Curling Parents and Middle Aged Children

In Denmark, I recently heard the term “curling parents,” the Danish idiom for “helicopter parents.”  For those unfamiliar with the sport of curling, one player runs in front of the curling stone with a broom clearing its way across the ice – an apt metaphor for over-parenting.

When I think about parenting from the safe perspective of a grandfather, I often think about how it occurs in nature. The new parent or parents nourish and protect their young, and then educate them almost entirely by example. Attachment theory tells us that infants and some animals relate emotionally to parents or caregivers who are sensitive to their needs and responsive in their interactions with them from birth. But even so, animals instill independence early on in an effort to teach survival and perpetuate the species. They then leave the young adult to survive, or not, and the cycle begins anew.

As we have become more narcissistic, moving from “us and ours” to “me and mine” over the post-war, halcyon years of domestic optimism about peace, access to healthcare and education, employment opportunity, and consumer excess, a revolution has occurred in the culture of parenting.

The child’s natural progression from dependence to independence has slowed considerably. Children remain childish longer. The former exigencies of survival and practical skill development are in decline. More time is now consumed in “finding oneself.”

But the wealthy and the powerful continue to send other people’s children off to non-defensive wars. Many Americans have lost access to healthcare or higher education as incomes have stagnated while prices have climbed. This is creating an expanding class of working serfs no longer able to earn enough to provide for their children, even as we bob about in a sea of consumer excess. The young show little interest in or skills for milking cows, house cleaning, repairing things, or picking fruit.

Narcissism always finds fault elsewhere, so we look to “failing” schools, uncensored media, and social influences to blame, when, in fact, we have only ourselves.

The cultural shift from preparing a child to survive and thrive to one that perpetuates parental or social dependency serves neither the child nor society. The curling parent perpetuates dependency as they try to live out their own needs through their children and generate successive populations of middle-aged children.

Contrary to the demands of the narcissist, schools cannot “fix” children who are in the thrall of their parents. I remember asking my father what the term “in loco parentis” meant when I was sent to boarding school. He didn’t go into the legal meaning, but only said that it meant that my teachers and advisors were my new parents and that I would have no recourse at home. In short, I needed to do what I was told.

In the best sense, we never outgrow our parents, nor they us. But if we are to thrive as a society we need to raise mature adults capable of challenging work, independent inquiry and managing their own future.

2 Responses to “Curling Parents and Middle Aged Children”

Thanks for a provocative entry. Right up my alley.

Parents who sweep the path before their children travel it – so they don’t suffer, so their lot is easier, so they can more likely meet with success, happiness or be ahead of the pack, is a parenting blind spot – our Achilles Heal.

Now, as adult children, we have the power and insight to help our kids in ways we couldn’t help ourselves back when we were kids. Making it easier seems obvious. Why would any parent want their child to struggle?

But it gets complicated.

And making sense and order takes time and childhood and adolescence is time restricted.

Thank goodness for the opportunity schools can offer. Thank goodness kids can potentially explore their interests, curiosities, passions, fears, angst, under the tutelage of other caring adults.

Schools can and should be the great opportunity equalizer, the place where compassionate struggle is the norm. But sadly, all too often, schools simply drop the ball, abandoning compassion for just struggle. And maybe the memory of that struggling is what’s motivating parents to sweep the path before their kids.

In the end, Geoffrey Canada leader of the Harlem Children’s Zone, says we can’t wait to “fix” “educate” “help” every parent for every child’s sake, but we can fix schools. Schools are, ironically, a much smaller pool to work with than the complexity and numbers of individual families.

I’m a family therapist and believe deeply in families but I also know that kids suffer both at home and in school in equal batches.

We, as adult children, might take a quiet minute or two to remind ourselves what we truly wanted and needed when we were kids.

For me it was and will always be – love, connection, opportunity, space, trust, and freedom.

Instead of curling, (making my life easier or harder for that matter),

I would have preferred both parent and school, to sit firmly on the bench beside me, with their proverbial hands on my slender back, as I stood to play my own game.

All the while knowing they were together watching and waiting.

This also has a lot to do with young people being outpriced in the housing market, which keeps people living with their parents to save on downpayment, or be stuck paying a large fraction of their income to landlords for the rest of their lifes. We are dependent on each other either way, and we have a choice to make – either allow people to have access to affordable housing, healthcare, education OR have young peope cling to their parents for that. I prefer the former, because it means more independent, creative, capable adults.