Our Kids are NOT a Report Card on Our Parenting


There have been a spate of, “What I Learned about Parenting by Living in Country X” articles. Most of them are pretty interesting.  The French, Japanese, Scandinavians — they all do it differently from us, and usually the biggest difference is less hovering/handwringing.

This tekdyitbkt
by Mihal Greener in Salon adds one angle I hadn’t read before. In addition to being less materialistic than the “average American” and giving kids more freedom and responsibility, she writes that Dutch parents don’t see their kids as a reflection of their parenting:

A lifeline for us expat moms were the coffee mornings where we would swap war stories in our shared mother tongue, regardless of our accent. Whether boasting or bemoaning, there was a common thread of viewing our child’s actions as a direct product of our parenting decisions. It seemed like an almost reflexive response to doubt our patenting strategy if our offspring weren’t quite living up to our maternal expectations.
The Dutch moms didn’t appear to regularly indulge in this nagging self-doubt. They seemed, from the outside at least, to view their children as separate people, with their own personalities and strengths, and not a reflection of hours spent pouring over parenting books or coordinating after-school activities.
The Dutch parents I met were proud of their children’s achievements at school. They were happy when their daughter scored a goal at her hockey match or kept a tune on the piano at the school assembly. They felt proud but they didn’t feel responsible, or confuse their child’s achievement with a report card on their parenting skills.
What a relief that attitude would be! Wendy Mogel said it best, and it’s a mantra I have to repeat to myself, too: “Your child is not your masterpiece.” We can love our kids and be ecstatic — or worried, or disappointed, or all of the above — but they are THEM, not us.
That’s actually something I have to remind reporters when they ask what my kids are up to. My boys are not the apotheosis of Free-Range parenting, they are a sample of two and they are a jumble of traits that I recognize in me and my husband, and a jumble that came from outer space. – L.


Hey! That's only in "Cleaning Room Tutorial"

Hey! He got all A’s in “Cookie & Brownie Studies.” 


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37 Responses to Our Kids are NOT a Report Card on Our Parenting

  1. Beth August 8, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    There was an incident in my city in which an 18-year-old female resisted arrest – kicking, spitting, and swinging at the cops. My guess is that 75% of the comments on the various news stories were focused on the parents; why didn’t they teach her better, why didn’t they teach her at all, this all comes down to poor parenting, etc. It was a parenting report card ad nauseum.

    She could have had the best parents on earth, and still decided at the age of 18 to act like she did. At some point, your kids become who they’re going to be (or have a really bad day full of bad decisions), and it might have absolutely nothing to do with their upbringing.

  2. Xena August 8, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    Agree. One of my least favorite phrases is ” Some people’s kids!” No. Just, no.

  3. Papilio August 8, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    I was laughing thoughout the piece and then I read “and wearing helmets when cycling remained mandatory” and gasped. Poor kids.

    Also – sorry, can’t resist – ‘van der Meyer’ makes no sense. ‘Meyer’ refers either to a person (if it’s the Dutch name, an old word for ~supervisor) or, in case of the Jewish name, it’s, via Yiddish, a Hebrew adjective (luminous)*. ‘Van der’ means ‘of the’, ‘from the’, typically followed by some landmark, like a hill or mill or creek or whatever.

    *I learn something new every day! 🙂

  4. Papilio August 8, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    Changed your mind about the good posture?

  5. lollpoplover August 8, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    “Your child is not your masterpiece.”

    Good, because I am no artist! My sole parenting goal is not to raise assh*les.

  6. LauraL August 8, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

    (It’s ‘poring’, not ‘pouring’. Gah, I hate that error.)

    This is a tough one in the US! While my son was making his choices, well aware of the possible consequences if he failed to pass English, I was certain that if he did fail and not graduate, it would be a reflection of myself and my husband, by people who had not witnessed and were completely unaware of the conversations we’d had with him.

  7. Papilio August 8, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    This comment 🙂

    “It’s weird, the Dutch sound completely normal in this article, while the Americans sound completely insane, yet the main theme is how “different” the Dutch are. They just seem normal and healthy to me. The real question is why aren’t Americans normal?”

