In Defence of Modern-Day Parenting

The rules we live by

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

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!” 😉

22 thoughts on “In Defence of Modern-Day Parenting

  1. Usually, I don’t have anything to say when I read your posts on parenting. I’m not yet a parent. However, today I must tell you, I think you nailed this one on the head!

    I wish I had been brought up to question “authority”; I ended up doing it anyway, but felt guilty about it for years.

    I’ll let you know, in twenty years time, how I end up going with whatever children I decide to raise. Until then, I’ll just resume my spot in the corner, reading quietly 🙂

    • Thank you for this comment, especially because you’re not a parent. I think a lot of the support for the ‘kids need more discipline’ argument comes from non-parents or people who parented in a different generation from ours. It’s nice to hear from people who agree there might be a different approach. Enjoy your spot in the corner and I’ll bring you a cuppa! 🙂

  2. Right there with you hon! There a couple of points in that quote that I agree with…worrying about being judged by other parents, for instance. Yeah, I’m totally against that nonsense and will punish my child as I see fit. I have walked out of a mall with my daughter literally slung like a bag of potatoes over my shoulder, and I couldn’t care less about the stares I got. Disciplining my daughter is FAR more important than what complete strangers think about ME.

    That said, I think that most of what Emma says is far too black and white. The thing about technology? Total BS. For one thing, we live in a technological world, and if we try to keep our children away from that technology we’re doing them more harm than good. In this day and age if you enter elementary school without understanding how to work a laptop or tablet you’re already behind. Why would you do that to a child intentionally? For another thing, technology can be a GOOD thing if you use it properly. My daughter is taking great strides toward learning basic math and spelling/reading because of her LeapPad Ultra. Is it wrong, therefore, if I let her play with it while we’re waiting for our food in a restaurant? Should I instead let her putter around, getting more bored and frustrated by the second, while learning positively jack?

    It all goes with what I’ve said a million times: every child is different. And every parent is different. And every situation is different. And we all have to work with what we’ve got!

  3. Fantastic reply to that article. I can see some of what she’s saying, but like you, I didn’t like her tone. And I loved what you said about parents not being responsible for all the ills of the world. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as bad parents, but children make their own choices when they grow up and leave home, and sometimes they make bad ones, no matter what kind of home they came from.

    Oh, oh, and that final paragraph? Beautiful. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for leaving the comment on the Facebook page. I struggled to comprehend what the article meant to me. Like you said there are good points in the article that I am willing to think about, but I made peace with myself that I have done my best and my child will be ok. 🙂

  5. My father was a house master in a public school and I was brought with a healthy dose of hmm, not exactly disrespect for authority but I’ve always questioned what I’m told to do, or at least thought, before blindly obeying. And my parents have always given me the impression that in their view, this is how a responsible person should act. Yes, I would be in the first batch to be put up against a wall and shot if we ever become a police state.

    On top of that, I think today’s parents are doing a good job. I’m amazed at how lovely the kids at McMini’s school are. It’s a state school so there’s a wide range of backgrounds and ages of parents. Like the lady carrying her kid through the mall, I too, have carried a screaming boy through a supermarket under one arm and not given a flying donald duck. Likewise, if my boy wishes to come to the supermarket in a power rangers outfit, I don’t care. That’s just minutae and it doesn’t matter. I would be far more worried if my boy was rude, cruel or impolite.

    Maybe the article is annoying because it’s preachy – certainly the quote you give comes over as a bit pompous.



  6. Was totally struck by these words – I could have written them myself. So much so, that it made me tear up:

    “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.”

    I agree with 99% of your post. However, I have seen a huge rise in young children that are disrespectful towards adults they don’t know – my 7 year old’s birthday party was a prime example. I also witness parents giving in to their kids and those that seem literally afraid to tell them off – they want to be their pal and not their parent. I think that society is changing, and that some parents ARE making mistakes. That said, you are totally right – we are all just trying to do our best; stumbling along in the dark! Parents aren’t doing it deliberately (for the most, anyway), and there are so many ways that we are better parents than our parents: we listen more, and really try to understand them, rather than over-powering and controlling them.

    Great read!

    • I agree that I’m often surprised by how bolshy kids are with adults and remember us being more fearful if not respectful when I was younger. I live in quite a middle class area, so I probably have quite a sheltered view. Certainly I’ve not forgotten that my car got trashed two days after I challenged some children who were smashing up a bus shelter in Manchester (I know, what was I thinking?!) but that was fifteen years ago, so hardly a recent problem!

      • Yes, I think in the UK there is definitely a difference in less affluent areas, but here in Sweden, we live in a rural village and the children we have encountered have boggled our brains! I think that here they are raised to be more equals, rather than parents and child. The Swedes are so PC it is untrue!

      • It’s hard differentiating between treating children as thinking individuals and treating them as adults/equals. There has to be some hierarchy, for their emotional security as much as anything. I don’t like people not liking me, so sometimes it’s hard to fall out with the kids for their own benefit! Although much easier if I’m premenstrual or Daddy’s sick (or both, like now!)

      • I find that really interesting as the Swedish school system is very much used as a stick to beat the UK system (and sounds much nicer to me, if what is reported is true) so I guess I expected the children to all be model citizens… 😉

      • Oh, the schools here ARE amazing, without doubt. The classes are smaller, the ratio for teachers to pupils way exceeds the UK, and generally, they are so much more on the ball. I think the problem (if you can call it that) is from parenting, rather than schooling!

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