Former New York Times Food Critic Tells Parents To Chill Out

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NYT_Twitter_BruniFrank Bruni is somewhat of a legend in the New York City restaurant scene. He was the food critic for the New York Times for five-and-a-half-years – all of the years that I worked as a server in the city. His photo was up in every kitchen that was worth a damn. Everyone knew what he looked like on the off chance that he decided to stumble into their restaurant one day, and skewer or praise it for all of New York to see.

Well, now he’s pointing his keen eye for criticism in another direction – at parents. He has an op-ed in the New York Times today called “A Childless Bystanders Baffled Hymn.” I love listening to people who don’t have children talk about raising children. I’m not being facetious. I really like a childless person’s perspective on parenting. Parenting is so all-consuming, you sometimes forget what it’s like to not be doing it. Focusing on it. Focusing on your child. Sometimes it’s refreshing to be smacked awake by someone who is not in a perpetual parental fog. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone say, What the hell are you doing?

He reminds us that kids aren’t adults and is truly “baffled” by the new school of thought that they should be treated like them. I agree. I try not to roll my eyes to much – but there was no negotiating when I was a child. I wouldn’t even dream of it. My mother would have laughed in my face. It was basically, do what you’re told and be good. And we did that. As a parent of a two-year-old I can confidently assert that negotiating with this little man will never work. So right now it is a battle of wills. It will continue to be one until I get my way – because I’m the mother, damn it!

“Iā€™m confounded by the boundless fretting, as if ushering kids into adulthood were some newfangled sorcery dependent on a slew of child-rearing books and a bevy of child-rearing blogs. The counsel keeps coming, from every possible corner and from unexpected shamans.” Somewhere along the way, our children became a product of whether we were “doing it right” or not. I think this is why parenting today is all-consuming. Is your child hitting his “milestones?” Is he talking enough? Responding enough? How’s his hand-eye coordination? Good God, it’s exhausting. Well Frank, as someone who does not have a child you have no idea how exhausting it can be in this new parenting climate – constantly feeling like you need to be doing something constructive to shape your child’s being every minute of every day. I have no idea when this became the parenting norm. And if you’re a parent and it’s not the norm in your house – can we be friends?

I know it’s frustrating to take advice from someone who clearly isn’t in your shoes – but I think Mr. Bruni makes some good points worth reading – so I’m passing the essay on to you. Yes, it is ultimately a little infuriating to listen to someone without children basically say, Don’t worry about it. Your child will be who he is no matter what you do. But something about this line of reasoning also gives you permission to breathe a little sigh of relief.

(photo: Twitter)


  1. Blueathena623

    March 31, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Maria, your statement “constantly feeling like you need to be doing something constructive to shape your child’s being every minute of every day” hits so close to home. I quit a job I liked to stay home with my 14 month old (my choice). Because of the place I worked, I know how incredibly important it is to foster language development at this age. Because he’s an active little boy totally focused on gross motor skills and general destruction/mischief making, he is a little behind on his language, but its not serious yet (as deemed by my SLP friends.)
    Prior to being a parent, I’d look at these sets of facts and say “ok, you spend all day with him, just work on it, and seek professional help if need be when the time arises.”
    As a parent, the amount of guilt I feel when I’m not talking to him and therefore not promoting language development is crushing. He’ll be sitting there, playing with his toys, and I’m just thinking “talk damn you! You’re an overly verbal person, to the point of being annoying! Why can’t you think of anything to say to your kid? Say something, anything!” I hate it. I know I need to chill out.
    And godamnit, one of these days I’m going to write a short comment that doesn’t go on for 30 million paragraphs and isn’t all about me. One of these days.

    • Guerrilla Mom

      March 31, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      You know – my son is the exact same way – so I totally get where you’re coming from!

    • Blooming_Babies

      March 31, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      Don’t worry if you go off the rails mommyish commenters will hold an intervention… Until then keep the paragraphs coming!

