Friday, June 29, 2012

Learning to Un-Mother: Chard Pie

"Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?"  It's certainly not a new question, but judging by the number of tweets and shares that this week's New Yorker article continues to accumulate, it's still a popular one.

Elizbaeth Kohlbert describes, among other things, two ethnographic studies done collaboratively by two anthropologists in the early 2000s, in LA and in Peru, which found drastically different approaches to parenting and--as a result--patterns of behavior: the Peruvian children were cooking their own food at age 3, left to their own devices by their parents; the eight year old Angelenos were still asking parents "how am I supposed to eat" when they found no silverware on the table, despite the fact that they knew perfectly well where it was kept, and parents would whisk away to get them utensils.

There's a pretty common name for the phenomenon among my higher education colleagues: helicopter parents.  It's not meant to be derogatory so much as descriptive: the phrase conjures parents hovering above their (semi-adult, in this case) children, ready to swoop down at a moment's notice to fix whatever it is that needs fixing. In most cases, the children don't even ask for help; it simply appears.

I read the article with interest, because I think we tend to do a bit of both over- and under-parenting.  Our son is Montessori-educated, and Montessori philosophy teaches that children are capable of doing a great deal by themselves, and that we should only help if they ask for it, that we should allow them to become self-reliant.  (This holds true even when responding to the incessant questions children ask: we often start with "what do you think," rather than offering an immediate answer.)  Our house is not child-centered, but child-friendly: the shelves are filled with both adult books and with toys, there are few toys on the floor in shared family spaces, and we periodically purge their rooms of clutter.  On the other hand, there are times when I just need to get out the door, and I've been trying to get out the door for fifteen minutes already, and it's easier to carry my son, protesting all the way, than to make him walk.

So: what do you think?  Do we do more for our children because we have a lower opinion of our children's capacities?  Is it that we fear they won't "make it" in this competitive economy, and so we overparent in hopes that we might be able to control their advantage?  Are we prolonging adolescence in preparation for an increasingly complex world?

Chard is typically a slightly bitter green.  We've been getting quite a lot of it in our CSA share, and I like it in this dish because the chard is not overpowering, and it's certainly not bitter.  It's like motherhood and apple pie turned on its head: you sneak that bitter vegetable into the flaky pastry crust, bake them in cute little muffin shapes, and no one is the wiser ... but everyone gets more than their daily recommended allowance of vitamins A, K, and C.

Chard Pie 

1 pound Swiss chard, stems and ribs removed
1 small onion, finely diced
1 T. butter
1 1/2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 15-ounce container part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan
2 large eggs
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. minced fresh thyme
1/4 t. minced fresh oregano
1/2 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (1 sheet), thawed

Cook chard in large pot of boiling salted water until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Squeeze out liquid. Chop chard.

Melt the butter in a heavy large skillet over low heat.  Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring often, to caramelize, about 5-10 minutes.  Empty onions into a bowl and set aside.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; saute
 1 minute. Add chard; saute until excess liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Transfer chard mixture to large bowl. Cool slightly. Mix in onions, ricotta and next 5 ingredients.

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 375°F. Roll out 1 pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 12-inch square. Cut into 9 equal squares.  Transfer pastry squares to 9 muffin cups (either lightly oiled with cooking spray, or preferably, use silicone).  The corners will overhang the sides; that's OK.

Fill pastry with 2 t. or so of caramelized onion and then chard mixture. Bake until pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, but serve warm!
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9 comments:

Esperanza said...

I think we do this, the things that make our kids "spoiled" because we don't have the time, or energy, to do what we need to do. Creating natural consequences for each infraction requires an incredible amount of time and patience and it's something a lot of people don't have. I also think people don't know how to require the virtues of hard work and persistance from their children. Parenting is a skill, an art, and if one has never been trained in the best ways to get children to do certain things, they will have a very hard time figuring it out for themselves. I've had years of training as a teacher and I still struggle every single day. So that is why I think our children are this way, we don't have time, and when we are with them we want things to move smoothly, we don't want to have discipline them, we want them to like us, and we worry that if we discipline them, they won't. We also aren't quite sure what to do to demand such behavior from them. I think that is why it happens that way. But it's just my guess.

