Let's start with some kooks.
The parents of a newborn ''offered their nanny a $500 bonus for every developmental milestone their child beat. If the average age for sitting up is six months, and he beat that by even a single week ... chi-ching! ... A mother of a 9-month-old signed up her son for Gymboree classes so he could socialize with peers and 'not grow up to be painfully shy, like me.' ''
For nursery school admission, ''Some enroll their toddlers in preparatory programs, usually disguised as something else. One Westchester County, N.Y., mother was upset to hear, via the grapevine, that another mom had gotten hold of the WISC intelligence test so her child could practice ahead of time. In her eyes, not only was it awful and unethical, but she was also, frankly, concerned that this other child had an unfair advantage'' over her child.
The authors of ''Hyper-Parenting,'' psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise, both of Stamford, Conn., say all such anecdotes in their book are from real life.
Who would doubt it?
''Hyper-Parenting'' (St. Martin's, $22.95) is chock-full of amusing stories of parents' wretched excess, or maybe just wretchedness.
But the book winds its way around to some bigger issues, such as:
--Why do we work so hard to buy so much junk?
--Why do we happily buy into hype?
--Where did we get this dumbed-down definition of success?
--How did we come to believe that with enough effort and expenditure we can control who our children will be?
--Why are we so shallow?
The authors say that they themselves are ''hyper-parents in recovery.'' Wise has four kids. Rosenfeld has three. Been there, done that -- trying to kick it. Not only because it's exhausting, but because it's wrong. ''The most telling thing, I think, is that we see community service as a requisite for college admission,'' Wise says. Parents encourage it because it looks good on the application -- not because of any intrinsic value. ''We really do lose sight of what's important.''
''The (cultural) messages are so strong, so extreme, it's very hard to think for yourself,'' Rosenfeld said. Even though he, as a psychiatrist, and his wife, as a pediatrician, ''think hard about these issues, it's still a problem for us.''
Parents now ''feel responsible for crafting their children's childhood. This kind of stuff used to be only for nutty stage parents,'' Rosenfeld says.
In the pursuit of status, Rosenfeld says he sees families ''rushing, rushing, rushing, but they don't know where they're going.''
Parents are well acquainted with expert advice that they should not push their kids too hard, lest the kids burn out and hate hockey or gymnastics or piano or school (pick your own personal favorite). Less emphasized is how performance pressure can teach kids poor values.
''The message kids get is that they cannot ever, for a moment, take comfort and satisfaction in being who they are,'' Rosenfeld and Wise write. ''They should take inspiration from the deep pain of inadequacy. They should learn to use every second of their day productively.''
Even more onerous is the implication, quite clear to kids, that they are responsible for their parents' happiness.
While Wise was once full-tilt on the classes-activities route, she now will allow a kid to skip practice if there's too much homework or simply too much stress. There is no more than one sport per kid, per season. ''Now I'm looking out for the quality of life for the whole family.''
''I'm astonished at the high activity level of some families'' in town, she says, though ''I don't know how they're pulling it off.''
And to what end, anyway?
Kids would rather have you sit down to watch TV with them to having you snarl as you race them around after school. All this emphasis on accomplishment misses the rock-bottom truth that what counts in life is the quality of relationships.
Somehow, we manage to overlook the obvious -- that most of us have incredibly fortunate lives, Wise and Rosenfeld argue.
You sleep in a warm home, with your healthy children nearby. You have enough. ''Many of us are married to people we like,'' Rosenfeld says. ''We are very, very fortunate. The glass is not half-full, it's fifteen-sixteenths full. It's that other one-sixteenth that messes everybody up.''
E-mail the writer: kochakian(at)courant.com
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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