Stand up and take a bow (unless you have an infant on your lap) because I am applauding you – you are probably doing a great job as a parent. On average, I reckon modern parents are doing really, really well – better than we Baby Boomers did. My generation invented rap, the mobile phone and music videos, but now most of my cohort just invent reasons to complain about the next generation.
I think they should stop and join me in applauding. You approach parenting like you approach your careers – with thought, planning and preparation. We only had the Plunket book, but you have a shelf full of parenting books, 10 parenting websites bookmarked on your browser and this magazine in your hands. You know stuff. We worried about nits, but you realise that what goes on inside your kids’ heads – their emotional health – is far more important than whatever is crawling around on the outside.
I watched mums in the 90s fretting that life was passing them by because they had chosen to be parents, whereas I applaud modern mums who balance so much so well. A working mother today spends more time in actual intentional contact with her child than a stay-at-home mum did in the 60s. Dads, too, are managing their world better – the average dad spends three times as much time with their kids than a father in the 1970s. I am still on my feet, clapping, but you can stop bowing – it looks slightly silly.
But now a look of concern shadows my previously smiling face. I worry a bit about you guys (older people like me use ‘guys’ as a friendly term for both men and women). My main worry is that you worry too much about stuff that you do not need to worry about. I blame the web. It is great that so much parenting information is flowing around the world, especially on the net, but I fear you might be drowning in the flood.
It is creating anxiety amongst parents – an impression that parenting is actually very hard – too hard – and there are many, many pitfalls and perils. “Do I have the right products, activities, programmes, supplements and gadgets to ensure my child will be okay? Am I doing this right? Am I being anxious enough?”(I have a flicker of guilt because I might be part of your problem. I have been churning out parenting articles for 20 years and, even though they were all intended to be helpful, it may have added to your burden. Sorry. I apologise – especially for those articles like, Is your child safe from meteorite strikes? and Why your toddler needs Latin.
Here is the truth – if your child feels safe and loved, you already have a pass mark as a parent. Tick those two boxes, and your child will fly into life, be happy and healthy, and forever grateful to you (though they often only get to that stage after they’ve flown the coop). The rest of the stuff is good and worthwhile pursuing if you have the energy and inclination, but it is certainly not worth getting anxious over. Especially the Latin. So relax. Many anxieties are side effects from good things about being a modern parent.
For example, too many parents are anxious about what their kids eat. The reassuring thing is that you know so much more about good nutrition than my generation did. We poured syrupy juice down our kids’ throats and never gave a thought to allergies or additives. Modern parents worry more about education, and that’s because you have so many more options – styles of preschool education, types of school, courses and curricula. With it comes a flood of information and invitations for parents to be involved – it is all good, but perhaps overwhelming.
In my day (I think ‘my day’ was a Thursday) you dropped them off at school and drove off in blissful ignorance of whatever happened beyond the gate. Yours is a better world. Parents fret about modern technology. By all means, be vigilant because the internet and gadgets present a list of risks as long as your arm, but don’t forget the list of benefits would fill the other arm, both legs and most of your torso. For example, mobile phones make your kids safer. If my kids were late coming home from school, I would ring neighbours. If your kids are late, you ring them. Plenty of criminologists credit the low crime rate (it is as low as it was in my youth) with the network of vigilance that phones provide in communities and the ability to summon help instantly. Gadgets and the net even help you in your parenting – staying in touch with your kids and their world. Most parents, when surveyed, see technology as being far more of a boon to family life than a pest (but go check what your child is doing online, just in case).
I think it is better to be a parent now, and better to be a child, than it has ever been.
Modern parents worry about being too busy and the stress they are putting on their children, themselves and their relationships. Balancing a career, a marriage, personal growth and the needs of a child is a huge challenge, but it’s a challenge today’s mums and dads see as completely normal and probably have no idea how revolutionary it is. My generation paddled in this water, but you guys are nailing it. What is new? More flexible and understanding employers (not perfect, but they are better), couples who shoulder parenting as a team rather than just the traditional breadwinner/homemaker roles, much better childcare options, and parents now realise that if they look after themselves – mentally, physically and socially – it’s actually good for their kids. Yes, you’re probably too busy, but as I mentioned, I am still amazed how well you do.
All in all, I think it is better to be a parent now, and better to be a child, than it has ever been. I know – I would not have to stroll too far down my street to visit families in real poverty, and there are drugs and abuse and all manner of nightmares in too many homes. Perhaps this article annoys you because of the depth and pain of your own circumstances. You have my genuine sympathy and I never want to be deaf to the real problems that are still here amongst us. The cheery changes and improvements I mention above might not be available to all who need and deserve them but, excuse my optimism, the tide is coming in and I expect things to get better and better.
I believe that you have a wonderful opportunity to take all the advantages of the modern life and show us all how wonderful life can be. Take these advances and make a fantastic world for your children and yourself by being a ‘master parent’. I do not mean a driven ‘super parent’ who drives his kids to excel in everything, but someone who rolls through these years with confidence and poise. Here are my top tips for ‘master parenting’.
Be alert, but not anxious
Worry is such an inefficient parenting tool. Worry does not make your child safer or perform better. Instead, your anxiety worries your child and makes them less confident. If you worry that they will be distressed at the dentist and your child sees your anxiety, it almost guarantees they will be terrified. Assess risks, make a choice and then roll with your choice. Be wise, be cautious, but after you have made your choice, back yourself.
Become a cyber-sceptic
You love the internet and you should – it is wonderful. But do not believe every warning and theory that comes tumbling into your inbox. Pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and quackery pack every corner of the internet. Rough rule of thumb – just do not believe anything until you have done some rigorous fact-checking. Google ‘critical thinking skills’. By the way, your doctor’s medical degree might still be better than your 10 minutes on Google. If he says vaccinate, vaccinate.
We are used to our devices automatically updating (and we are used to them not working properly afterwards). We need to update our own parenting software too. Regularly read, refresh, do courses and meet with other parents. Honestly, parenting is changing, and new and better ways of doing your thing are coming along all the time. Master-parents do their homework.
You will make mistakes. That is because you are human. There will be upsets and dramas. That is because this is life. You will demonstrate that you are a master-parent not because of the absence of blunders and calamities, but by the sane, love-led way you pick your course through them. A master-parent knows some things are for fixing and some things are for shrugging. A master-parent knows that effort, character and cuddles count in the long run – far more than perfection and performance.
Heart, head and Google
Master-parents know a lot, and they think about what they are doing. If anything characterises a good modern parent it is that they are parenting out of intention, and not just doing their parenting out of convenience, desperation, tradition or anything else. But the first thing in that list of the master-parent skills is heart. When their child says they are sick, they might check her symptoms on the net, but they would have given her a big hug first. They listen. They give each child some time every day. They climb over their egos and get over offences. They love their kids enough to let them grow up. I think modern parents are even doing the loving bit better. At least they can send their kids smiley faces and heart emoticons – I could never do that in the 1990s.