Why parenting has never been harder

Posted in Family.

Parenting has never been more stressful or demanding and we have history to blame.

That’s according to Professor John Armstrong of the School of Life, who believes that romanticism has created an idealised picture of human nature, especially of children.

“Romanticism was a movement that embraced the natural flow and goodness of life … and it’s meant that we consider our children to be all light, goodness and lovely. As parents, this means we feel compelled to focus and bring out everything that is wonderful in our child.”

While nobody would disagree that this is a beautiful idea in theory – the reality is tough for parents who also have a responsibility to raise well-rounded kids.  

“This burdens the parent because we feel like we can’t lecture them, we can’t punish them, and we can’t scold them. And yet there is also no guidance about how this can happen,” says John.

Parenting was different for the older generation

Ever been disappointed when you’ve tried to explain how it feels to parent now to the older generation? John says our parenting dilemmas are not the same as our own parents – or even the generation before.

“It was much simpler then. By and large, parents told children what to do, and if they didn’t do that, then they’d be punished,” says John.

“We don’t do that now for good reasons, but it has made the task so much harder. We try and persuade our children, we remain patient and gently nudge them in one direction or the other. But this takes it toll and has ramifications, like it takes about half an hour to get them dressed in the morning!”

Partner disagreements add fuel to the fire

Adding further tension to modern parenting is the inevitable realisation that you and your partner have different ideas when it comes to what’s important about raising your kids.

“When you first have a baby, you’re both so devoted. But then you start to encounter points where you have a different vision. This could be about the kind of childhood you want your child to have, appropriate bedtimes, or how much and what type of entertainment is best,” says John.

These are important problems and can’t just be ignored.

“Either parent can’t so easily say, ‘Oh well, we disagree on this’. It’s too important! We need to accept that it will happen and that it’s part of the experience of sharing parenting with someone else.”

How can we make life easier?

Overcoming the challenges of parenting starts by seeing the world through the eyes of our children.

“Remember that we are constantly learning from our children. We are taught to see the beauty in life that we have long forgotten! Like the puddle of water in the street that suddenly becomes a hole in the ocean, or another planet! Their excitement leads us back to re-enchantment.”

Another solution: embrace the idea of the ‘good enough parent’.

“The good enough parent was an idea created by paediatrician and psychoanalyst, Dr John Winnicott. He saw that parents were becoming so anxious in their well-meaning care of their child, and so determined to put everything right,” says John.

“What parents needed to do was adjust their expectations. Their child was not perfect, but they were okay and their overall situation was all right. Being an adult means being able to manage all sorts of things that don’t go well but were good enough. This is a really helpful line of thinking.”

At least, until the next generation and all their ideas come along.


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