Watching Animal Planet with my son, I am drawn to the plight of a  baby hippo who has wandered too far from his mother.  The infant was caught up exploring his underwater playground and did not notice the crocodile eyeing him for dinner.  As Animal Planet is prone to do, the natural consequences of the baby hippo followed, his young life ended by the gulp of a crocodile's mouth.  At this point the cameras zoomed onto the face of the mother, whose impassive eyes betrayed no sign of loss.  Her face so unaffected in this moment of grief, underscores the human need to protect our children at all costs.

While protecting our children is how our species of animal has survived, through the centuries we have upped the ante.  As income has increased, our mindset has evolved from protection into "what can I do" for my child.  Parent financed cars, vacations, and educations are the norm for occupants of particular zip codes.  The trappings of a successful life, they have moved from luxuries to entitlements.  In a quote attributed to Ryan Philippe, he referred to the extras in his own life and then discussed how he sometimes wondered how difficult it would be for his children to give all of this up.  The implication being that they would one day have to fend for themselves.  Yet, in today's world is such a notion realistic?   

Sunday's New York Times looks at one aspect of the question through its details of how local real estate prices are changing the relationship between parent and child.  Sky high real estate prices have made property ownership a challenge for many New Yorkers.  As condominiums and co-ops require ten to twenty percent of the purchase price as a down payment, the $30,000-40,000 a young person may have managed to save just isn't enough.  As more and more 20 and 30 year olds turn to mom and dad for assistance, the definition of independence changes.  According to those interviewed for the NY Times article, parents continue their parenting roles as rule setters as they underwrite the costs of their child's living space.  From the "no boyfriends moving in" rule to serving as tour guide for out of towners, these families renegotiate the boundaries of independence.

Child development experts will tell you that encouraging your child's independence should be a cornerstone of your parenting plan.  For a young child there are a multitude of ways to foster self growth, infants can begin feeding themselves, toddlers start to pick up their toys, parents eventually do less and less for their child.  What happens, however, when you add a bit of consumerism to the mix?  Is anyone thinking about the consequences of buying a two old year yet another stuffed animal?  What about those teen years, when fashion and Sweet 16's costing as much as a wedding, have consumption rearing its ugly head?  Children raised as consumers eventually become the consumed, eaten up with the need for things.  Emotionally desiring independence yet unable to acquire the lifestyle desired without assistance, a younger generation remains tied to their parent's success.

Life in the animal kingdom seems so much easier.  Mothers protect and feed their offspring, providing them with just the right amount of guidance, stepping in when necessary, standing back when it's time to let go.  Today's parents must wade through an onslaught of suggestions, navigate their way past commercial ladened minefields, to somehow produce an independent, responsible, compassionate human being.

The eyes of that mother hippo haunt me.  As the crocodile devours her infant, she blinks and with each blink, exposes her expressionless eyes.  A natural consequence, the narrator intones, "there is nothing she can do," as the crocodile continues his feed.  Not enough, too much, here's to finding peace among the crocodiles.                              


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