why over-pushed children are like the Irish Elk

I think the New York Times should just go ahead and rename their “Sunday Styles” section the “Sunday Stressballs” section, because anyone who even glances at it on what might (up until then) have been an easy-like Sunday morning will in short order become a tightly wound ball of stress. At least that’s what happens to me.

Right now, the most emailed Sunday Styles story is on fast tracking to kindergarten–specifically, how the type of parents who name their children Huxton and Eze (yes really) are flocking to Kumon Learning Centers with those children in order to give them a five-year headstart on their future classmates. Times tables at two? Of course; doesn’t YOUR toddler know how to divide yet? 

Mind you, this is all what the kids want; the parents are there because they have no choice. As one mother explains of her three-year-old, 

She used to cry at night because she couldn’t read. It was so traumatic for all of us.

Traumatic, to be sure. But I’m not sure the thrice-weekly tutoring sessions are really going to be the calming influence that family is seeking.

Professor Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, compares over-pushed children like this to the Irish elk:

“…they go around tottering, unable to walk, under the enormous weight of these antlers they’ve developed.” 

Yes, YES, I nodded to myself as I read that sentence, smirking, feeling so so superior to these ridiculous parents overthinking everything. (Which I think is what the New York Times kinda has in mind.) Until that little corner of my brain takes over and I become one of those ridiculous parents overthinking everything. It’s a push me-pull you thing, and it goes like this:

These preschoolers could have forty minutes of homework a night! Ha! My second-grader has twenty! 
(Is that enough? Should I make him do the bonus sheet?)   
When are these parents ever going to learn? 
(What if my kids aren’t working to their full potential? How would I even know?) 

My kids’ schools are SO not like this, and that’s why I picked them, and most of the time I am so very very thankful for that. But even as I roll my eyes at the Pregnant In Heels types, there is a little corner of my brain pondering whether I am fatally dooming my children to a Life of Less. I know that sentiment is ridiculous. That part of my brain is a LOT smaller than it used to be. But it probably won’t stop me from pausing just a moment in front of Kumon’s windows the next time I walk by, and that’s what businesses like theirs– and stories like this one– are preying on.