I hear people say a lot that older generations can’t understand what it’s like to parent these days. As though the demands on modern parents are more arduous than they once were. I’m likely to murmur a nothing response, not confirming or denying anything. Because I don’t like rocking any boats (I’m working on that) and because I genuinely don’t know where I stand on this one.
Parents from generations past had lives which don’t reflect ours at all. Their time was spent differently, their jobs were different, families were different, expectations were different, social norms were different.
But does that mean they had it easier? (and as a sidenote, what does it matter?)
I have a dishwasher and washing machine. I have our weekly shop delivered to my front door. I have a car I can use whenever I need. Our house is warm and well furnished and there is plenty of room for us all. My kids have toys and books and stuff we struggle to contain. They have plenty of clothes and we have the means to replace them whenever it’s needed. They also have a plethora of specialist kit for the various activities they do - and go to after school activities regularly.
Whenever I pick up a magazine or scroll Instagram or watch TV I’m met with commentary on parenting ‘styles’. There are trendy toys and clothes which are sold as ‘must haves’ for the modern family. There is endless advice on what foods you should offer your kids and what you shouldn’t. What you should do if your child is a ‘picky eater’ ( what is a picky eater?). Perhaps your child has an intolerance or should you be raising vegetarians or vegans?
There are hints and tips about how to help your child be more confident and resilient and articles suggesting that their mental health well into adulthood will be solely based on how you interact with them right now. Various illnesses you should be vigilant about and on the lookout for at all times. Alarm bells should ring if your child exhibits a long list of behaviours. There is so much chatter about providing ‘experiences’ where your children will be enriched, educated not to mention enthralled.
There are screentime ‘guidelines’ which range from absolutely none to as much as you like. There are those who tout the ‘no electronics’ route and those who think you need to keep your children well versed in the latest technology. Should your child only play with wooden toys, second hand toys, brand new toys, gender specific toys (pink for girls, blue for boys), gender neutral toys, open ended toys?
In generations past children were often raised by the ‘village’. Family members, neighbours, friends all taking collective responsibility for keeping an eye on the kids. Everyone’s kids. This structure just doesn’t exist any more. The village is geographically spread out, people are working, it’s just not the done thing anymore.
Do your kids play outside with their friends unsupervised? I know I did, and I know my Dad did and I’m sure my grandparents kid. My kids do not.
Life is so different now than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago. Parents today have a lot of things to think about, even if it’s just to decide that the latest fad or trend isn’t for them. Advice or guidance from professionals in a multitude of areas will always carry weight for lots of us. And the thoughts and words of those closest to us will affect our choices and actions.
My thoughts on this started last week whilst we were walking in the country park. The kids were alternating between walking along holding my hand and running off to discover sticks and mud and other people’s dogs. And I thought that this part of parenting hasn’t changed. It links me with human beings stretching right back to the dawn of man. Holding your child’s hand for comfort, safety, familiarity, to communicate affection and caring. Watching them get dirty and explore. Listening to their chatter. Thinking ahead to when they’ll get too cold and too hungry to keep enjoying this moment.
Meeting and speaking to people older than me, talking about family and children almost always happens. It’s the common link we all share, they just get it. And I feel uplifted by that understanding.
What are your thoughts? Do you have it easier or more difficult than your parents did? Do we make life difficult for our selves? What advice are you likely to pass on to your kids if they have kids?