Parenting is a hard job, always has been, always will be. And it’s gotten more difficult with the pandemic. When I see parents out in public yelling at their kids and being ineffective, I try my best to be empathetic, not judgmental. Because parenting is hard. The following are five of the top reasons why the job of raising children is so tough.
1. Preparing kids for an uncertain future: In 1910, Dr. Holt stated that “In the speeded-up world that had arrived, it no longer seemed possible to rely on their parents as guides to new child rearing challenges. Their children were growing up in settings so different from the ones in which they had passed their childhoods.” Fast forward to 1950 when anthropologist Margaret Mead said that “American children are growing up within the most rapidly changing culture of which we have any record in the world, within a culture where for several generations, every generation’s experience has differed sharply from the last; so that these expectations of change and anxiety about change have been built into our character as a people.” Both sentiments hold true today. We tell parents now that the jobs their kids will be competing for as adults have not even been invented. How are parents supposed to prepare their children for a future that is so uncertain and ever changing? It was easier for past generations to pass on what their children needed to be successful. You’d take them outside and point out which acres of land would be theirs to farm and you’d teach them how to plant and harvest. The speed of change in our world has made parenting hard.
Every child’s unique temperament makes parenting harder
2. Every child is unique: Just when parents feel like they might have a handle on parenting child number one, along comes their sibling with a whole new temperament and set of needs to figure out. Our daughter Kelly was our first-born, and she had such an easy-going temperament that raising her was a breeze. Anne and I couldn’t understand what other frustrated parents were complaining about. That is, until our son TJ was born 20 months later. As calm and content as Kelly was, he was the 180 degrees opposite. He was colicky for months until at age 8 months he started walking. TJ was intense and strongminded and the poster child for the terrible twos. Learning how to handle each child with their unique personalities and needs is another thing that makes parenting hard.
3. Children push our buttons: Got some old unfinished issues or emotional baggage from your own childhood? Don’t worry, your children will bring all of your old crap to the surface for you to deal with. Psychiatrist Selma Fraiberg described the phenomenon of ‘ghosts in the nursery’ to describe how any unresolved feelings or issues from our childhood that we have pushed below the surface can resurface and ‘haunt’ our parenting. For example, having been bullied by two older brothers, I had to become conscious of and deal with my old feelings of anger about that so that I wouldn’t put my story into the relationship of my two sons. If you were an introverted loner growing up who never had friends and you subsequently birth a quiet, slow-to-warm daughter, watch out for your ghosts to appear. You may find yourself pushing her to be more outgoing so that she doesn’t have to go through what you did. It’s hard to not put our own stories onto our children’s.
It’s hard to watch our children suffer
4. Children aren’t perfect: It’s difficult to watch your beloved children make mistakes, fail, struggle, get frustrated, or appear stuck. We so want to protect them from pain and anguish, but we know that that is not in their best long-term interest. You may watch her get rejected by peers, fail classes, use substances or self-harm to cope, make bad choices with friends or dating partners, or struggle to find themselves in their 20’s. It is so hard to watch our children struggle and be in pain.
The covid pandemic has made the job of parenting harder
5. Covid pandemic has added another layer of angst: As if parenting wasn’t hard enough, now parents must deal with all of the issues brought on by the pandemic. Trying to become the teacher for your online schooling children has been a stressful nightmare for most parents. Children are showing more and more signs of feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and socially disconnected. It hasn’t helped that how kids are educated has been an ever-changing moving target. Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned the increased stresses on parents financially with lost or uncertain employment. Add in a slew of losses such as death, events, activities, routines and structure, time with relatives and friends, and the loss of certainty about the future and it’s easy to understand how much harder parenting has become.
There are many more issues that can make parenting hard that I will address in future blogs or podcasts. An old adage encourages us to be kind to every person because you don’t know the battles they are facing. That applies perfectly for parenting. When you see parents struggling, be empathetic, not critical or judgmental.
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