accidents. Smacking and hitting children was  more socially acceptable. Our parents smoked indoors. As Maya Angelou says, when we know better, we do better. More information means more power, we just have to use it wisely.

Why all the choices — “What would you like to wear?”— and all the negotiating and the painstakingly calibrated diplomacy? They’re toddlers, not Pakistan. I understand that you want them to adore you. But having them fear you is surely the saner strategy, not just for you and for them but for the rest of us and the future of the republic.

If Bruni is going to use anecdotal evidence as the basis of his argument to scold modern parents then I can do the same to achieve the opposite. How about this: most parents I know are more engaged with their kids, more aware of their emotional state, and have access to more relevant information on current child development. Bruni despairs about families run as democracies, and children getting actual choices  - shock horror. He ignorantly asserts the (unfortunately commonly held) view that children do need to fear their parents a little, despite vast amounts of research which indicates that all fear-based parenting does is teach the child to try harder not to get caught.

About the feeding: explain to me what’s gained by the voluminous discussions, within earshot of little Edwin or Edwina, of what he or she probably won’t eat or definitely won’t eat or must somehow be made to eat, perhaps with a bribe. Any food that lands on the table after that much tortured preamble is bound to be eyed with suspicion and ultimately spurned, in part because it has ceased to be a vessel of nutrition or an answer to hunger at that point. It has become a power struggle: the parents’ wishes versus the child’s defiance. And the battle seems to end one and only one way. With chicken fingers.

I’M equally confounded by the all-encompassing praise. Not every kid is gifted at every endeavor, and I wonder about the wisdom of telling him or her that a bit of doggerel is Shakespearean or that a wan patch of warbling is an “American Idol” audition waiting to happen. I wonder why everybody has to be a winner. You can eliminate the valedictorians from high school but you can’t eliminate them from life, which metes out Super Bowl rings and stock options with an uneven hand, and is probably best tackled with some preparatory girding for that. Do today’s parents provide it?

I agree with his basic sentiments on not using food as a power struggle and also the dangers of over-praising. Again, there is a fair amount of research and debate on this within early childhood circles. I have to question, though, exactly what type of parent he is referring to when asking whether 'today's parent' provides the necessary structure that their children need. This is just another form of stereotyping. Replace the word 'parent' with a particular nationality or gender and the same generalization becomes laughable. Does 'today's woman' care too much about her hair? Does a Chinese person these days eat too much rice? How can we discuss 'today's parent' as though they were one homogenous group? Of course there are trends in parenting, as it has always been so. The way we act generally is influence by social mores. But can we get away from the "do better" school of advice? He seems to be referring to a particular cliched version of Western, affluent parenting, which he would do well to specify (if writing for the NYT is not specific enough).

So parents: cut yourselves some slack. Take a deep breath. No one false step or one missed call is going to consign your children to an entirely different future. Make sure that they know they’re loved. Make sure that they know their place. And make peace with the fact that you don’t hold all or even most of the cards. There may be a frustrating sense of helplessness in that realization. But there’s a mercy, too.

It's okay, parents, take a load off. Quit thinking so hard about allowing your children so many darn choices. This crazy notion you have that children should somehow have some agency in their own lives is just a product of your own self-involvement. Apparently you're all trying waaay too hard. It's really simple if you just follow his age-old, baseless advice.

Of course Bruni is entitled to his narrow, presumptuous opinions. I just don't think the 'mock and judge' style of advice-giving which relies on recognizable but by-now-tired stereotypes is particularly helpful. He just comes across as a kind of smartypants. He seems to be suggesting we should take the methods by which "we" (meaning he) was raised - no phone, fear-based, not being given an over-inflated sense of self, and  translate them into today's parenting. Just a few decades ago, not only was parenting not a verb, many fathers had much less involvement in their children's development. These days, things are changing and more fathers are getting to experience the benefits as well as the challenges of intricate and complex relationships with their children. When and if your turn comes, and you try to apply ye olde parenting philosophies, good luck with that, buddy. Let me know how you get on. And when you end up with the most spirited, never-sleeping, strong-willed child in the world, call me. So that I can read back every word of that piece to you and watch you eat each one.