2. “The Times Have Changed”

When did parenting get so hard and complicated?

The pace and demands of modern life, high standards of perfectionist parenting and mounting workplace pressure are part of the problem. Combine this with longer work hours that spill over into private lives thanks to technology, lack of affordable child care and policies that are unfriendly to families, and it’s no wonder family work/life balance is leaning toward chaos.


Most parents these days aspire to a lot more than simply keeping our children fed, clean and with a roof over their heads. The expectations and pressures of modern parenting have ballooned from these basic responsibilities into an overwhelming array of unreachable standards.

Although modern parents need to take some responsibility for placing too much pressure on ourselves to be uber parents, the state of affairs is not entirely our fault. We are all influenced by shifts in society that are impacting modern parent-child relationships. A few of these historic changes include people waiting longer to have kids, reduced birthrates, and more educated parents, all of which contribute to the increased significance that parents are placing on the parenting role.


Also consider changing family structures, a rise in two-earner households, the pressures of a global economy and increased use of technology resulting in a faster paced life, and the pressure on parents to spend all their free time ensuring their kids are given every possible opportunity which usually translates to spending most evenings and weekends driving to extracurricular activities.

As the economy has grown more competitive and entrepreneurial, many parents seek to give their child a leg up, and as a result invest more time and resources in enrichment activities: reading to their children, conversing with them, and providing toys and activities aimed at enhancing their development.  – Steven Mintz Ph.D.


Technology- Steven Mintz Ph.D. and the media doesn’t help

Social and traditional media doesn’t help, by setting impossible standards and shocking us with never-ending dangers facing children. To top it off, neighbors and other parents at our children’s school often judge and shame parents who aren’t buying into this rhetoric. These pressures of modern parenting are crushing and they result in many parents feeling chronically overextended, inadequate and constantly worried that they are missing something or they are making terrible mistakes.

The modern conversation about parenting turns the healthy baby, and healthy child, into the proof of the parents’ excellent life choices. By turning it into a matter of the self, predominantly the maternal self, to create the successful or unsuccessful child, we let society completely off the hook. There is no broad responsibility to create a healthy environment for children (because mothers who were concerned would live in some other environment), and no social imperative to look after children who were born in ill-health or some other misfortune (because mothers who behaved responsibly would have prevented this outcome). We all know that is ridiculous: we all know that the business is riven with good and bad fortune. I’ve never encountered any parent who seriously thinks they can prevent every negative event with extra vigilance, nor any parent who isn’t moved to empathise with another’s misfortune, rather than judge what he or she may have done or eaten. The top-down, ersatz scientification isn’t really fooling anyone.


It’s also hard to wade through all the expert advice on how to be a good parent. Parenting experts rely on real science to lay out the “right way” to parent. Previous generations had the freedom to rely on cultural and societal norms and to use a try and see / practical approach along with their gut instinct to organically guide their parenting:

Now parenthood has almost become professionalized so that many parents seek “the best way” to raise their children. Childrearing no longer is something that can be done by tradition, whim, or common sense. There presumably is a “right way” to put a child to bed, to leave a child with a sitter, to get a child started in school, and to have a friend over. Because being a parent is a career, like any career the harder we work at it the more we gain. The result is the general feeling that we cannot do enough for our children. Certainly we should raise our children better than we were raised.


The result is that families are busier than ever and taxed with demands never experienced in previous generations. Kids are overscheduled with little to no down time and parents have little time to nurture their marriage, friendships and hobbies:

[…] it’s now so much more “all about the kids”. As parents, our lives revolve around our offspring far more than previous generations’ did as we scramble, struggle and strive to make their childhoods as blissful as possible. We’ve got diaries crammed with their many activities and homes brimming with their toys; even our choices of holidays and meals are about pleasing them – or at least appeasing their fussiness – more than ourselves. It’s exhausting and expensive and our own needs too often get overlooked.


Family life inevitably necessitates that we sacrifice personal interests, particularly those related to careers, entertainment, and recreation. It means the loss of privacy, time, and personal freedom of action. It entails emotional, physical, and financial burdens, not the least of which are worries about the health, behavior, and achievement of our children. It means coping with annoying behavior, noise, and distractions.


No wonder so many parents feel exhausted, stressed out and overwhelmed. Not only are we trying to be superhero parents, we are attempting to do so while at the same time trying to build careers, maintain healthy marriages, get some exercise, and find time to stay connected to our adult lives. We are often doing this in the absence of the informal support that previous generations of parents received from neighbors, extended family and their communities.


We’ve lost the village. It used to be that bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child. They would act as the mum and dad’s eyes and ears when their children were out of sight, and everyone worked towards the same shared interest: raising proper boys and girls. This village was one of support. Now, when someone who is not the child’s parent dares to correct him, the mum and dad get upset. They want their child to appear perfect, and so they often don’t accept teachers’ and others’ reports that he is not. They’ll storm in and have a go at a teacher rather than discipline their child for acting out in class. They feel the need to project a perfect picture to the world and unfortunately, their insecurity is reinforced because many parents do judge one another. If a child is having a tantrum, all eyes turn on the mum disapprovingly. Instead she should be supported, because chances are the tantrum occurred because she’s not giving in to one of her child’s demands. Those observers should instead be saying, “Hey, good work — I know setting limits is hard.”


And then guess what? The parenting story doesn’t end anymore at 18 or 19. Statistics show that we are parenting longer than ever before and taking on the responsibility to prepare our children to be competitive in their careers, find and sustain healthy friendships and love relationships, and be responsible global citizens. Most parents not only expect to contribute to their children’s post-secondary education and training but also to its aftermath, by supporting them in making a down payment on a house, paying for a wedding or helping double income families with child care responsibilities.


It’s not logical and it’s crazy making, and yet, we continue to do it. Why? Maybe we’re so busy we don’t see that we could be doing things a little differently to achieve better outcomes for our families. Maybe it’s because we don’t realize that, despite our good intentions, our methods might be actually doing more harm than good for our kids.

It’s time for a wake-up call!


Continue to: The Game Changer

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