Partly because technology and high expectations have pretty much ruined everything.
There’s nothing like a little validation, right? The latest research reveals what many of us already knew: a lot of parents are pretty stressed out these days. And, many of our children are too. But what happened here? Instead of being a sleek generation revolutionizing parenting and childhood with one click, too often we’re that hot mess who’s late for the party and didn’t bring a gift. Here’s why, and it’s not all our fault:
1. Information overload
The internet and information at our fingertips obligates us to research everything regarding our kids — schools, food, illnesses, toys, summer camps, on and on. It’s a rabbit hole sending us to lands filled with fiercely divergent opinions and factoids. Even if you’re not obsessive, I think we’d all be shocked at the amount of time the average parent spends on research. It’s not all effort wasted but it’s time that our parents probably used for things like getting a decent night’s sleep.
2. Extreme focus on academics (or at least the appearance of it)
At most schools, parents are roped into all the minutiae of children’s academics. We’re expected to check the school websites and portals often, and if Junior forgets about an assignment, parents take part of the shame because we should have known! Furthermore, high school seems to be the new college. We’re told that if we aren’t steering (forcing) our offspring toward AP credits and being the lead in the school play, we may as well give up the dream of them getting into a good college. Which means their entire lives will be pointless and sad, according to conventional wisdom. And then we scramble to pay for that expensive prep school and college. If we can’t afford the brand-name schools, we may feel excruciating guilt or set our children up with massive school debt, which makes us feel really bad too.
3. Shirking chores
Included with the early and intense focus on academics means many children are not helping around the house with cooking, laundry and other things which means our generation of parents are juggling it all. My children fold their own laundry, feed the cats, and have weekend litterbox duty. Occasionally they wash some dishes. I’d say they’ve got a pretty good deal compared to all the garbage duty, lawn mowing, leaf raking, snow shoveling, laundry, dinner dishes and more that my siblings and I did.
But, according to their howls of protest, they are overworked compared to most of their peers and they may not be exaggerating. According to additional research, 82 percent of today’s parents were required to do chores in their childhood, yet only 28 percent of parents require it of their children now.
4. Children don’t roam anymore
As a child, I would be gone for hours climbing trees, playing with friends from house to house, and listening for the dinner bell to ring. Now, thanks to cable news, we are hyper-aware of every horrible thing that could possibly go wrong for our children outside our homes. Because of that, we really don’t want them to roam too much. So, instead they’re around us a lot more, fixed to our fears and also requiring more of our time and attention.
5. Ridiculous expectations also play a part
I’m that mom who sent engraved invitations to my daughter’s first birthday party. Most everyone else was doing that too. We’re also expected to volunteer at school. A lot. Does anyone else remember their mother or father setting foot in their classroom? I don’t. I’m totally fine with that too.
6. Ah, technology
Keeping kids safe online, even with parental controls enabled, takes a lot of attention and time, with the sands always shifting beneath our feet because of the latest app or trend. Yes, we teach our children about making good choices and they do … until they don’t. Let’s face it. If it were up to them, my teen would be texting and watching Netflix all night and my 10-year-old would wake up before dawn to play War Dragons. And, what about all the little electronic gateways that open for friends and strangers to hop into my children’s online worlds?
7. The perfect childhood
Then, the cherry on top of this anxiety-ridden concoction is the conviction we must provide a happy childhood for our children. It’s a noble goal but also elusive and, the more we strive for it, the more complicated it is. How do we “make” every single person in this family happy all the time?
So what’s the solution?
This technology laden, over-informed, competitive world demands much of parents. Can we safely raise our children to be successful and happy and not exhaust ourselves and our children in the process? Yes and no. Just like the real world, there are no guarantees even though I’d like to offer a simple 8-step parenting plan to assure everyone will be exceptional and well-rested. But who am I to offer some smug little plan? Sometimes I’m muddling through the same as you may be. But if you’ve ever set your phone down, looked your child in the eye, and discussed how he (not you) can get his prized Pokemon card back from a classmate who took it, you might be doing something right. If your daughter groans after you ask her to help carry in and put away the groceries, you might be doing something right.
Our overachieving selves may scoff at something so simplistic but, according to the longest study in history, connection and responsibility are the most crucial elements for that happy life we want for our children and ourselves. Since 1938, The Harvard Grant and Glueck Study has tracked participants throughout their lives and has come up with remarkable conclusions based on the data they’ve collected. “Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives,” according to the study. When the pinnacle of academia finds out that it isn’t academics that ensures happiness, I sit up and notice. And, as former Stanford University dean Julie Lythcott-Haims has famously gleaned from that Harvard study: “Success in life comes from doing chores as a kid, the earlier started, the better.” Without learning to work “toward the betterment of the whole,” we’re raising kids who arrive in the workplace “lacking impulse” and without the ability to “look around to see how can I be useful to my colleagues and anticipate what my boss might need?”
Technology and trends change but it seems old-fashioned advice still applies. Maybe if we love and connect with our kids a little bit more, obsess a little bit less about college acceptances and images of perfection, AND expect them to contribute around the house and live by our rules, this could be all the guidance that 1,000 parenting books can’t tell us. It won’t take away all the complications of modern parenting and childhood, but it could simplify it and defuse a whole lot of unnecessary anxiety.