The rules we live by
I read an article on Huffington Post yesterday, via iGameMom, who I follow on Facebook. The article is written by a British Nanny, Emma Jenner, and discusses “5 Reasons Modern-Day Parenting Is in Crisis”.
According to Emma, these are the things we’re doing wrong:
1. A fear of our children
Giving in to their demands for a pink sippy cup when you’ve already put the milk in a blue one, to head off the inevitable tantrum
2. A lowered bar
Children are capable of better behaviour than we expect
3. We’ve lost the village
Other people – bus drivers, shop keepers – used to feel able to discipline our children, but no longer do, and we’re worried about being judged by other parents if we let our kids kick off in public
4. A reliance on shortcuts
Using technology to soothe your child – like an iPad in the restaurant
5. Parents put their children’s needs ahead of their own
There’s nothing wrong with not giving in to every whim, to say no occasionally
Emma Jenner goes on to say, “I fear that if we don’t start to correct these five grave parenting mistakes, and soon, the children we are raising will grow up to be entitled, selfish, impatient and rude adults. It won’t be their fault — it will be ours.”
For some reason this article really struck a chord with me, leaving me with knots of rage in my stomach. I can’t put my finger on exactly why. I think, as I said in my comment to iGameMom, it’s because “I agree with the points but not the tone.”
There are so many reasons why I disagree with Ms Jenner’s article, many of which I rambled on about in my original comment. Mostly the line above is what jars, because I already know plenty of entitled, selfish, impatient, and rude adults and I don’t think it was because they were mollycoddled as children.
I think instead of hurling round more blame and doom, we have to ask WHY parents act like this. I know my parents think I’m not hard enough on my kids; that they’re too quick to backchat and I’m too quick to respond to their needs. But I was brought up to fetch and carry and do as I was told without question, so it’s not hard to see why I wait on my children hand and foot. My parents often say my upbringing ‘did me no harm’ but why then do I lack in confidence, and feel I am not worthy of love? Why do I instinctively and automatically run around like a servant anytime I’m in the family home?
I was raised not to challenge authority, to do as I was told without answering back; is it any wonder that I listen to my health visitor when she tells me it’s not possible to spoil a child? Besides, I don’t believe that raising a child to do as they’re told without question is wise or healthy. You only have to look at the prevalence of stories of child abuse from famous and influential people that litter the news right now; those children had no voice and were not listened to. I read one harrowing account of a ten-year-old boy with a broken leg being abused while on a hospital trolley by Jimmy Saville and when he tried to share his trauma, his mother told him to, “shut up, it’s Jimmy Saville!”
Also, which authority do we believe in? In a time of social media and blogs and programmes all telling us how to be good parents and all offering conflicting advice is it any wonder that we live in fear of getting it wrong? My children will be surrounded by people telling them what to do, some of them their ‘betters’ – older kids, teachers, doctors. But what if those people are saying, ‘take drugs’ or ‘you’re useless’ or ‘you’re bi-polar’ and they accept that without thought, because they’ve been taught to blindly ‘respect their betters’?
I’ve had plenty of therapy in my time, and have been told my own inadequate childhood is to blame for my failings as an adult; that I see things too much in black and white because I was never taught to recognise and regulate my emotions; that I take responsibility for more than I should because I was told things were my fault as a child and never challenged it; that my difficult relations with men are because I was never allowed to challenge my relationship with my father. Therefore is it any wonder I hesitate to make the same mistakes? During that therapy it was shown to me that everything a parent does affects (screws up) a child – so no wonder I’m a nervous, hesitant, worried parent.
Our parenting ethos
As for the other points, losing the village, taking shortcuts: we don’t live in the same world we used to. There is no village. No one helps me raise my kids but my husband and the nursery/school – and they’re as quick to step in with discipline when required. There are no next-door-neighbours, aunts and grandparents sharing the load, so they don’t know my children well enough to comment on their discipline. And maybe the iPad is my second parent, but I’d rather my kids played a maths app or Guess Who than annoyed other people in a restaurant or at a school play. I don’t have access to babysitters. Besides, I’m always on my phone or iPad – who isn’t? So better to teach them to do something productive on the device.
Articles like this only add to the focus on parents getting it wrong; we become the reason why society is in crisis. But maybe we might be getting some things right, too? Who is praising us for that? My children are the most intuitive, thoughtful, caring, empathetic people I know.
Maybe we’re teaching our children to challenge and fight for what they want and not blindly do what they are told? Maybe we’re teaching them that people who care about others care about their desires and seek to make them happy? Maybe we’re teaching them love and empathy? Maybe we accept that children are people, with wants and needs that shouldn’t be belittled and ignored? I have a favourite cup and type of cutlery; why shouldn’t my children be allowed the same? And why shouldn’t they come first, as long as there is balance? Better than sitting in a hot car with a packet of crisps and a bottle of coke while Mummy and Daddy drink beer with their friends.
Every generation will assume it knew best about parenting, but in reality there is no one right way to do it. The most important thing is to love our children and trust our instinct and know we’re doing the best we can. Whether we’re getting it right or wrong, it doesn’t seem fair to make all parents personally responsible for all the ills in the world.
Emma Jenner’s final rallying cry says, “So please, parents and caregivers from London to Los Angeles, and all over the world, ask more. Expect more. Share your struggles. Give less. And let’s straighten these children out, together, and prepare them for what they need to be successful in the real world and not the sheltered one we’ve made for them.”
I say, “So please, parents and caregivers, love your children, give them your time and support, teach them to challenge naysayers, teach them empathy and understanding and how to be resilient against attacks, and for goodness sake let them choose what colour sippy cup they want!” ;)