Thursday, May 24, 2007

New-Age Child-Rearing

When child-rearing is managed by the book, parenting is ultra-intensive. A hard labor every minute of every day. And so I have often thought. “Why is parenting becoming such a heavy burden, such a fearful task, such an overwhelming job?”

The answer is quite simple, now that I’ve thought about it. We choose to make parenting more intensive. So intensive that I am appalled at the many young mothers I know that are NOT having a good time. Instead they are so stressed and overwhelmed with parenting, they are in a frightful state. And so I think, “Why are we doing this, and when are we going to stop?”

I remember when I was a young mom. I raised my kids without help with housework. I was solely responsible for cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, and 90% of the time – parenting. With strict gender divisions of men and women’s work, and with few labor-saving appliances, pretty much anything to do with home-comfort fell into my lap. So yes, occasionally I was overwhelmed.

I used to think, “If I only had a little more help,” but now I observe young mothers and this is what I see. Homes where child care and household duties are split right down the middle, and still mothers are even more overwhelmed. Far more than I ever was. How can one find a sensible explanation for that?

But back then, parenting was simple. Babies were to be kept warm, burped, fed, bathed, cuddled, and with clean dry bottoms. And for toddlers and youngsters there were no compulsory obligations outside of making sure they felt loved and safe, content and happy. And always, through all those childhood years, I assured them even when they had not the vocabulary to understand, that I would keep them safe and protect them.

Still, that part of it came naturally. Reading came naturally to settle them down for a nap but what did not come naturally was any obligation to seek expert opinions on every facet of their lives, or to entertain them with the sophisticated stimulation of flash-cards, or the obligation to run constant intercession in everything they did.

But now, heaven preserve us, one has to research the care and control of children daily. To be a good mom, that is. One must discover how to care for children by taking time to read stuff that is too scary to ignore. Starting with the introduction of solid foods, what to feed, how much to feed, when to feed, how to feed.

Mother intuition, that strong elixir of self-confidence, that initializes in a mom’s soul and psyche an accurate impersonation of how their child is feeling is being sadly weakened by expert interference. That innate intuition that made moms so sensitive that they could feel the heat of a fever or coolness through touch, that told them when children were simply out-of-sorts or racked with the pain of a tummy-ache. The thing that made them dare to recklessly give a little porridge to a crying babe to see if they would readily accept it. Can’t be doing that when instructions from the experts forbid such nonsense for another six months.

And now, with shared night feedings, even the super sensitivity is lost that made moms stir from a sound sleep at the slightest rustle in the crib adjacent to their bed. Of course, there is another reason moms don’t always hear baby’s cries. The other reason they don’t hear them is because the crib is no longer adjacent to the bed as if it had no proper place to dwell. The crib is now down the hall where it looks best in a brightly, tastefully, decorated nursery.

And oh yeh, the experts say its now okay for babes to cry. That is the latest word from the communication experts, that want us bending to every word they say, every phrase they coin, but, on the other hand, encouraging us to ignore a baby communicating a request for an unfulfilled need.

And so parenting that once was simple has become so complex that one must engage in lengthy, time-consuming journeys through manuals and source documents. Everything must be carefully adjudicated. Food must be adjudicated for every ingredient – vitamins, sugars, fats, and the like. And that leads to a further compulsory adjudication of source, storage, and preparation.

Children, in order to be all that they can be, must be emotionally and physically stimulated in pre-determined ways. With numbers, letters, music, shapes, textures, pictures, etc. Mothers are responsible to ensure their wee daughters have father relationships that will not impact in a negative way on their future choice of husbands. Mothers must ensure they every interaction will fulfill a purpose of good, positive, influence. To guarantee that, they must run intervention in every aspect, and waking moment, of their children’s lives. They must ensure their surroundings are put through a fine filter that gives consideration to every germ, bacteria, sound, fume, fat, scratch, and indoctrination. Time must be set aside for formal obligatory story time. Time must be set aside to translate into toddler dialect appropriate behavior rather than children learning through socializing with their own little friends what is acceptable and non-acceptable.

Rewards and punishment have become an endless turmoil of conflicting philosophies about consistency. A consistency that is not necessarily fair, demanding an all-encompassing reinforcement of the value of each and every child despite the reality that the behavior of one is pleasurable and the other totally frustrating. Punishment has become a complex 12-step program that includes an immediate review, briefing, time-out, de-briefing, and summation. Positive reinforcement is almost as time-consuming. It is a 6-step program that must trap every good thing and make it into a grand event.

And then, there must be time for moms to schedule other obligatory things necessary for proper child raising. Time committed to loving themselves. That too, is necessary for a child to be raised properly. Sure there is that primeval instinct whispering in our ear that motherhood is a time of devotion and dare I say it – self-sacrifice? But how can one hold true to such Neolithic thinking in today’s sophisticated world? So certainly, parenting must include set-aside time for hair, nails, and body massages. This is a part of parenting that is not obligatory. It is compulsory.

