Yesterday Ha’aretz reposted on Facebook a very popular article by Tamar Rotem from 2012 with the intriguing name: “Parents do not pity their Kindergarten children.” This title is an ironic allusion to the famous poem by Yehuda Amichai: “God pities the Kindergarten children.”
Among other issues, the article criticizes the new demand that children will know how to read while they are still in Kindergarten. I agree with the criticism, but can testify, from my personal experience, that it is not a new trend. This is an essay that I wrote about over parenting:
When another mother told me that I had to make sure that my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter knew how to read before she started kindergarten that fall, I knew that I was in trouble. She explained that in the event that she didn’t read she would be put in the lowest ability group, and that would be the end. I was sure no mother in her right mind would risk ruining her daughter’s future and teaching her to read seemed like a small price to pay. But that was only the beginning:
We lived in Iowa City, a small university town in the Midwest. At that time most of the husbands worked at the university and the wives, all university graduates, were stay-at-home-moms, partly due to ideology, and partly because of the limited employment opportunities in town.
With so much time on our hands and so little to do, our children became the focus of our attention, our prime preoccupation and a way to channel our creative and intellectual energy. They were a source of happiness, pride but also an endless cause of motherly concern.
Other children talked earlier, read better, ran faster (or in the case of our community in Iowa City: played soccer, danced, played a musical instrument, sang in a children’s opera). The accomplishments of one child became her mother’s personal achievement and the direct cause for jealousy and anxiety of other mothers.
Luckily, as an Israeli living in the US I missed many cultural cues involving raising children in a competitive environment. I didn’t understand, for example, the reward system in the American school. I was oblivious to the grave importance of soccer, and didn’t see why in such small classes some mothers were always present at the school.
What I did not miss was the tension is the air. I am quite certain that many of the mothers were kind and care-free prior to having children. But their new responsibility meant that they believed that the stakes, even at the elementary school level, were so high that everything in their children’s life was of the outmost importance. That solemn attitude did not leave much room for fun and sense of humor.
While I was still in Iowa City I sensed that the energy in that small community was unhealthy. I agree that competition is a motivating force, but for me it became toxic. In theory I could have chosen to disengage, but I didn’t see a way out from the pervasive competition outside the home.
The marriages of several parents among our friends did not survive those early years of child rearing, and probably the anxiety surrounding their children’s achievement did not add to the well being of their relationship. I also know that many children did not respond well to the pressures of over-parenting.
Being under a magnifying glass is not only hard on the child, it is draining for the parents. In a way we were saved, returning to Israel where my daughters enjoyed much more independence and were responsible for their success and their failure, brought us back our freedom.
From the article in Ha’aretz I understand that the freedom, which we enjoyed in Israel of the mid 1990s, is under threat. I hope that parents take it upon themselves to pity their Kindergarten children and let them enjoy life outside workbooks and competition for a little while longer.