  8. Elizabeth August 8, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    “She could have had the best parents on earth . . . ”

    Do we even have a picture of what the best parents on earth might look like? I mean, so many of us in Gen X were raised by proverbial wolves (self-indulgent baby boomers). Yet we seem to have turned out OK. Except for we hover.

  9. BL August 8, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    “It’s weird, the Dutch sound completely normal in this article, while the Americans sound completely insane, yet the main theme is how “different” the Dutch are. They just seem normal and healthy to me. The real question is why aren’t Americans normal?”

    Because the Dutch parents sound like they act like American parents did not so very long ago.

  10. John B. August 8, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    As I’ve often said, bad kids can come from good parents and good kids can come from bad parents. There are so many other factors that influence a child’s life. This is why I am so against these proposed laws that would hold the parents responsible for their children’s behavior.

  11. Opal August 8, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    Differences in cultures, absolutely! I was just talking to my sister, an OB, last night regarding the dietary/lifestyle restrictions in pregnancy (so before you can even really make any claims about your “report card” for parenting. She has a colleague (also an MD and OB) font the UK. Their recommendations are NO caffeine, but 1-2 drinks, 1-2 times per week, are okay for most parts of pregnancy. Contrast to the US, where 1 unit of caffeine is okay, but absolutely NO alcohol. They had an interesting conversation regarding the data that led to those recommendations and both find it odd that both countries have vaguely similar morbidity & mortality rates regarding childbirth. The truth that I find in this, as with most childcare issues, is that we don’t particularly know what is best, but that anything is best in moderation. Pregnant? Don’t live on whiskey and coffee. Eat fruits and veggies a lot. This will help both you and the baby. At a wedding with a champagne toast or really tired one morning? Have a bit (sip to 4 oz glass of champagne, or that cup of coffee), and carry on being stress free and happy. You’re not just an incubator. Have a kid? Supervise to make sure they’re not hurt, but supervise in moderation, so they’re allowed to explore and develop. You’re not just a lifeguard. Your kid screw up? Reflect on how they’re a developing individual, help them understand where they went wrong, and provide them with the guidance to make better choices in the future. There is no child-raising book that gives all the answers, because we don’t have them. You cannot be perfect. Parenthood is not a course where you are graded. You are helping another human become everything they can be. Key word is “help”. I think you should do your best to guide children, let them work some things out for themselves, and perhaps sometimes take the wider perspective that, although they are your children, they are also independent beings, and so are you. Your achievements are yours, just as their achievements are theirs.

  12. Dean August 8, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    You can add the Mexicans to the Scandinavians, etc. In México, teachers have told me the “helicopter syndrome” is generally seen only among parents who have been in the US, or are close to someone who has.
    Mamá will usually accompany the child to school in the morning, particularly in the small villages, but it appears to be a socializing time more than hovering. One will see youngsters on the streets and public transportation anytime during the day.
    In the small villages, even those still in diapers play outside without much supervision…they are “everybody’s baby”. My friend’s son told me when he was still in a one-room elementary school that kids behave because if they don’t, word will get home before they do, and parental discipline is not just a “time out”.

  13. LGB August 8, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    I overheard a conversation in the grocery store that depressed me.

    Woman 1: How are you?
    Woman 2: Oh, great! Kaleigh got first place in the spelling bee, and Liam made straight-As again.

    Inside, I was screaming to myself, “No, YOU!! How are YOU??! She asked about you, not your precious progeny!!”

    This culturally ingrained enmeshment with our children isn’t healthy. Consider expressions like “soccer mom” and “PTA mom.” We’re not allowed even our own identities anymore. My son is the one who plays soccer, not me. I encourage him, but I don’t personally care for the sport. Why should *I* have to wear that title instead of him? He’s a soccer kid. I am NOT a soccer mom. I am knitting mom and a woman who loves books, nature, and the symphony. Those are my *separate* interests that my children are welcome to share with me . . . or not.

    In light of this enmeshment, it’s a small wonder that we feel pressured to treat our children’s successes and failures as if they were our own.

  14. SKL August 8, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    Not a report card, but we do have some influence I think. I am not ready to throw up my hands when I see some tendencies in my kids. I figure there must be some reason kids are assigned to parents. 😛

    To me, what makes it hard is that there are no “natural consequences.” Nothing happens if you make a bonehead choice as a kid. Or a good choice for that matter. I find myself having to manufacture logical consequences since we are so insulated from the laws of nature.

