Parenting in this day and age is without a doubt a tough gig.
We are faced with challenges that our parents didn’t face when they were raising us, we live in a society whose moral and spiritual values have been all but degraded, and it appears to be getting worse. Our food is not what it used to be, with all the genetic modification and the mass agricultural methods used to simply meet the dietary demands of an increasingly obese population, resulting in children with ADHD (apparently), behavioural issues, earlier onset of mental health issues and of course, obesity. The schooling system is becoming (or already is) heavily focused on “academic teaching” where children as young as 5 are subject to testing and assessments, with priority given to standardised testing as a measure of their abilities, yet ironically are not producing more intelligent people.
We are living in the ‘digital age’ with screens pervading everything that we do. Schools are introducing iPads in kindergarten, or giving homework that must be done on the internet. Children are being given their own iPads and iPhones at younger and younger ages, or are allowed to watch streams of videos on YouTube, unmonitored, for hours. Their access to potentially explicit content is thus made easier. We don’t even have the slightest idea how to cope with the effects of the digital age, and yet we are pushing it onto our children.
Our children are being raised in an almost dystopic society where the bonds of human connection are being ground down…and digitalised. Leonard Sax in his book “Why Gender Matters” devotes a chapter to discussing sexual activity amongst adolescents, and makes the observation that it is becoming an increasingly impersonal activity. Dating no longer exists. Teenagers ‘hook up’. Sax made this observation in 2005. A decade later I’d say that things have only taken a turn for the worse, what with the explosion in digital devices and social media.
The obsession with our phones is resulting in a generation of children, and even adults, who don’t know how to make conversation. Who don’t understand social etiquette. Who are slowly but surely being disconnected from their own humanity.
Throw into all this the age old struggles with raising children, the utter physical exhaustion that particularly mothers face in the early years, while having child after child. Post-natal depletion is totally a thing people. Not post-natal depression. DEPLETION.
Add to this the expectation from society to BE something OTHER than JUST a mother. The financial pressures to work so we can afford our mortgages, and cars on finance, and designer everything and new gadgets and holidays once a year… Oh and to pay for the childcare for our multiple children which costs practically what we are earning… Amongst all this we need to raise perfectly disciplined children, whilst not losing our patience, whilst allowing our kids to just be kids, but make sure they are dressed in perfect clothes, and eating nutritious foods and take them to swimming, karate, pre-kindy classes, and make sure they know their alphabet, their numbers and how to write their names BEFORE they start school so you can get them into a selective, academic, private school that costs over $1000 a term… From kindergarten.
And we are doing this increasingly alone. No longer do we live with others…The village support network no longer exists. And it is mothers who suffer the most. Even when the support system is there, we no longer know how to support each other with love, respect and wisdom. We’ve lived such busy lives for the past few decades that what we are left with are people and families living as isolated units who no longer know how to connect and nurture and uplift each other.
Gone are the days when family would simply drop in unannounced. When homes were bustling places with cousins and friends and neighbours popping by for tea.
We are alone.
And motherhood by nature is already a lonely exercise. That is now only compounded by how ‘busy’ and separated everyone is from each other. And when we are together, we judge, we criticise, we don’t take the time to build and nurture sincere bonds.
Ok so now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you all, and myself, here is the point that I’m trying to make…
Yes. We live in difficult times.
If you think that I’m going to say something dreary like, DON’T HAVE KIDS because all is doom and gloom, then no.
On the contrary, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to have children. There is no light in this world like the light that emanates from children. And being able to witness that… a privilege. Only children have the power to utterly transform you… if you allow them to.
What I do want to stress is that people really need to spend time preparing and acknowledging and understanding the weight of the responsibility that comes with raising children.
Having the child is one thing. Going through pregnancy and labour is another daunting task. But once that baby is out, you need to raise it into a decent human being.
And attempting to achieve this task requires conscious parenting. I’m not talking about ‘over parenting’ where parents get involved with every little detail of their kid’s lives thus stripping away any agency from them. I’m talking about parenting that is informed, thoughtful, questioning, reflective and… aware.
If you are thinking of having children, my advice is, think about it thoroughly. Know that it will be one of the toughest things that you will undertake in life, and it literally will span the length of your life. It will be the source of the worst heartbreak, difficulty, frustration and anxiety. Everything from keeping the baby alive in its early days to instilling good eating habits in your two year old, to disciplining your four year old, to showing them your pure love for them, to modelling good manners, humility and respect… Yeh, it’s a tough gig. But at least do your best to prepare yourself for it. Think about the type of parent you want to be, not the type of child you want to have (because that is not in your control), but the child and person that you would like to shape and nurture.
Just do not have kids because “it’s the thing to do”, or because you think they are cute (by the time they hit 4.5 they officially stop being cute. For reals.) Or because you want a pet that you can dress in cute, expensive clothing. Or because you want the designer pram and beautiful nursery. Or because you want a mini-me. Or because you want them to be a source of pride that you can boast about to anyone and everyone.
These motivations will wear very quickly after actually having the child, and you will find that you will do whatever it takes to get that child to be quiet. Or to ‘get rid of them’.
Know that a child is a new human being entering a world that they have no idea about and they need YOUR guidance, your informed, educated guidance, your unconditional love, your compassion and gentleness… they NEED a figure of authority who can place boundaries on what they can and can’t do, they NEED a role model to show them how to navigate through the complexities of this life…
If you are not ready to be this for someone, if you are not ready to take on this responsibility, or at the very least, if you don’t have children with the conscious mindset that this is what you need to be as a parent, then think again about having children. Because without properly acknowledging what it means to be a parent, you may be contributing to a lifetime of difficulty, confusion and destruction for another person, and not just any person, but your own child.
Isn’t it worth thinking about properly?
*Featured image via Jote Khalsa.