Now you may well wonder why I am not discussing fathers here, but that would double the length of this rant into a grand epistle. Their duties within the modern task of parenting are just as long, just as self-propagating as the roll of mothers. Fathers must deal with another subset of complexities and filtering. They have specialized rolls to play in nurturing, physical development, and emotional sensitivity. The latest flowcharts of childhood development have expectations for both parents beyond comprehension. Every new day, child experts, doctors, or dietitians, add yet another burden to the heap of fears, warnings, and protocol to be ciphered, learned, understood, and translated into the parenting process.

And so, should I be surprised when I see today’s moms, even with dads that vacuum and do laundry and prepare dinner, more overwhelmed that I ever was when I was putting cloth diapers through a wringer and hanging them on a line? What is so odd about all of this is we seem, as a cluster, to think of vacuuming and laundry as ‘work’ while ignoring the hard work, time, and intensity we are building into sound parenting. Not a moment’s thought is given to how mentally-demanding the once simple task of parenting has become. Demanding enough that manual labor pales in comparison.

So I wonder if this constant tampering with the job description of parenting isn’t having a ‘watershed effect’. The ‘watershed effect’ is a ridge of highland that causes rivers to part and flow in different directions. Is this what is happening with parenting? Are we creating a high ground that is splitting what is beneficial into two streams – one beneficial, the other more damaging than helpful? Could it be that the damaging stream is carrying along confused parents so overwhelmed with fear and stress that they are more and more abandoning children, resenting them, even abusing them in ways that make us truly sick at heart?

How are you doing? All you people that were just fed, clothed, loved, and kept from harm? You must all be total dismal failures with every kind of emotional and social problem that ever touched the life of humankind. Sucks to be you, doesn’t it?


Joy Des Jardins said...

Gosh, I don't know where to begin...except to say that I agree so much with what you have to say. It was quite different in our time of raising babies Roberta. Back then a mother's instincts were as "good as gold." Noone trusts those instincts anymore. Too much information...too many new rules to raise children by.....and way too many stressed-out mothers. You are so right.

This was a very wonderful post Roberta. I wish every young mother could read it.

Matty said...

When I had my sons, it wasn't called parenting, it was called mothering. I had no help...and I didn't expect any. But of course I didn't have so many experts telling me what I was doing wrong..I just went by my instincts.
Today there is so much pressure put on young parents to do the right to the unborn..make sure they attend the right playschool's....bring them to therapist's if they are not toilet trained by the age of one.,take parenting classes...and as soon as the kids hit 1st grade, they must be active in every sport available, regardless if you have to take out a mortgage...oh yes, and through all this, if you're house is not spotless and you don't hold down a full-time job, there is something lacking in you. The pressures and stressors are unbelievable.......and if you can't keep your man happy...oh well,,,,you just better take a belly-dancing course or erect a stripper's pole in your bedroom.
Men don't have half the stresses that women do. We have to be 'Superwoman' and Supermom and Supergood in bed......or else!

Roberta S said...

Hi joy. Thanks for your kind comments. I do wish parents were given more credit and less criticism. I wish someone would subdue so many of their needless fears. Of course that isn't going to happen until someone can convince them, as you said, of the truth and dependability of mother instincts. Unfortunately, I don't know how we can do that.

Roberta S said...

Hi matty. Always good to see you. Your comments include even more stressors that never entered my head but you see them in the same context I see them. All except maybe the last one you mentioned. I prefer to think of that one in reverse. ;)

Kinuk said...

Thanks so much for that, Roberta. I read your post with interest and nodded eagerly at many of your thoughts. As a mother-to-be, it's a little daunting and I worry if I will make a good parent and if my husband and I have what it takes. Proof will be in the pudding, as they say and we'll try our best. But there is too much out there: too many books, too many magazines, too many websites, too many people with too many opinions. My husband has been very strong and we've made it through 7 months of pregnancy with 2 books (1 quite humourous in its approach, 1 serious but balanced). We've purchased 1 book on babycare and will stop at that. We will try to figure it all out on our own, waiting to see what personality our baby has and how to best help him in his life. Our parents have been wonderful: supportive but giving us plenty of room to figure things our for ourselves. I hope we'll do a good job of it...

Roberta S said...

kinuk, thank you for visiting. Please don't worry about being good parents. The wonderful magic of children is they are a blend of familiar patterns (through DNA) that are similar to their parents (and perhaps grandparents) but no one else. So I think that is where magical instincts come to bear. That is what allows parents to impersonate, better than experts, how a child is feeling and what they are needful of.