    And then when kids reach a certain age, they are exposed to really deadly stuff such as the bad heroin that’s been taking lives left and right in my neck of the woods.

    I’m not looking for an A+, but I do hope to have both of my kids in my life as I grow old. I don’t kid myself that I have that figured out.

    Not that I go around discussing that with other parents. I have done this in stressful, thoughtless moments and always regret it.

  15. VG August 8, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    I think people talk about what their kids are up to when someone asks how they are because most adult lives are pretty boring and repetitive. Unless you just got back from an amazing vacation or something, it’s basically “went to work, did laundry, watched TV, read a book, went to bed,” whereas kids are always doing something different.

  16. Opal August 8, 2016 at 4:04 pm #

    I just find it hard to believe that adult human lives become that repetitive. We’re looking forward to our first child, but right now, my husband has a new project at work, I have a new direction for my research, and we are planning fun weekend activities (most of which my friends with kids do, too). I don’t understand, and I never saw my parents become, the type of parents who simply respond with what the kids did. For instance, “We went fishing. Husband caught 2, I caught 4, junior caught 1.” That’s not work related, that is family related, and it still doesn’t focus solely on the kid. You don’t have to say, “Junior is going to be a bassmaster.” The family went fishing. You enjoyed it. That’s enough.

  17. Lilith August 8, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

    I have six children. Two of them are wild ones and have been in quite a bit of trouble (20 and 18). The rest (23, 14, 12, and 9) are very well-behaved, and have never had any sort of behavioural issues. All raised by the same parent, same rules, same everything. The simple fact is, they are humans with their own faults and flaws, and they are not me. Children will do as they damn well please (cause they’re people and sometimes people do shitty things) and there’s not much you can do about it. They aren’t pets to be trained. They are PEOPLE. In turn, I am just a human helping other humans grow up. I can show them the path, but I cannot make them walk on it.

    Also, I really don’t understand why everyone is so confused and weirded out by kids. You were kids, do you not remember? It’s really not that different. There may be more gadgets, but humans themselves are essentially still the same. I come on here a lot (for at least 6 years) and the more I come, the less welcome I feel. A whole lot of you people aren’t actually free-range at all. Most of you are one step from helicopter parents or you are helicopters and downplay it to feel free-range. You judge each other mercilessly, you act like your kids are special snowflakes, you bolt your furniture to the walls for crying out loud. **Cue everyone yelling about SAFETY.** I have never bolted anything to the walls in my entire life, neither did my parents, or their parents, or their parents I would assume, and look at my family line go on. Most of the time the only person I can relate to and agree with on here is Warren and I see the way you all react towards him. No, I’m not going to name names but if this offends you, it’s probably you. Just saying.

  18. Donald Christensen August 8, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    This is a tough one in the US!…. I was certain that if he did fail and not graduate, it would be a reflection of myself and my husband………..


    You’re not alone. The idea that, “The child’s life is a report card for their parent’s” has been creeping into our culture for decades. This is so apparent that it’s become an automatic response to blame the parents if the kid goes off the rails.

    This is a huge force behind helicopter parenting. The kids can’t be left outside to play unsupervised. It isn’t just because it’s death defying, it’s because they don’t have time to play. After the soccer training, violin lessons, and oil painting class, they’re too tired.

  19. Donna August 8, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

    While our children are not our masterpieces, the idea that kids just become who they are and parenting has no relevance is just ridiculous. Come into court with me and it will take you about 30 minutes of talking with families to see that the apple rarely falls far from the tree.

  20. SKL August 8, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

    As for why some people think “what are my kids up to” when asked how things are going – well, some of us are wired to find kids interesting. I’ve always been that way since I was a young kid myself. Used to be interested in other people’s kids, now I’m interested in my own.

    It’s also nicert to brag about your kids than to brag about yourself. 😛

    So, “We’re doing well, the kids moved up a belt in karate” goes over better than “I’m doing great, I just got a fat raise and my stocks are up.” 😛

  21. Jessica August 8, 2016 at 10:47 pm #

    SKL et al
    Yes I agree. I’m a SAHM to a 4-yo. Of course I have other interests– I’m taking classes, I’m reading good books, I travel. But honestly, I find my son’s activities more interesting and newsworthy. If you ask me “What’s up with you?” and I answer “Alexander starts kindergarten in two weeks!” it’s not because I am “enmeshed” or have no life of my own. It’s because I’m excited about it!