Cristen said...

"Elizbaeth Kohlbert describes, among other things, two ethnographic studies done collaboratively by two anthropologists in the early 2000s, in LA and in Peru, which found drastically different approaches to parenting and--as a result--patterns of behavior: the Peruvian children were cooking their own food at age 3, left to their own devices by their parents; the eight year old Angelenos were still asking parents "how am I supposed to eat" when they found no silverware on the table, despite the fact that they knew perfectly well where it was kept, and parents would whisk away to get them utensils.'
I personally believe that the Peruvian children were more independent because they were given more freedom and were not "trained." I am sure that the LA kids were told what to eat, when to sleep, when to wake up, what to wear, what they could read, what they could learn and what games they could play and how to play (through organized sports) from a very young age. Our society feels the need to train kids, and in training them, we make all of their decisions. Then we are annoyed and shocked when they don't get their own fork.
I have a feeling that the Peruvian children are a part of the community and given a lot of respect from the get go. They probably learn from assimilation rather than being told what to do and how to act. And they probably have a lot of freedom to wander, work things out in mixed age groups, and be independent.
I think our society controls and schedules kids down to the minute. That really doesn't rear independent adults.

Cristen said...

Do we do more for our children because we have a lower opinion of our children's capacities?

I believe this answer to be "yes."

Stephanie said...

We elementary teachers use the term helicopter parents as well. I don't have children of my own (which I figure pretty much makes me an expert on parenting), but as a teacher I lived by the motto "people will live down to our expectations". I do think that independence and creativity are stifled by smothering and over-scheduling. And as for the cult of self-esteem...well, there's nothing better for a person's self-esteem than actually DOING stuff.

Lavender Luz said...

Perfect timing for this recipe, as we are all about the leafy greens at our CSA now, too.

Love this: "Our house is not child-centered."

I don't think we have a lower opinion of our children's capacities. I think this generation of parents has defined "good parenting" as "more is better" parenting. Love & Logic isn't perfect, but I do appreciate how it (1) teaches about consequences age-appropriately, (2) helps children look forward beyond their actions, (3) practice and become confident in their own decision-making skills.

Sadly, some people think that "good parenting" means that you never let your kid fail. I believe we have to teach them how to fail small and not big, and how to be resilient.

Lavender Luz said...

Um, I didn't pull the whole quote that I liked: "Our house is not child-centered, but child-friendly".

Monet said...

Ryan and I were just talking about this the other day, and since we aren't parents, we don't have many answers. But it is so thought-provoking, and in many ways I agree with the notion that American children have been far too spoiled. I guess I'll have to wait and read and learn as we approach the idea of having our own family. Thanks for sharing, and thank you for your kind words and thoughts on my blog this week. They are much much appreciated.

Emily @ablanket2keep said...

I personally think it is like how you said. (and I only have the experience with babysitting for a year and a half)"On the other hand, there are times when I just need to get out the door, and I've been trying to get out the door for fifteen minutes already, and it's easier to carry my son, protesting all the way, than to make him walk."
I did all I could to let them do thins on their own, but you can't revolve around them all the time. I always thought about raising my kids like you are doing.

KeAnne said...

That pie looks awesome! Do you think it would work crustless? I think that sometimes it is easier to do things for our children than to take the time to let them/make them do it for themselves and that's probably a function of our time-strapped modern lives. I know that D should be much further along in dressing/undressing himself, but our mornings are so hectic that it's just easier to do it myself.

I don't think we do this because we have a lower opinion of their capacities per se, but one thing that jumped out at me after reading Bringing Up Bebe is how much more French parents let their small children do. It would never have occurred to me that my 3 year old could bake muffins by himself, and I'm trying really hard to stop myself from saying "he's too young" and moving to "let's see if he can do this." I think this may be a factor of too many parenting books/authorities telling us what children can and can't do. It might be easier if we had to figure out parenting for ourselves.

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