City vs. Suburbs: Does Setting Change the Way You Parent?
I watched the movie several months ago, but a particular scene from “Our Idiot Brother” has stuck with me since.
Paul Rudd, as the happy-go-lucky Ned, offers his nephew a piece of cake as his family is about to leave. “Here, River — let me cut you a slice of cake to go,” he says.
Emily Mortimer, as Ned’s sister, Liz, quickly cuts him off: “Oh, no thanks. River had a cupcake yesterday. He’s off sugar today.”
I actually groaned when I heard Mortimer’s sing-songy response — mainly because it was simultaneously irritating and … familiar to me, as a mom raising a daughter in the big city.
Why I totally relate
My poor 5-year-old is on lockdown. Cookies, candy, ice cream, chips, soda — it’s all off the list.
Barbies? Not yet! TV? One show a day, which, in the Brooklyn, NY neighborhood I call home, is pretty liberal. You see, in my ZIP code, and those that surround it, there’s an incredibly normative pressure to mother a certain way.
My daughter does have a treat, I’d say, once a week. I remember once, as we passed a Dunkin’ Donuts, she asked if she could get one. I agreed, but only if we threw away the bag, the napkins — the evidence! — before other Brooklyn moms saw.
I have to wonder: Would we be living the same life, and would I be the same type of mother, if we lived outside the city? And, is there anything wrong with the serious peer pressure, I feel? For the most part, I’d say it’s the good kind. Kids eat well, play well, learn boundaries early … what can be wrong about that?
What’s with the crazy rules?
Living in New York City we see a lot. When we walk to the subway, we don’t just pass houses. We pass stores — full of stuff.
This constant access to stuff sometimes causes parents to get a little crazy about keeping their kids in check. Last spring, parents of the kid-packed Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn challenged the presence of the ice cream truck in the area’s park. The argument was that it’s too tempting for kids to see ice cream trucks on every corner.
I had the same reaction to this little outburst that I did to the cake quote. First thought: “Ugh. Just teach your kids they can’t have everything they want!” Second thought: “Oh, wait. I kind of feel that way, too.”
A change might be nice …
It seems like living in the suburbs might release that persistent tension. For one thing, there’s less exposure to stores (and all the treats contained within). It’s only when you want to buy something that you hop in the car and make that trip.
Going outside to play means opening the back door and letting the kids run free, as opposed to hiking it to the playground a few blocks away. Just the simple task of getting places seems so much easier. Again, jump in the car, and 15 minutes later, you’re at the museum. That sure beats wrangling a stroller, bag full of provisions for the day and a small child up and down the subway stairs, all while fighting the crowds multiple times in one trip.
Now, I LOVE the city, but sometimes I think I’d be a more relaxed parent if we lived in a less congested area.
I figured a good test of nature vs. nurture with regard to my iron maiden parenting philosophy was a week in the woods. So, as my family headed to Lake George on vacation, four hours north of Brooklyn and eons away from city life, I kept all the big differences in mind.
No TV, no Internet, no commercial exposure — just swimming and frolicking. I had read an article in The New York Times before we left for our trip about the act of being “too busy,” and I was hoping this particular description of one woman’s experience would apply to me, as well: “What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this …”
So, outside of our urban boundaries, would I loosen up a little?
Well, I did and I didn’t. I loosened up about my daughter’s little treks around the cottage — not seeing her for five minutes or so as she found all sorts of rocks and sticks to use in her make-believe games. But the food rules and general behavioral expectations did not change. (OK, maybe a little more ice cream here and there. But it’s vacation!)
What I realized in the end is that these rules are in effect for both of us. Once we’ve set the mandate that one pack of fruit gummies is all you’re going to get, I can fall back on that all day, any day when she asks for more.
While kids love adventure, they really do thrive on patterns and clear expectations, whether they’re country dwellers or city mice, so to speak. Children need to know that there are boundaries and rules. It may not work for every family, but it really does work for mine, and, as it turns out, I am the perfect city parent. I am meant to rule with an iron fist. No indulgences, but plenty of encouragement and love.
You know, I once read that being a parent means that you teach your child that they can’t have everything.
Now I think that author must have lived in New York City.
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This post originally appeared on LearnVest.com on Aug. 13 and was written by Maureen Dempsey, an online editor living in Brooklyn, NY. It is republished here with permission from LearnVest.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.