Parenting can be Hard
Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to them. Once the chorus of cultural values was full of ministers, teachers, neighbors, leaders. They demanded more conformity, but offered more support. Now the messengers are violent cartoon characters, rappers and celebrities selling sneakers. Parents are considered “responsible” only if they are successful in their resistance. That’s what makes child-raising harder. It’s not just that American families have less time with their kids; it’s that we have to spend more of this time doing battle with our own culture.
This quote has been on my mind lately. I’m not trying to have a pity-party about how hard parenting is. I do, often, hear various forms of the “is parenting today harder than it used to be?” question. It seems like that question is all around, and that in itself makes me think that there’s got to be some way in which parenting today is, in fact, different than it was for my parents’ generation. Perhaps not harder, but certainly different. Running across Ellen Goodman’s quote really helped me have some perspective on this question.
Many of our parenting choices are designed to help bolster our children against the predominant culture. We reduce tv time. We try to eat as many real and even traditional foods as is possible. We work hard to reduce/reuse/recycle (with an emphasis on the first two), while living in a city where little kids ride their bikes drinking those awful juicy things in the plastic tub, and then blatantly throw it onto the street, rightly appalling my kids. We try to make our home a safe haven where our kids can feel great about themselves, bolstering them so they may face the pressures of the world. We eat dinner together and have regular family fun days. We keep lots of time for freeplay and avoid overscheduling. We simplified our toy collection and involve our kids in the work of running a home. I could go on and on… (this is also where I should add that we often fall short of these ideals, but it gives us something to work towards!)
And these choices? They don’t come from our clergy. They don’t come from our neighbors, teachers, or our own parents. We make choices in a direct effort to reduce the impact of our culture’s messages, in hopes that our children might succeed in spite of them. That can be a lonely, tough road. It can be hard to find allies, like-minded parents who are doing the same work as us. Much of that support I’m finding online. And this month, having mostly eliminated my parenting-oriented reading, I’m finding it inside of me; by listening to my instincts, my guts, my soul. And isn’t that, in the end, the best place?
Is parenting harder today? There are no controlled experiments that can give us a definite answer to this. What I do know is there are no words to describe the depth of difficulty I experience in parenting against the grain. Finding community has been the key towards helping MrH and me to keep walking forward, in the same faith that presumably motivated our parents in their, very different, choices: that our children will grow up to be respectable, capable adults, with more opportunity for success than we experienced. Success, of course, being the key subjective word there.