This week, I’ve had a number of articles pop up on my Facebook feed (thanks, algorithms!) about parenting. Parenting as millennials. The challenges of parenting. Juggling life as a working parent. And interestingly, quite a few pieces exploring the idea of which generation of parents had it harder in the child-raising stakes.
One article swore black and blue that “modern” parents are doing it tougher than in generations past. Another separate article was written with a different viewpoint, praising past generations for their grit and fortitude, while having a gentle nudge at modern parents for their “softness”.
As is usually true of any moderately controversial topic, the comments sections of each were lit up with people staking their claim upon who had struggled the most.
As I read these articles, and the subsequent comments, I found myself feeling more than slightly irritated by the needless comparison and competition that was being put forward.
You say you had it harder, I say I had it harder, he says he had it harder, while she swears that we’re all wrong, and that actually, she did.
You know what?
I call bullshit on all of it.
The way I see it, comparing parenting styles across different generations is as futile as trying the dress a baby octopus in a wondersuit. While the crux of parenting is universal – ie. keep child alive and thriving – the way it’s actually carried out, is altered slightly by every parenting cohort, based on their own unique set of stressors and social paradigms.
I think back to the stories my nanna tells me of raising her 4 children, when plumbing, electricity and finances were minimal. Where she fed her family from her vegie patch, and where they ate rabbits that my uncles caught, and where her babies wore cloth nappies that were washed by hand, and clothes that were handed down from child to child.. A time where Pa would be up on the roof nailing down the roof tiles each time the rains caused a leak, and where she kept a thrifty budget, and made the most of what they had, because what they had, was all they had. Life was simple, but tough.
The children thrived.
I then think about my parent’s generation, where many women were stepping out of their home-making roles and back into the workforce, not necessarily because they wanted to, but because interest rates were on their way to reaching a whopping 17 per cent, and small businesses were folding, and the extra money was needed to pay the ever-growing amount of bills.
Paid day-care for the kids became a necessity for many, as family dynamics were shifting and evolving, and the expectations on parents to maintain their duties to their families, as well as be productive employees became amplified. Technology was changing, and the laundry didn’t need to be done by hand anymore. Most families had a TV. Some families had microwaves and dishwashers, and even computers.
Although new inventions were introduced to make it all easier in terms of maintaining the household, there was an element of complexity that hadn’t been present before. The divide between working parents and stay-at-home parents began to show itself.
Yet, the children thrived.
And my own generation?
We have more technology than we know what to do with, and we are constantly bombarded new information. Raising kids today is a minefield of expert opinions, iced with constant reminders of how we are damaging them in pretty much every single capacity, by feeding them the wrong things, letting them play the wrong games, and exposing them to too many screens. There are very few parents who haven’t at some point questioned their own parenting instincts in the face of what the experts say we should or shouldn’t be doing.
Kids are growing up in all kinds of wonderful families, in which many parents work. However, paid parental leave conditions have changed for the better, which means that lots of parents are able to stay home with their babies for some time, which is a huge improvement on what was available in the 80s and even the 90s.
We are quite the throwaway society, and we all seem to have a lot of stuff that we have to work a lot to pay for, that we don’t really need. Life really isn’t simple, and it’s probably our own fault, for getting caught up in trying to keep up with what other people are doing.
It seems we are living at a really fast pace, eating too much takeaway, and trying to fit in a whole bunch of stuff that really doesn’t matter. There’s a definite vibe, that being busy is a good thing. We are constantly trying to prove ourselves: at home, at work, in life.
Somehow we’ve become convinced that our children will suffer if they aren’t enrolled in 17 activities, and that we’ll be impairing their cognitive function if we don’t sign them up for tap dancing lessons at four months old. Babies are being signed up to start their education whilst still in utero.
And we rush them around, and we all get anxious and stressed, in the pursuit of raising the best possible people we can.
But still, the children are thriving.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Every generation has it’s own, specific challenges. My generation seems to long for a simpler life. My grandmother’s generation would have loved the gift of a washing machine. My mother-in-law’s generation carved out an entire new work-life balance based upon necessity.
Forcing comparisons, creates competition and tension, where there is actually incredible potential for support. By pitting each group against each other, and creating a culture of Us VS Them, is not only divisive, but also detrimental in limiting the knowledge and understanding that we could actually take on board from those before us, if we kept our minds open.
Parenting is not a pissing contest, and we need to stop getting caught up in the idea that it is.
The things that we find hard today in raising our kids are neither less, nor more, than the generation before. The fact that we find difficulty in something, doesn’t negate the experience of those before us, and it doesn’t make us weak because it is different from what others have experienced.
The fact is, despite all of the external, environmental and social factors, parenting remains a universal skill. Our children need love and security regardless of the year they were born. We clothe, and feed, and nurture them into healthy, grown adults as best we can, with the information we have, and I’m almost certain that laying in bed at night, the worries that go through my head for my children’s futures are not so different to those felt by my mother, and my grandmother, and her mother and grandmother before her.
Is my child happy? Are they misbehaving? Are they unwell? Do they seem to be finding friends? Do they know they can talk to me if they need to? Am I meeting their needs? Are they eating enough? Am I raising compassionate and kind humans? How can I do better?
Most parents, no matter the decade, are trying their best.
All parents, no matter the decade, will make mistakes.
And all parents, no matter the decade, are going to learn as they go.
To those who parented in generations before me: Thank you for doing your best. You have paved the way for us, and we’ve benefited in so many ways from the challenges you overcame.
And to those parenting alongside me in this generation: Keep up the great work! It’s not easy, and it never has been, but what we do now, is what will shape the next generation of parents, just as those before us, helped to shape us.
The next generation to follow will be completely different again, but so long as those kids are being raised with love and safety, then just like all the generations before, those children will thrive.