Senior focuses on “middle-class” parents, who she describes as pretty much everyone who isn’t wealthy, poor, or working class. Those parents have their own problems, and existential fretting about their children isn’t typically one of them. “Lower-income parents … give orders and directives. Middle-class parents give choices and negotiate,” Senior writes. (Wealthy moms and dads, presumably, can hire someone else to do the parenting when necessary.) “Middle-class children … are told that they are fully empowered. In the long run, this attitude may or may not serve them well, because they then enter the world with the sense that no power structure is too formidable to defy or outmaneuver.”
Old-timey parents had to do a lot more work just to provide children with basic staples. Now parents have outsourced all that responsibility to schools, pediatricians, and Target. As a result, the work of the modern parent is less tangible, more metaphysical; modern parents try to set their children on the path toward a happy life. Just what that means is so elusive that parents try whatever they think might work. One explanation for today’s overscheduled kid, Senior writes, is that his parents must prepare him for every possibility. Who knows what the world will look like in 10 years?