Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Is parenting more difficult than it used to be? Why or why not?
I think it depends who you ask. I do think emotionally, the demands on women are very different than in past years. The modern expectation that children will complete your life or fill you with joy can be difficult for parents -- mothers especially -- for whom this doesn’t happen.
Do you feel that many women are afraid to admit that motherhood isn’t as fulfilling as they had expected? If yes, what holds them back?
I do think they’re afraid to admit that! Because if you don’t think your kids are the center of the universe and the best most important thing ever -- you’re a bad mom. There’s room for moms to complain about the everyday troubles -- the exhaustion and work, for example. But there’s not a lot of space to say: This isn’t at all what I expected. Or, maybe I’m not cut out for this. There’s too much fear around being labeled a bad mom.
It seems to me that parents have relinquished much of the control in their family’s lives. Their activities are largely focused around keeping the children entertained and happy. Do you agree or disagree with this observation? And what do you think are the consequences?
I do agree with that! There seems to be this idea that children are meant to be happy all the time. Kids should be occasionally upset -- that’s what discipline is about. And kids should be occasionally bored -- that helps them develop their own set of play skills. I don’t think there are consequences as much for kids as there are for parents. How exhausting must it be to feel like you need to manage every minute of your child’s day in order to squeeze the most stimulation out of it? It’s all just too much.
There have been several books published recently that compare American parenting with that of Chinese parents, French parents, etc. Do you think that American parenting is different, and do we have something to learn from other cultures?
What bothers me about those books is the idea that there is one answer to parenting woes. That if we just follow one set of rules our kids will not only be okay -- they’ll be amazing and successful. Parenting is more nuanced than that and there isn’t a perfect formula for creating a perfect kid. I think it’s more important that we’re asking ourselves broader questions about what could make parenting easier -- things like more affordable child care, paid maternity leave, etc.
What are some of the solutions you propose for making parenting a more enjoyable and successful experience?
On a straight policy level I think we need mandated paid parental leave, paid sick days and subsidized child care. That would certainly help! But more generally, I think we need to lose the expectations around what parenting is going to be like. It’s going to be different for all of us, and carrying around these expectations only make us disappointed if they don’t pan out.
Learn more about Jessica Valenti and her book, Why Have Kids?, at www.jessicavalenti.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, too.
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