    • Curly Girl

      March 31, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      Oh please don’t worry. 14 months is so little still. There is some pretty amazing brain cell development that goes along with movement and activity too and it is just as important. I agree there is so much pressure these days to continuously provide meaningful experiences for our kids. It is overwhelming! I have three boys and each is very different from the other and they have had mostly the same kinds of experiences growing up. Ours is a simple slow parenting kind of thing. Playing independently is a great skill in itself so try not to worry and just enjoy your little man. Trust me…when he is three and you can’t shut him up you will look back at the 14 month old and see he was still such a baby. I miss baby boys *sigh*

    • Justme

      March 31, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      I get it. From what I know (and love) about you from your postings…you’re pretty intelligent and I think that as intelligent people, we want to see those same characteristics featured in our children. My daughter was (is?) a late talker and it turned out that getting tubes in her ears (after the millionth ear infection) was part of the problem. And you know what else? She’s just a quiet kid when she gets out in public – she observes and analyzes EVERYTHING….which I’ve convinced myself is a sign of extreme giftedness. Ha! But seriously, he’ll get there and when he does, you’ll wish that he would JUST. BE. QUIET. for two minutes so you can check your email and/or write a long paragraph response to a Mommyish article. šŸ™‚

    • Blueathena623

      March 31, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      Thank you šŸ™‚

    • LiteBrite

      April 1, 2013 at 8:51 am

      My pediatrician gave me some advice awhile ago which helped calm my nerves about kids hitting “milestones”, so I’ll pass it along to you. Paraphrasing, “It’s very rare for a child to be right where he’s supposed to be on the so-called milestone chart. Most are advanced in some things, right on track for others, and falling behind on a few. And even if they’re behind, we shouldn’t worry; eventually they catch up to where they should be. In fact, most of the medical community doesn’t worry unless the child is REALLY behind – as in many months or even a year, depending on the milestone – and usually there are other indications that something is wrong.” She also said it’s not uncommon for boys in particular to be late talkers.

      I know that’s easier said than done though. In order to move on to full kindergarten in the fall, my kid has to be able to write his name. He can’t. Other kids in his class can do it, but MY kid can’t/won’t. Of course I’m freaking out (“My kid won’t go to kindergarten! He’ll be held back! Oh my God!”), and DH and I decided that we had to start pushing the kid to do it. But at a conference in February his teacher was not worried at all about it. So, yeah, I need to chill out too.

      Btw, I like a lot of your comments, so post away. šŸ™‚

    • Josette Plank

      April 2, 2013 at 1:09 am

      You’re okay. Don’t worry. I promise, by 11yo you’ll be wishing your child would stop talking about Pokemon so much.

      If your pediatrician isn’t worried, don’t you get worried. If your pediatrician is worried, get another expert opinion or two before you start worrying more.

      Play music or listen to podcasts if you need to fill dead air. I remember I’d just get so freaking bored at home that I’d start narrating what I was doing as I was doing it.

  2. K.

    March 31, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    I try to remind myself when I feel the pressure to negotiate or make my kid’s day more ‘constructive’ or entertain my kid that life as an adult is not a bed of roses. Human life, for children and adults, is filled with frustration and loss and boredom and disappointment. It’s important to teach our kids how to negotiate these difficulties, and sometimes that means not alleviating it for them, but allowing them to experience discomfort and figure out how to cope with it by themselves.

    (I’m NOT saying that a parent should never negotiate or entertain or offer learning opportunities or any of that–I’m just saying that there’s no need to feel like it has to be done constantly at every turn)

    • Blooming_Babies

      March 31, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      Yes so true. Whenever my ten year old rolls his eyes at one of the many rules or chores in our house I say life skills honey, these are life skills. I’ll be damned if I send some entitled helpless brat out into the world.

    • Sara

      April 1, 2013 at 4:51 am

      Yup. Parents who refuse to discipline their kids are mistaking discipline for being primarily about punishment, which it’s not. Rather, discipline should be a TEACHING tool. As parents, we’re responsible for teaching our kids the skills they’ll need to survive, and those skills include being able to deal with unpleasant situations, handle disappointment without losing your sh*t, and work hard to achieve your goals. None of those come easy, but they’re all essential.
      I also, as a teacher, get really annoyed with the “learning must always be FUN!” refrain that we keep hearing in schools. Yes, at the elementary level, learning should generally be enjoyable and engaging. But by the time a kid gets to high school, he needs to start being able to sit through a 45-plus-minute lecture without needing it to be entertaining and still learn something. Why? Because if he goes to college, most of his classes will be lecture-based and if he doesn’t have that skill, he’s going to flunk out. Now, as an adult, I routinely have to sit through meetings that are well over 45 minutes and most of them are as boring as hell. But it’s also a requirement of my job, which is the thing that pays the bills and gets my family health insurance, so you’d better believe I do it. And as an adult with ADHD, sometimes it’s a challenge, but since the alternative is being unemployed, there ya go.

