Parent Critics

by John Hoffman

A few months ago, a book called the The Collapse of Parenting got a lot of press. Maclean’s magazine did a feature story on this book that included this tagline:

“It’s time for parents to grow up. If anyone can be called the boss in modern, anti-hierarchical parenthood, it’s the children.”

Nice….Not.

I can’t stand media parent-bashing, but it’s nothing new.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen these sort of dire declarations that parenting is broken and that today’s children are a mess. Actually, handwringing about the state of “kids these days” goes back at least as far as ancient Greece. Here’s how Socrates put it in 400 BC or thereabouts: “Children are now tyrants… They contradict their parents… and tyrannize their teachers.”

Sound familiar? Media condemnation of today’s parents happens every generation – numerous times. Someone from the older generation sees something in a child’s behaviour they don’t like. Or they see an example of bad parenting. Then they think they are going to save the world (or sell books, newspapers or magazines) by telling us everything that’s wrong with the current generation of parents. The media loves this crap. And, apparently, so do a lot of readers. Check out the web comments on the Maclean’s Collapse of Parenting article. They are mostly of the “Yeah, ain’t it awful” variety. Many are likely from people whose child-rearing is basically done. And for some reason they feel the need to portray themselves as better parents than the current generation (i.e., their own children).

What amuses me is that none of these folks seem to see the inherent irony in the situation. Logically, if your child’s generation is inadequate in the parenting department, then it must be your fault.

You see how silly this can get.

I’d much rather see the older generation supporting and helping today’s parents. That’s their job. Of course, many do. I see all kinds of grandparents being very supportive of their offspring’s parenting. But those people don’t write books, do they?

I think a lot of this parent-bashing has to do with the very mundane difficulty people have with societal change. People get attached to the way things were done at an earlier point in their lives. And the new ways (and different approaches to child-rearing) can seem hard to understand, even threatening. I understand that. I feel that way myself at times. But I’ve yet to see an example of people going back to the “good old days” of parenting – at least not on a large scale.

I’m also pretty sure that, no matter what generation you’re talking about, things were never so uniformly great in the “good old days” as people like to think.

When I was a kid there were lots of good things about family life and parenting. But there was lots of not-so-good stuff too. Adults had too much power over children. That authoritarian approach to child management caused a lot of harm. Kids were mistreated in schools, sometimes in homes, sometimes in treatment settings. As western society developed a more enlightened view of human rights, new generations of dads and moms started to rebel (rightly) against authoritarian parenting. Sure, at times they struggled to find the balance between recognizing their kids’ rights (and dignity) and the need they still felt to correct and control their kids’ behaviour at times. But it’s a good struggle.

I certainly don’t think parenting is perfect now. Sure, at times I see parents asking their kids to do things when I think they should be saying, “This is what we need to do right now. Let’s go.”

But I also see lots that I like. I see all kinds of awesome kids and young people: smart, confident and often very skilled, and in my experience, mostly nicer to each other than the kids in my neighbourhood were. What’s more, lots of them have pretty good relationships with their parents. Bad relationships between young adults and their parents were pretty common in my day.

At the same time I’m also convinced that today’s families face some challenges that weren’t there in the past: increased stress in kids, increased stress in parents, busier lives, more complicated family relationships resulting from divorce and separation and less connection to extended family and neighbours.

So let’s cut today’s parents some slack and help them out rather than being holier than thou critics.

But you know what? The trashing will continue. So do yourself a favour. Don’t read those parent-negative books and articles. Just focus on what your family needs, take care of yourself and try to enjoy your kids. And try to surround yourself with supportive, helpful people rather than critics. That will do more to help you parent well than listening to people who can only bother to tell you all the things you’re supposedly doing wrong.

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