A Maclean's article with a splashy, if polarizing, title made the round this weekend and, as usual, parents are divided on the topic. In "The Collapse of Parenting: Why it's time for parents to grow up", Cathy Gulli argues that it's time for parents to take back parenthood. In fairness, the article is not meant to criticize modern parenting and leave parentings feeling guilty (again) about what they're doing wrong (again). I spoke with Gulli at length about the article, and I didn't once feel a "blame the parents" vibe.
Parenting has evolved in the past few decades, as it should. Gone are the days when young children were expected to perform manual labor before and after school and the theory that "children should be seen but not heard" is a thing of the past (for the most part).
Parenting has never been an "easy" gig. Every generation has their own set of stressors, and the obstacles faced by parents today are different that those faced by their own parents. Food allergies are a significant source of stress for some, the pushing down of academics and decline in play change the structure of childhood and childhood stress is on the rise, to name a few.
We can dissect the negatives and find reasons to make parents feel inadequate and guilty (yes, over scheduling is our fault to some degree, but let us not forget that childhood is big business these days - we are surrounded by opportunities to spend our hard earned cash "enriching" the lives of our children) or we can focus on the positive. We can take a look at what modern parenting is getting right and build upon that.
The so-called "mommy wars" and parent shaming are old news. If we want to raise a generation of kind, capable and responsible children, we need to figure out what we're doing right and do more of that.
As I tell my clients and my own children, every day is a new opportunity to find the good. You can choose to be positive or you can choose to be negative. Why not give positive emotions a chance and see what happens as a result?
With that in mind, I believe these five things modern parents are getting right make great building blocks for the evolution of positive parenting.
We care about feelings.
We know that all kids are different and that all kids experience shifts in emotions. We know that's okay to feel sad, mad, anxious or overly excited and that expressing a wide range of emotions is good for the soul. We know that stuffing feelings leads to anger and resentment but that working through feelings leads to self confidence and empathy.
We are teaching our kids to identify and process their big feelings, and we are teaching them how to cope when the chips are down so that they don't feel like they'll break every time they bend. That's huge. That, alone, is a big improvement in parenting.
Not sure how to teach feelings identification and coping skills? Grab a copy ofThe Happy Kid Handbook. Feeling frazzled by tantrums (a healthy expression of emotions, but completely exhausting for parents) with the under five crowd? There's a Taming Tantrums app for that.
We're willing to learn.
People often reference the shelves full of parenting books as a bad thing. While I do feel like the instant access to information can leave parents in a state of learned helplessness (dissecting every cry by way of Google isn't necessary), I actually see parenting books as a positive development.
We all have own parenting styles and no one book works for every family. The wonderful part of the parenting book section, however, is that it empowers parents to seek help when they need it. Books give us the opportunity to think about what's working and what's not. Books help us view our unique parenting situations through a different lens.
Modern parents are not afraid to learn new things. We seek advice from friends, siblings, neighbors, books and trusted parenting websites. We sift through the information provided and consider change. Black and white thinking isn't good for our kids, but considering the shades of grey is.
We connect with our kids.
While fear of being tagged a "helicopter parent" is real, what I see in my practice and out in the world is a generation of parents connecting with their kids. We play with them. We read with them. We take an interest in them. We shoot hoops with them. And we work hard to open the lines of communication so that they know they can come to us when life gets complicated.
A close parent-child relationship provides the foundation for healthy communication and emotional development as kids grow. Modern parents know this and they aren't afraid to put in the time to make this a priority.
We're not afraid to fail.
Parenting mistakes are part of being a parent. We don't always get it right, but we do know that talking with our kids about that and apologizing when we make mistakes is important. We also have a sense of humor about it. We don't sweep our mistakes under the carpet - we joke with our friends and wait for that coveted parent-of-the-year award to arrive at our doorsteps!
Parenting is hard. Connecting with other parents and laughing about the ups and downs helps us release our emotions about this gig, and that makes for better overall parenting.
We stand up for ourselves.
Alyssa Milano is the latest voice of reason in the world of breastfeeding advocacy (who knew we would one day need advocacy for feeding our children?) What the non-stop debate about public breastfeeding has taught us (other than the fact that pop stars can show their parts but moms should hide theirs at all costs) is that opinions about parenting are powerful and often polarizing.
While I do wish that moms will simply choose a "mom and let mom" philosophy (we don't have to agree but we can respect one another), I'm glad to see that parents are finding their voices. When parents don't speak up, they internalize their emotions. Those emotions will spill out at another time. When parents remain calm and stand up for themselves (be it breastfeeding uncovered or pacifier use in the toddler crowd), they send an important message to their kids: We all have to take a stand sometimes. Never be afraid to be you.
There's always room for improvement in life. That's why we all make resolutions on January 1st. But the best way inspire positive growth is to start by focusing on what's going well. Modern parents are making positive changes. Let's celebrate that and go from there.