  22. JLM August 8, 2016 at 11:08 pm #

    Well, with 5 kids who all play hockey (field hockey for those of you where ice hockey is a thing and the grass version needs a separate name), I AM a hockey mum!

    But honestly, I don’t answer “How was your weekend?” with details of how my kids played. I usually answer with something like, “Bloody busy, running around after the kids and their bloody hockey.”

    (Which I hate to break to Opal, but I used to have an interesting life pre-hockey, too! It wasn’t having the kids that nixed that, it was the kids having stuff to do.)

  23. sexhysteria August 9, 2016 at 3:09 am #

    The attitude in Holland is common throughout Europe, and was also present in the U.S. before World War Two, when parents were criticized for becoming too protective and thereby risked creating “Mama’s Boys.” My experience teaching in Europe for 20+ years is that kids here are tougher than American kids.

  24. Papilio August 9, 2016 at 4:19 am #

    @VG: “it’s basically “went to work, did laundry, watched TV, read a book, went to bed,” whereas kids are always doing something different.”

    They ‘went to school, did homework, watched TV, read 10 minutes, went to bed’?

    It’s funny that you put the work thing in the boring category, because I was going to say that it’s VERY normal here for women to have a parttime job. Sometimes instead of a fulltime job, but often instead of being a SAHM, and I’d think that helps in staying your own person, who has more to talk about over dinner than house- and homework…

  25. Warren August 9, 2016 at 8:56 am #

    On the other side of the coin. It is also a North American phenomenon where parents lay claim to their kids success and accomplishments.

    Too often they are extentions of the parents and not their own person.

  26. Beth August 9, 2016 at 9:15 am #

    No one said parenting has no relevance. What I think is being said is that “kids” can make poor decisions and act in ways contrary to what they were taught by their parents, and those decisions and actions, especially in late teens and early adulthood, cannot necessarily be traced directly back to the parents.

  27. SKL August 9, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    I agree that people are too ready to blame the parents for everything kids do.

    It comes up a lot when kids at school make ignorant comments about race, adoption, whatever. Immediately people will say “they are obviously hearing that at home. Their parents are creeps.” Well, not necessarily. Kids have minds of their own and, especially when they come across an unfamiliar situation, they only have their own experinces to evaluate it by.

    I have been blessed / cursed with a really good memory, which means that I can remember saying a lot of ignorant things when I was a kid. It had nothing to do with my parents, who would have been mortified. I hope my kids aren’t doing that, but realistically it probably happens, regardless of all I have done to raise kind, sensitive, intelligent people. 😛

  28. SKL August 9, 2016 at 11:35 am #

    I also think people talk about their kids because it is easy for others to relate to what kids are doing (well, the fun stuff anyway).

    When the biggest thing on my mind is my job, nobody truly wants to know about the client situation that is keeping me up at night. Let’s be real. “Oh, it’s been a rough day. The HACB fund sent our client a request for about 100 documents from a 2012 deal and gave them a week to find, compile, index, and pdf them. I’ll be working late into the night until this gets done. Conference calls every afternoon.” BO.RING.

    And then there is my personal life. “Well perimenopause is pretty brutal right now … I’m reading ___ in the bathroom …. my jeans don’t fit me so good …. got another speeding ticket last week ….”

    Nah, I’ll stick with “oh fine, just spent Sunday at the kids’ horse show, gearing up for school to start ….”

  29. lollpoplover August 9, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    “While our children are not our masterpieces, the idea that kids just become who they are and parenting has no relevance is just ridiculous. Come into court with me and it will take you about 30 minutes of talking with families to see that the apple rarely falls far from the tree.”

    Ever read Freakonomics?


    Agreed that the apple often doesn’t fall far from the tree, but often more for socioeconomic factors and parental education vs. amount of time dedicated to actively parenting. US parents have dramatically increased the amount of time spent with their children. I think parenting absolutely does have relevance…just not in the ways most of us expect (which is why I personally have a VERY large bookshelf in my home for my kids but read my own books solo, usually with a nice glass of wine).

