Leslie Morgan Steiner On Cultural Shifts In Washington Parenting (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Leslie Morgan Steiner On Cultural Shifts In Washington Parenting

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. Today, we're talking about that most life-altering, sleep-depriving, heart-warming and all consuming of topics, parenting. In 2011, Washington, D.C. received kudos as Parenting Magazine's top American city for raising a child. The editors raved about the capital's history, its architecture, its monuments and museums and its plethora of kid-friendly places to eat. Critics were quick to stand up and point out that Washington may not be ideal for all families, however, given D.C.'s struggles with crime and poverty and its on-going issues with the public schools.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:48
So this week on the show, we're taking a look at parenting in the Washington region from a number of angles.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:57
We'll meet a couple who decided to use a surrogate mother in India. And they're not the only ones who have latched onto this international trend. We'll learn why a significant number of Washington women are choosing to parent without a partner. And talk about family bonding, we'll hear from a family that's spending the next year sailing around the world.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:25
But before we dive into those stories, we wanted to get your thoughts on bringing up kids in D.C. So we hit the streets and asked Washingtonians to describe their experience of parenting in one word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

00:01:36
I'd say exciting. I'd say new.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE

00:01:39
Unpredictable.

MALE

00:01:40
Always changing.

FEMALE

00:01:41
You never know what's coming around the corner.

MALE

00:01:43
Stress.

FEMALE

00:01:44
Frustration.

MALE

00:01:45
Growth.

FEMALE

00:01:46
Commitment and consistency.

MALE

00:01:49
Innocence. It's a blessing. He's a blessing. It's the best thing I've ever done in my life.

SHEIR

00:01:55
Those were parents in Cleveland Park and Shaw, speaking with "Metro Connection's" Lauren Landau. And we're curious. What's the one word you would use to describe parenting? You can share your child-rearing challenges and joys by emailing us at metro@wamu.org or send us a tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro. Now, anyone who's been in D.C. for awhile knows how much it's morphed and evolved through the years.

SHEIR

00:02:21
And, according to the woman we'll meet next, so has parenting in the nation's capital. Leslie Morgan Steiner is a native Washingtonian who's penned three books, "Crazy Love," "Mommy Wars," and the forthcoming, "Baby Chase." She also spent two years writing "On Balance," the Washington Post's parenting blog. These days, Leslie resides in Georgetown, but I recently met the mother of three in a different part of Northwest Washington, Wesley Heights, home of Horace Mann Elementary School, where Leslie spent many happy years as a student.

SHEIR

00:02:54
So, Leslie, here we are standing on the playground of Horace Mann Elementary School. Can you take us back to your times here, when you were growing up? Something that just particularly stands out in your mind and your memory?

MS. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER

00:03:03
Well, one of the things I have to confess I remember most is all the boys that I loved to chase on this playground. I would chase the boys and try to kiss them.

SHEIR

00:03:13
Do you remember any names?

STEINER

00:03:14
Oh, so many, Phil, Chris Barker, Fletcher, Oakley, Patrick Waters. Oh, they were endless.

SHEIR

00:03:20
Leslie says she's changed considerably since then, as has parenting in Washington, D.C.

STEINER

00:03:26
The one striking thing is that when I was a kid there were not a lot of parents here on the playground. And right now I would say the ratio of parents to kids is about 1 to 10. But when I was a kid, your parents never came to the playground. You know, there was an afterschool sports guy who oversaw stuff, but you were free here and the parents weren't watching you and they weren't, you know, at the edge of the field with their Smartphone, taking pictures of you.

SHEIR

00:03:50
How do you account for that change?

STEINER

00:03:52
Well, my mom was a stay-at-home mom. She was raising four kids, pretty much by herself. Our dad was not an involved dad. He was your typical '60s dad. He went to work every day and we didn't see much of him. My parents had one car. And my mom was really busy. And she was too busy with four kids to be after us all the time. And starting in first grade we walked to school, we walked home for lunch, we walked back to school. All of our friends had this kind of freedom.

STEINER

00:04:18
And what's different now is that families are much smaller. You know, most families have two, or maybe three kids and the parents have the ability to keep a much closer eye on a smaller number of kids. And dads are much more involved. So they're doing a lot more. So I think that's really what explains the rise of helicopter parents in the space of just one generation. It's seen as bad parenting to let your kids go free, but I tell you, it was one of the most glorious parts of my childhood, was roaming around this playground every day after school or Battery Kemble Park was close by and I was the neighborhood dog walker so I was there almost every day, as well.

