Am I a crap parent?

Parents are increasingly coming under fire for parenting styles.

Hands up who sometimes feels they’re not quite up to the mark on the parenting front? Hands up who has actually been told that by a family member, colleague, friend or even by someone at the school gate who is essentially a total stranger?

It would be interesting to be able to see how many of you haven’t put up your hands. I imagine it’s very few. Much like the public view that every pregnant woman’s bump is open to touching and stroking by total strangers, there seems to be a growing trend that allows people to think they can criticise parents on the job they’re doing, no matter whether they know them or not.

I have indeed in the past been told, even by my own dear father, after a few wines at Sunday lunch, that I’m doing “a crap job” at bringing up my daughter. This was sparked by her unwillingness to eat her peas and my unwillingness to make her. Personally I prefer to save my energy and pick my battles. But what gives my Dad the right to think he can say that? Presumably his own parenting perfection…ahem.

Parents these days are constantly being picked up on aspects of parenting, and it’s not just by their parents either. It’s apparently by anyone and everyone. Even the talented, beautiful Australian actress and mum, Cate Blanchett, who by the way doesn’t employ a nanny or cook apparently, says she feels criticised for her parenting by other mums! This is not isolated. Our 2014 Annual Childcare and Workforce Participation Survey revealed that 57 per cent of mums had felt stigmatised as a bad parent (for either working or staying at home) by other mums. So what happened to the sisterhood?

Whether it’s for their children’s eating habits, gaming, noisiness, dress sense, vocabulary, table manners, bedtime, supermarket etiquette, attitude, it’s all fodder for other people’s comments. And however you parent, it’s never right or good enough for some people.

Personally I like to hide behind the thought that these dissenters are generally bored, unhappy, unfulfilled or just generally not very nice.

A recent article by Queensland University’s John Pickering, a self-confessed non-parent, highlighted the “growing and seemingly widespread view that parents these days aren’t doing a good job – that in fact they’re doing a “crap” job”. So it’s not just me, then!

He goes on to say that parents are being told they “are out of touch and too soft. They give in to their kids too easily. They’re over-involved helicopter parents, or under-involved don’t care parents. Or they could be bulldozer or lawn-mower parents (the ones who smooth the way for their child’s transition through life and make life difficult for everyone else in the process).”

As Pickering points out, this criticism is simply the “kids these days rhetoric, but applied to parents”. And of course the world is very different to how it was “in their day”. Particularly when it comes to working families.

When I grew up, working mums were in the minority. I can barely recall any of my friend’s mums working full time. Nowadays it’s almost the reverse. It’s not just due to a need or desire to be career woman either; it’s also a matter of economics.

In our parents’ day, you could very easily afford to buy your own house and pay a mortgage on one average salary. Today that is almost impossible. And this surely has to affect our way of parenting. We’ve had to adapt. But more to the point, what are we consciously doing that’s different out of choice as opposed to necessity?

Pickering’s article gives an overview of a 2012 study surveyed thousands of English adolescents in 1986 and again in 2006 to determine the extent that parent-child relationships had changed over 20 years:

The study showed that parental monitoring of youth behaviour and parent-child quality time increased from 1986 to 2006. Parents in 2006 also expected more from their children than they did in 1986, including the expectation of being polite.

The authors concluded that their study failed to provide any evidence that the quality of parent-child relationships had declined over time, and that there is little evidence of any decline in parenting across the target population.

This finding corroborates earlier studies, which analysed parenting patterns across generations and found that both mothers and fathers tended to spend greater amounts of time in child care-related activities in the 1990s than they did in the 1960s.

The major trend, says Pickering, is the appetite for evidence that informs decisions about parenting. Parents want evidence that what they are doing is effective.

“They invest time to research whether vaccines work; to find evidence that “breast is best”; evidence that car seat A is superior to car seat B; evidence that certain toys are developmentally appropriate; evidence that the discipline strategies they use are effective.”

Pickering believes that the physical, emotional, financial and intellectual resources that parents are now investing in raising their kids have never been greater.

We don’t get everything right. And none of us is perfect.

Regardless of what we’re doing differently, the vast majority of parents are simply doing the best they can in the only way they know, and we should stop criticising and start to be more supportive.

After all, two of the key things a parent can teach their child are compassion, and self-control.

To view James Pickering’s article in full, click here.

Originally published on Feb 18 2015 for CareforKids.com.au: http://www.careforkids.com.au/newsletter/2015/february/18/parenting.html 

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