This blog was written by Mrs Kirsten Baldocchi, Clinical Psychologist, who practices from Highbury’s Learning and Discovery (LAD) Centre once a week. Kirsten is a mother herself and has a special interest in studying/understanding modern parenting. A shorter version of this blog was featured in the November 2019 issue of The Crest magazine. Thank you, Kirsten, for your wise words!

Despite living in an era of access to instant information about every aspect of child-rearing, today’s parents are left feeling anything but reassured.  Instead many feel overwhelmed and anxious, and unable to overcome the unique challenges involved in modern-day parenting.  

Historically, children were an economic asset and worked to contribute towards family income.  However, children today spend their time in school instead of at work.  The balance has shifted, with more time, effort and expense for parents.  Furthermore, the roles of parents have also changed.  Many women are now employed and have less time to spend at home.  However, research indicates that they also spend more time actively teaching and playing with their children than in the past.  Likewise, fathers also spend more time with their children than they did in previous generations, following a cultural shift towards “involved fathering” and participation in more primary childcare activities.  

Sadly, this shift towards increased parental involvement doesn’t seem to be benefitting our kids.  Research suggests that there is no relationship between parental engagement and behavioural or emotional problems, or academic outcomes in young children.  Many parents are exhausting themselves with intensive parenting practices which are not achieving the expected results.  Often, this even more true for the growing number of parents who delay having children until they are ‘ready’ – with a secure job, home and partner.  When we purposely wait for the perfect time, it creates even more pressure to get it right. 

However, the demands of parenting might be easier to bear if we knew exactly what to prepare our children for.  With rapidly developing technology the possibilities for our children appear endless.  In response, parents have internalised the expectation that they are responsible for their child’s happiness.  The trouble is that happiness is not a skill that can be learnt and is impossible to guarantee, even with the best intentions.  It is important for parents to realise that while happiness can be the by-product of other things, it cannot and should not be a goal in itself.  

Many of the criticisms of modern parenting stem from the desire of parents to BE all and DO all.  This is a psychological obstacle that needs to be overcome, and parents need to learn how to balance respect for their children with leadership of the family unit, and to reduce their fear of failure.  Today’s parents appear to experience more difficulty with reconciling these two aspects of their role and anxiety about their ability to pull it off.  They also don’t want their children to fail in any aspects of their personal development.  These worries feed off of each other in the minds of parents; that’s why parents second-guess the way they speak to their kids, what they feed them, how they discipline them and what activities they permit.  The push and pull that modern parents feel – between caring about how other parents are raising their kids while rejecting the constant comparisons – is a defining characteristic of this generation of parents.  With access to constant information, we’ve been conditioned to question ourselves and to constantly look for confirmation to make sure we’re doing it right.  But it is also because of this that parents are in a state of learned helplessness – paralyzed and unable to make decisions about what is best for their children.

So, what are parents supposed to do?  The basic answer:  Realise that no one knows what they are doing when they leave the hospital with an infant.  Every parent learns by trial and error – every year of their child’s life, and with every child they raise.  That’s as true today as it ever was, and parents who recognise this will shed some guilt and anxiety.  Parents also need to build a higher tolerance for things not going well – how parents recover from their own occasional mistake, outburst, loss of patience or bad call may say more to a child than how they are in happy times.  

Understanding that we, as parents, will not always experience happiness in the process of raising our children is also very important.  As is letting go of the pressure to “make our children happy”.  A parent’s job is simply to create the environment in which happiness can thrive – provide our children with stability, routine, loving guidance and consistency in their lives to help them feel safe and secure.  If we shift our focus away from ensuring our child’s happiness, and towards producing productive and moral kids then we can only hope that happiness comes to them by virtue of the good that they do and the love they feel from us.  As your children develop, the challenges will change and your thinking may evolve, but your approach should remain consistent, firm and loving.  Do your best, trust yourself and enjoy the company of the little people in your life