Parenting has never been perfect, but there are five very large problems with the way we parent today that are almost unique to our time. They are;
1. A Fear of Listening to our Children.
Many parents blindly trust the advice of childless parenting experts and famous nannies whose advice is almost always 'parent centric'. The experts almost always side with the parents and not with the children, warning parents that if they let their children get their own way that they will raise little dictators. Parents are warned to "be strong" and "don't let him get his own way". If the child protests they are warned "she is just trying to manipulate you, don't listen to her cries". Parents are taught that their toddler's opinions don't matter and their teen's matter even less.
Children are not perceived as 'real people' with real needs. Their opinions don't matter as much as ours, so they are belittled and ignored. If a child grows up believing that their opinions do not matter, especially to their parents, they will be far less likely to confide in their parents in the years to come when they really need to. Or as the famous quote goes "If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff."
I should add here, I'm not advocating permissive parenting, far from it. Boundaries and limits are vitally important in parenting.
2. A Ridiculously High Bar
What we expect of children today is not realistic. They are punished for having the brain of child meaning that they cannot act like an adult. Should a two year old be expected to sit perfectly still, elbows off the table, throughout an hour long meal in an adult focused restaurant? Of course not! Should a three year old be expected to share their favourite play thing or apologise earnestly if they push another out of the way at playgroup? Should a four year old be expected to always keep their room tidy?
As much as we wish our children would behave like the Von Trapps, this sort of behaviour firmly belongs in the movies. Expectations that are incompatible with the psychological development of children can only lead to one thing - stress, for both parents and children. If society expected children to act like children and not mini adults the world would be a much happier - and calmer - place.
3. The Loss of the Village
Once upon a time we lived in close knit communities. Mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, friends would gather together to exchange stories of womanhood, femininity and parenting wisdom. New mothers would be supported by a wise army of other women, throughout their pregnancy and birth and especially during their transition from woman to mother.
As new mothers negotiated the rocky, winding path of motherhood they always had a feminine hand to hold and the gentle wisdom of the sisterhood to support them. Their meals were cooked, their houses tidied and their babies held when they needed a break. Parenting was a shared social activity. Now we traverse it alone, walking a lonely path peppered with guilt, confusion, exhaustion and anxiety. The loss of 'the village' is one of the greatest problems parents today face.
4. Too Many Shortcuts - The Curse of McParenting Manuals
Perhaps the biggest curse of today's parents is the "McParenting Manual". The quick fix advice that promises different children in two or three days.
X+Y x 3 minutes = Z (in 7 days)
where X = naughty step
Y = controlled crying
Z = perfect child
Parents today want results and they want them quick, which is great news for the media savvy parenting experts who know that to get the best ratings for a 30 minutes show they need to get dramatic results quickly, but less so for the child. The general public love quick fixes, meals in 30 minutes, house makeovers in 60 minutes and new children in a week, the less effort involved the better. Quick fixes however always come at a cost. Focusing only short term when it comes to parenting almost always means we are at odds with our long term parenting goals. The sad fact is there are no shortcuts or quick fixes, not if we want a long term positive change. There are no magic answers to getting a child to sleep through or not tantrum in public quickly that don't risk our relationship with them in years to come. McParenting is almost the most damaging of modern day parenting trends.
5. Parents Putting Their Own Needs Ahead of Their Children.
Let's face it - parenting is not all about us, it's about our children. Parenting requires us to become less selfish and more patient. Parenting requires a great deal of sacrifice. For some this is an incredibly tough transition, some just aren't willing to make the sacrifices required. Parenting requires us to give up parts of our lives that are not compatible with children, albeit temporarily. I'm always amazed at those who bemoan the loss of their old lives and how their babies interfere, why did they choose to have children in the first place if they didn't want their lives to change?
I'm not saying good parents are martyrs - they're not. They need to look after themselves. Far too many mothers run themselves into the ground in order to meet their child's needs. All parents need to take time to nurture themselves, recharge their batteries - in both body and soul (I refer you to my 'village' point above). All parents need oxygen, in the metaphorical sense. Part of the problem of modern day parenting is not just the selfish unyielding parents, but those who are in dire need of support and a break too. I sadly see more of the selfish type though.
I worry that if we do not change and stop repeating these same five parenting mistakes over and over that we will raise a generation of emotionally constipated, insular, unempathic children who will go on to perpetuate this cycle of uninformed, damaging parenting behaviour. If this happens it won't be their fault, it will be ours - and our parents before us and the experts who informed us all.
If you would like to make a change to your parenting, check out 'The Gentle Parenting Book' for a modern, mindful and effective approach to raising confident and happy children.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a mother of four and parenting author, her books include the bestselling 'The Gentle Sleep Book' and the recent release 'The Gentle Parenting Book'. She blogs at www.sarahockwell-smith.com
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