the partition — then promptly took upnwhere he had left off, wailing his toddlerngrief. At that point, I found one morenreason to resent Jeffrey’s mother. Shenhad provoked in me a petty thought:nServes you right, Mommy.nI dwell on this episode because itnseems to me a microcosm of currentnparental attitudes and behavior. Therenwere three problems in that dressingnroom. There was Jeffrey’s problem,nwhich was that he was three years old,nstuffed into a snowsuit, and trapped inna cubicle. There was my problem,nwhich was that I wanted to try onnclothes without the company of childrennI had never seen before. Andnthere was Jeffrey’s mother’s problem,nwhich was that she wanted to do whatnshe wanted to do and feel like a nicenmommy in the bargain.nThe question was one of problemnownership. Who owned those problems?nIt wasn’t Jeffrey, because youncan ask many things of a three-yearold,nbut passive endurance of overheatednphysical imprisonment isn’t one ofnthem. And it certainly wasn’t me. Thatnleaves Jeffrey’s mother, whose burden,nto my way of thinking, was to solvenJeffrey’s problem and mine, which shencould have done by simply not doingnwhat she wanted to do and taking poornJeffrey home. Not doing what younwant to do: by all evidence, this isnconsidered radical thinking by manynmodern parents.nI am convinced that the impulsenwhich allowed Jeffrey’s mother to expectnmy complicity in her problemnholds the seed of the attitude thatneventually leads parents to say, “Hernteacher doesn’t understand her” whenntheir daughter fails in school, and “Oh;nhe’s just being a kid” when their sonnvandalizes someone’s mailbox. (Onnanother level, it may even hold thenseed of the confusion between somethingnlike the need for daycare and thenright to daycare.) The impulse is annadmission of both helplessness andnself-centeredness, an expression of thendesire to have someone, anyone, availablento share the burden of parentalnduty and the blame of parental failure,nfailure being all but inevitable of coursenwhen parents insist on the illusion thatnthey can conveniently skip the smallnstuff without in any way jeopardizingnthe big stuff.nLazy, self-deluded parents are noth­ning new. What is new, at least to me, isnthe conceit of parental mastery thatnnow accompanies the laziness and selfdelusion.nI am referring to the mothersnand fathers who create a great show ofntheir parental investment, those whonmake themselves (and their children)nsitting ducks by claiming publicly thenbadge of Really Terrific Parents. Thesenpeople are everywhere.nYou can find Really Terrific Dads innthe library on Saturday mornings,nlaughing indulgently {Ah, kids!) whenntheir pretty little five-year-old daughtersnsuddenly shout something like,n”You big dumb stupid Daddy!” Thenlaugh is meant to hide the fact thatnthese men are secretly terrified of theirnchildren and haven’t the faintest ideanwhat to do, what to think, about beingncalled “big dumb stupid Daddy.” Thengame here is to avoid the need fornaction by not acknowledging it.nAnd there are always a couple ofnReally Terrific Moms in any bookstore,nwomen who entertain their maternalnvanity by imposing their children’s intelligencenon fellow browsers. (“Andnwhat’s this word, sweetheart? That’snright, it’s environment.”) They are thenmothers who talk to their children as ifnthey aren’t quite acquainted withnthem; and theirs are the kids I alwaysnthink of as vaguely deprived. Thesenchildren seem to have everything exceptnwhatever counts as cheap thrills innthe world of preschoolers. They invariablynhead straight for Dr. Seuss or theninexpensive and gaudy Sesame Streetnbooks or something with Pee-wee Hermannon the cover. And their mothersninvariably try to steer them towardnsome lavish award winner, a volumenillustrated all in matte gray and mauve,na book in which A Child Just Like Youndiscovers, metaphorically, the importancenof the food chain or some suchnthing.nOn any given evening you can findnthe whole Really Terrific Family gatherednin a restaurant somewhere. No,nthey aren’t those folks over there, thenones expeditiously finishing their mealnand packing, up because their baby isndetermined to create a ruckus. I’mntalking about the people behind you,nthe ones who are doing what they wantnto do while smiling adoringly at theirnfed-up three-year-old, who is doingnwhat he wants to do, which is to passnthe time by simultaneously kicking thennnback of your booth and hanging overnyour shoulder while you eat.nIf you happen to be a new parentnand you find yourself the recipient ofnunsolicited advice on what always tondo or never to do in bringing up yournbaby, chances are the advice is comingnfrom Really Terrific Parents, and nevernmind that their kid was the one yellingn”big dumb stupid Daddy” in the library.nOr maybe the discussion is aboutnteenagers and the subject is drugs andnalcohol. If the couple across from younpatiently explain that they provide beernfor their son’s parties because “it’s angood way to keep an eye on him, andnbesides, beer is no big deal — exceptnwhen he’s in training, of course,” younare definitely in the company of ReallynTerrific Parents, a pair working in concert,nat full tilt. And don’t let it bothernyou, because it, isn’t likely to bothernthem, when you find out their son isnthe kid who keeps flattening your mailbox.nI don’t like Really Terrific Parents. Inthink they are wrongheaded and silly,nand I believe they’re in for trouble.nAnd I am appalled by mothers andnfathers who won’t do what is necessarynto protect their children from needlesslynappearing (in some cases, being)nunlikable. And that’s my point: I’m allnangry and appalled and grumpy andnnegative. I am paying a price for beingnforced into judgment when I wouldnprefer to withhold judgment, at least anlittle. Some unnamed comfort is disappearing.nThe great unspoken compactn— the closest thing to a golden rule thenworld of parenthood has — is beingnexploited into extinction by legions ofnReally Terrific Parents. They offendnnot by mistaking indulgence for patiencenand blather for discipline (thatnoffense is against their children), but bynturning this process of parental capitulationninto a self-satisfied public performance.nIt’s okay, I guess, if peoplenwant to feel smug about their parentalnskills when no one’s looking. But it isnbad form to feel that way openly. Andnit is a direct assault on the compact tonflaunt your smugness while your childnis calling you names in public ornsprawled at the feet of some stranger inna department store dressing room.nJanet Scott Barlow writes fromnCincinnati.nAPRIL 1990/47n