    Yes, apples may not fall far from trees but what about those of us who gave birth to pears? Or bananas?! I have 3 very different kids. All with very different personalities and abilities and needs for parenting attention. If they get themselves in trouble at this point in their lives? It’s on them. If we keep blaming parents for everything their children do the children learn they are not responsible for their own actions. There will always be a scapegoat.

  30. VG August 9, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    @Papilio well, it’s true that kids go to school every day, but what they do there is always changing – they move up grades, take different classes (once they reach a certain age), do sports, learn to play musical instruments, etc., so there’s always something new to report. On the other hand, work talk is usually boring to anyone outside that industry unless you have a very interesting job–for example, I have a friend who is an archaeologist and I love hearing about the different countries she travels to for her research, but I’m pretty sure no one wants to hear about the marketing email I wrote yesterday. 🙂

  31. Vaughan Evans August 9, 2016 at 3:08 pm #

    One woman (1906-1992)who came from Scotland told me that European children are more capable-of making their own toys-than are Canadian and American children.

  32. Papilio August 9, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    @VG: Haha, I agree it depends on your job and the other person’s job (if they’re similar they can relate…), and maybe on colorful co-workers and things like that…

  33. Craig August 9, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    This is what I mean when I have so often mentioned in many places for many years, that the core problem of helicopter parenting is narcissistic mothers, because yes, it is in my experience, chiefly mothers who make their parenting decisions based on how other mothers, their facebook/twitter/instagram/pinterest followers, teachers, their friends,parents, siblings or their imaginings of how a wider society will view THEM if they do or don’t _______________ (insert child micromanaging excuse here). Most people need therapy to deal with this. But good luck finding a therapist who understands this. There are some but you have to really look.

  34. Nicole R. August 9, 2016 at 6:44 pm #

    I love this line:

    “It wasn’t having the kids that nixed that, it was the kids having stuff to do.”

    So true!!

    As for the main topic, I’ve only lived here in America as a parent, but I definitely think we judge each other too much by our children’s accomplishments!

  35. CrazyCatLady August 9, 2016 at 11:15 pm #

    Blame the parents, it happens a lot at school. Kid not able to pay attention in kinder? It MUST be because the parents didn’t send him to day care. Kid not reading by 1st grade, parents must not be reading enough to the child at home. Child failing school…parents must not be making the kid do the homework. But get a diagnosis…wow, watch everything change!

    Like Lilith, I have two who are well behaved, would hold my hand…and the middle one…who would run off oblivious to everyone and everything around him, including moving cars. That same one wasn’t able to talk as he turned 3. I don’t know why…I never did blame myself. I had friends who blamed themselves. Yes, my youngest with dyslexia…yup…I blamed myself, rather, my genes, as I have dyslexia.

    And Lilith, yes, I guess I must be one of those stealth free rangers. I live in earthquake country and I have a crappy house with floors that tilt inward. I hardly need an earthquake to topple our tall bookcases.

  36. JP Merzetti August 9, 2016 at 11:27 pm #

    Well, I do tend to agree with Lilith.
    My kids are all grown – in a time long gone (which feels like ancient history compared to today’s “norms.”)
    And I think far too often, the “where did I go wrong?” syndrome……is far more a byproduct of a social run off the rails, than any particular or specific parenting glitch.
    I’m guessing that we now live in a time when very few parents, it seems, know how to really relax anymore.
    (and yes – parenting is a ball when one is relaxed!)
    But hey – it could be worse. Apparently in Japan – they’re just not having kids anymore, period.
    And apparently the main reason for that is an economic one.

    Maybe we need to count our lucky stars that enough people don’t happen to believe they need to be millionaires in order to afford the “luxury” of raising offspring.
    I don’t like to think of raising kids as a science…..or an art…….or even much of a blessing or a curse.
    I prefer to think of it as one of the more important facts of life.
    Kids do eventually replace us….after all.

  37. SKL August 10, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

    In my case, I’m not trying to avoid judgment by others. Most people give me a hard time about putting my kids in stuff. It’s annoying. Another direction to be pulled in. :/ How about it’s nobody else’s business?

    And yes about teachers blaming everything on the parents – unless you have a diagnosis. Though you do have teachers who blame the parents for not getting a diagnosis [and drugging their kids] ….