STEINER

00:04:53
And a few bad things happened. Nothing serious. You know, very minor things like the time I lost $5 on this playground and I couldn't find it and it was a fortune. I think I'm still going to look for it today. Maybe it's around here somewhere.

SHEIR

00:05:05
I'll help you.

STEINER

00:05:06
You know, and very minor problems, but nothing like what I think parents are terrified of today. They are so afraid of abductions and other things. And I think I had a better childhood. I wasn't necessarily aware of it at the time, but I had a better childhood growing up in Washington, D.C. than my own kids have today.

SHEIR

00:05:21
What about parental involvement in schools? Was that something you saw when you were a child?

STEINER

00:05:25
No, not at all. You know, here at Horace Mann and then once I graduated from Horace Mann I went to the Moray School, just a couple of miles from here and I don't remember my parents ever being there, except the day that I graduated. And I, you know, now as a parent myself, I am at my kids' school sometimes three or four times a day, more than my parents were there in a month or even a year. It's so radically different.

SHEIR

00:05:50
Something I wanted to ask you because we have something called the PIN, the Public Insight Network. And we asked a lot of our listeners to chime in on the Public Insight Network about what it's like to be a rent in Washington. And an overwhelming response we got from them was about the competitive pressure the feel to get their kids to excel in school. Is that something that you see being a fairly new development? Have parents here always been so gun-ho to the point of -- I don't know-- SAT prep classes in sixth grade?

STEINER

00:06:19
I think that this has really changed over the last 20 years or so. It's so competitive here and parents and, thus, their kids, are so worried about doing well in school and getting into -- not just a college, but a very, very good college. And when I was growing up we just really didn't think about it very much. My parents both went to Harvard and so there was always this idea that if we were really good kids, and worthy of our parents, we would, too. But I think, again, we were unusual. And I don't know exactly why that has changed so much. I think it has changed around the country, but probably even more so in Washington.

STEINER

00:06:55
And I wish it were still the way that it was when I was growing up, where, especially at the school that I went to, Moray, the teachers really were very interested in us being who we were, not fitting some mold of doctor, lawyer, business person. We had so much freedom to be more creative. And I didn't know what a special time it was that I was growing up. I just thought it was just my childhood, but now I look back and I say, well, that was priceless to grow up in a place where my parents were able to give us a lot of freedom and where I was able to live in this vibrant city with, you know, it felt like politicians and newspaper reporters coming out of my ears and to be exposed to that all the time.

SHEIR

00:07:37
When you were writing for the Washington Post, could you sort of characterize the kinds of people who would write to you? Was there something specifically D.C. about these people?

STEINER

00:07:48
They were very well educated. I have to say that. They were really, really educated. And they were intensely into how they were raising their own kids. They were also very opinionated. You know, one of the things that relay surprised me about writing for "On Balance" was that people who didn't have kids still had really strong opinions. They still cared about how we raise our kids. And I'm not sure if that's a Washington, D.C. phenomenon, probably. Or maybe it's just an American thing that we really care very deeply about how other people raise their kids in a way that is wonderful and also can drive you really crazy.

SHEIR

00:08:23
And that's not something your mom dealt with.

STEINER

00:08:25
My mom did not deal with that at all. But, you know, as the type of thing that I deal with as a parent sometimes, would never have happened to me as a kid. For instance, when I was starting to let my kids have that little freedom to walk to the corner store or to the CVS, on more than one occasion other parents called me to report that my children were crossing the street by themselves. And they were calling to criticize me, there's no doubt about it.

STEINER

00:08:47
And my mom died two years ago, but back 10 years ago I would tell her that the neighbors were doing this and she would just howl with laughter. You know, the thought of, on Klingle Street where I grew up, another parent calling her to say, you know, Leslie is crossing the street by herself, you know. My mom would have been like, that's what I want her to do. And I think one thing I learned growing up in this corner of Washington, D.C. was that I could definitely handle the world. I could handle this teeny little part of it.

STEINER

00:09:13
And I'm grateful that my mom raised me that way, and also that D.C., was that kind of place, at that time.

SHEIR

00:09:18
Well, Leslie Morgan Steiner, thank you so much for coming out to the playground and talking with me today.

STEINER

00:09:22
It's my pleasure, any time.

SHEIR

00:09:25
Leslie Morgan Steiner is the author of "Crazy Love," "Mommy Wars," and the forthcoming book, "Baby Chase." She also helmed the Washington Post's parenting blog, "On Balance." And we want to know how you think parenting in Washington has changed over the years. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org or via Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro.
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