Possibly, the biggest pressure faced by parents today is their perceived responsibility that they have to make their kids’ childhood as perfect as possible, especially in this social media age, which puts every decision they make under the microscope, and then magnifies it for the world to see.
In her recent article for The Daily Telegraph, ‘You don’t need to dress your kids in linen to be a good mum,’ Angela Mollard talks about the pressure on parents to meet the demands of a western society whose focus appears to have changed to providing the best of everything for their kids, rather than passing down traditional values.
She labels the condition the ‘Inferior Mother Complex’ and goes on to add what she would do differently if she had her time again – such as not cutting the tops off strawberries and doing more for herself and less for them.
She rounds off the article with some thought-provoking advice: “Be proud,” she says, which is a recommendation to parents to show some self-compassion, rather than beating themselves up when they feel like they have failed or haven’t met the latest unrealistic parenting expectation.
The article made me think about my own experience of parenting, now that my kids have grown up and left home. And my reflections seem particularly pertinent right now in view of educator John Marsden’s controversial new book, The Art Of Growing Up, in which he backs up the belief that modern parenting is a leading cause of anxiety in children.
So here’s what I would do differently if I had young kids again:
1. I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff
Easier to say than do when you’re still in the trenches, I know, but let me give you an example. My son has never read a book, and yet at some point during his childhood, miraculously, he taught himself to read.
So I regret all the time wasted and the tears shared during those nightly battles through his school readers when (I can only assume) that his daily visits to the Top Gear website did the job for us.
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2. I would cut back on after-school activities
I would cut back on those after-school activities that stretched our financial resources, put my organisational skills to the test, and depleted my energy and humour.
I can see now that my belief that my kids would fail (or that I would be failing as a parent) if they didn’t do Tae Kwon Do or ice-skating was absurd, and I suspect that the over-stimulation contributed to my son’s struggles with boredom.
3. I would be more aware of peer pressure
I would be more aware of the dangers of peer pressure and overthinking what other parents were doing.
I would take other parents’ advice with a pinch of salt and only apply it if it suited my kids’ learning and development, not because EVERYONE else was doing it. Did we really need to go on those miserable camping trips?
4. I would stop worrying about food
I would stop worrying about what my kids did or didn’t eat because, miraculously, my daughter survived on yoghurt for the first few years of her life.
To this day, she still refuses to eat tomatoes, but overall her palate is far more sophisticated than mine. I wish I’d understood the biological link between my son’s cravings for sugar and his ADHD, rather than blaming myself for his lack of control around the biscuit tin.
5. I would think more about our language
I would think more about the language I use with my kids, particularly with my son who had processing difficulties – which meant that our miscommunications often sparked behavioural issues.
It took me far too long to understand the importance of not shouting to resolve conflict, making ‘I’ statements (ie. “I feel hurt when you…”), and actively listening to him.
6. I would be a better listener
I would be a better listener to my kids, rather than forcing them into activities that benefitted my own social mobility or rushing to solve their problems for them.
Why did I assume that my (now Climate Scientist) daughter would like ballet or that my muso son should like soccer?
7. I wouldn’t pass on my own anxieties
I wouldn’t pass on my own anxieties or put my kids in a bubble, as John Marsden accuses many parents of doing.
I know that I passed on my fear of heights by bellowing at my kids each time they reached the top of the climbing frame, instead of applauding them.
I had many sleepless nights when they were teenagers – when they really were tucked up in bed at a friend’s house. And don’t get me started on spiders.
8. I would be less afraid to not be nice to my kids
I would be less afraid to not be nice to my kids all of the time. My kids will vouch that I wasn’t nice all of the time, but I aspired to be, and I’m not certain why I put that pressure on myself.
I want to believe that you can be friends with your kids, but it does make disciplining them harder, so it’s important to find a balance. Kids need to know and understand boundaries – they actually feel safer with them in place.
9. I would trust my instincts more
While I’ve gained invaluable knowledge and support from reading the stories of other parents, I would trust my own instincts more. There is no right path in parenting and each and every child is different.
It is important to remember that we aren’t all made from the same cloth. We come from different gene pools and cultures, and different social and economic situations, and sometimes our values will not align.
10. I would let them fail more
This is another of John Marsden’s major concerns about modern parenting. Like Angela, I too dropped off forgotten lunch boxes to school, fearing my kids would starve, and to my shame, I also completed many of my son’s assignments – which didn’t help him learn about responsibility and may have prevented him from getting the help he needed.
11. I wouldn’t make my kids the centre of my universe
I wouldn’t make my kids the centre of my universe, either, because I see now how that can encourage a sense of entitlement and laziness. I do believe that modern parents are unknowingly guilty of creating ‘monsters’ in their attempts to give their kids everything. This generation of kids is not as resilient as we were, and only time will tell if how we have cosseted them has damaged their mental health.
From my current position as the parent of young adults, I am grateful that I had the foresight to maintain a sense of self during those early parenting years. And while I am mindful that berating myself for things that I did or didn’t do right in the past is another way of still trying to meet those unattainable standards of parenting perfectionism, I hope that the next time you accept the third birthday party invitation in one weekend, this article comes to mind.
We muddled through parenting in the same way that most parents do, with good days and bad days. But in spite of my angst about the job I was doing, both our kids still come to Sunday lunch, remember our birthdays, and tell us they love us. And in my humble opinion, that comes down to that four-letter word – love – which we never gave them any cause to doubt.
This article was republished with permission from KidSpot.
Also READ: 7 Things your kids will remember about you
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