The pressure on parents these days is something we do a lot of hand-wringing about. However, that doesn’t seem to stop people making value judgments on our choices. When you have young kids, it can feel like you’re constantly being scrutinised. The ‘kids these days...’ refrain is never far from our ears.
The rhetoric changes somewhat from generation to generation. When I was a kid, the moral panic concerned video games and video nasties. Now our kids are picked on for being glued to their screens and dawdling indoors in the loving glow of their tablet or computer.
So much annoying commentary begins with ‘in my day...’ and it often feels like you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. There’s an older generation that seems to bemoan us having delegated the parenting duties to devices, while also implying that our high-strung helicopter parenting is stifling the kids.
“In my day... we played in the fields from dawn until dusk,” they say.
Well, hun, in OUR day that would be considered, at best, negligent and, at worst, downright dangerous.
The irony is, of course, that statistically speaking, it is extremely unlikely a child will be snatched by a stranger. In her incredible book, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, Kim Brooks breaks down the myth of the stranger in the white van that haunts our culture. She writes that it would “likely take 750,000 years for a child left alone in a public space to be snatched by a stranger”.
In a world where the twin spectres of child abuse and missing children are ever-present, the maligned screen time can, ironically, feel like the safer option. So much of the ‘in my day’ narrative is infuriatingly simplistic. It puts our reliance on screens to babysit our children down to parental laziness — instead of a product of the rigged system in which we’re all living.
‘In my day’-ers don’t seem to grasp that their ‘day’ was different in more ways than just the absence of technology.
In their day, a family could hope to subsist on a single income. They could hope to own their home. They could hope to have significant community support in raising their children.
During Covid, when childcare and schools were shut down but our jobs kept on going, my friends and I joked about YouTube being the third parent who stepped into the breach.
But to be honest, trying to send work emails from the bathroom while my three kids hammered at the door wasn’t a million miles from my pre-pandemic life. That’s the pressure working parents are usually under — so it’s a particularly bitter pill to swallow when someone start lecturing us on how we’re letting our kids down because they’re on their screens too much, or not getting enough physical exercise, or not doing enough extra-curricular activities.
I bring my kids to swimming classes every weekend, and they have piano lessons during the week, and still I worry that I’m not doing enough with them.
I’ve tried in vain to do more, to get them into sports — but they just don’t like it. And I feel that trying to force something will only make them more resistant at some point.
On weekends, when I’ve packed in more edifying diversions, I worry if my aggressively marching them from one activity to another is kind of negating the whole enterprise. I’m so stressed trying to get them ready and out the door that the stress couldn’t NOT be leaking into their day too. Perhaps our kids are becoming as over-scheduled and overloaded as their parents?
And the extra-curricular thing can feel a bit like another rat race — a rat race that’s deeply unfair, as many of these activities are reserved for those who can afford it. Often I think it would be better if all these extra-curriculars were just curricular. As we know, education is about more than academics.
As I wear myself out cajoling them all weekend, and bouncing them from one obligation to another in the pursuit of betterment, I worry that it’s all just a way of alleviating my own guilt and anxiety about never doing enough.
Plus, if I’m wrecked from the sheer angst of it all, maybe they are too? By the end of the day, they’re probably shattered, and are craving exactly the same thing I am — a bit of relaxing TV.
And so, the circle of parental life is complete.