  3. Justme

    March 31, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    I needed to read this after I read yet another article about how arguing between parents (even while the child is sleeping) can have negative effects on a child’s brain and development. I’ve been in the Mommy Shame Spiral for almost a week. It just seems as if there is always a new study or expectation or standard coming out telling all of us how we are all doing to completely wrong. And being the rule follower that I am – I want to do things right, so I’m constantly berating myself for being a not-so-perfect mother.

    Sigh. Another day, another glass of wine.

    • Guerrilla Mom

      March 31, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      Oh please sister – I hear you. I’m 8+ months pregnant and constantly stressed from the move we just made – move = constant arguing AND we have a toddler acting out that I am constantly blaming myself for because I am certain it’s because of all of the stress that we have been under! I realized I hadn’t read to him the whole week of our move and almost started to cry. I posted this article because it was actually a breath of fresh air!

    • Blueathena623

      March 31, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      You’re right, every day there is another study, so pour a big glass of wine and wait until tomorrow, when there will probably be an article saying that arguing after the kids go to bed actually promotes nocturnal subliminal negotiation tactics of the frontal cortex lobe or something like that šŸ™‚

  4. Lastango

    March 31, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    “I have no idea when this became the parenting norm.”

    I date it from Oprah, whence began our oprahfication into a society of hand-wringers. Since then, she’s had lots of help.

  5. Edify

    April 1, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Just reading all the comments and everyone with a story or anecdote to share is just so hard on themselves. Remember, being unnecessarily hard and unfair on yourself is something your child will learn from you.
    It’s okay not to be perfect, it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to have days where you admit this shit is hard. You make up for that on the days you walk away feeling like you kicked ass (figuratively!)

    I have a 3 year old and I’m 7 months with number 2. With the first one, I learnt to stop being so quick to judge others. With the second one, I want to stop being so quick to judge myself.

  6. Josette Plank

    April 2, 2013 at 1:03 am

    I have a 14yo, and 11yo, and a 6yo.

    2yos should not be negotiated with. 2yos are where all your proactive parenting skills come in to play. However, strong arming intelligent, independent, thoughtful tweens and teens is asking for another type of trouble. Bruni basically makes no distinction.

    Also, his thoughts that kids are who they are at 3yo and are destined to be the same person at 14 and so in is, frankly, bordering on dangerous. No human is destined to resort to crime, victimization, or physical and emotional self-destruction, but this is basically what Bruni is saying: you can’t bend nature with nurture. I have a big problem with that, and that’s not parenting ego speaking.

    That’s a parent bumping up against children who could possibly take enough wrong turns to find themselves in a bad place, and trusting that using resources out there could set a better course. Destiny be damned.

    My 14yo daughter read his article and said, “Wow. He sounds like one of those cranky guys who is always complaining about crying babies in the supermarket.” I’d say she has a point as well.

  7. Psych Student

    April 3, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Alright, so I am not defending the dumbass or anything, not even a little bit. But, if he had had a conversation like this one, then I can see where he might be concerned:

    This is a conversation between a (childless) male friend of mine who teaches math at a local high school:
    Parent (P): “Why does my son have a zero for the last test?”
    Teacher (T): “He turned it in blank.”
    P: “He told me that he didn’t know how to do any of the problems.”
    T: “OK.”
    P: “So are you going to change it?”
    T: … “No.”
    P: “But he didn’t know how to do any of it. You can’t just give him an F because he doesn’t understand.”
    T: “The test was to asses his understanding of the last section. If he didn’t attempt any problems he did not show that he had any understanding.”
    T notes at the end: And it kind of goes in circles from there until she screamed something incoherent at me and hung up.
    Admittedly, this is a case in which the teacher should have be able to say whether or not the student understood the material up to this point or had be struggling right along and what might have been being done about that, etc. (I don’t have those details, my friend just needed to share the rant with friends). But the take away from this is the response from the mother who seems to think that just because her child doesn’t understand something, he shouldn’t be punished for it…in a school setting…in a test. If someone doesn’t understand how to drive a car safely and fails their driving test, we don’t give them a license just because they didn’t understand, we make them try again.
    So, in this one case (and single cases should not be enough for crazy childless people or anyone to go bitching at parents about what they are doing wrong), I can see how the expectations that the child should pass regardless can be annoying. I also know that parents who need the wake-up call aren’t on this site and I’m preaching to the choir that this lady was crazy!

    • Justme

      April 11, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Before I had my daughter, in parent-teacher conferences I would constantly be told that I “didn’t understand” because I “wasn’t a parent.”

      Now that I have a daughter I get told “imagine if this was YOUR daughter.”

      In the arena of public education, teachers can’t win either way.

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