Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Insanity of Parenting: Have You Seen the Job Description?

Wanted: Devoted Caregiver.
Hours: 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for approximately 18 to 20 years.
On Call Duty: For the rest of your life.
Working Conditions: Must be able to endure severe sleep deprivation, strong smells, stressful situations, and loud unpleasant noises.
Pay: No monetary compensation, considerable long-term expenses for the job holder.

Given the stress, expense, and challenges of parenting, it is a wonder that so many of us choose to take on this important job. Amazingly, many of us are crazy enough to become parents over and over again! Obviously, there are many rewards that come from parenting. Ask most parents, especially after they have caught up on a little sleep, and they will tell you that the wide-eyed wonder in their children’s eyes and the connection and love they feel for their children make it all worthwhile. In North America, our culture is filled with movies, television shows, commercials, and holidays celebrating the special role that parents play in their children’s lives. Yet, I imagine that contemporary mothers and fathers watching those portrayals of families in old shows and commercials must think that parenting is a lot tougher now than it used to be. I, for one, would have to agree.

Where is that “Village?”

While we’ve all heard that old adage “it takes a village to raise a child,” very few of today’s parents have anything like a village to turn to when things get tough. More often, new parents are isolated from family, friends, neighbors, and sometimes even from each other. In today’s society, there are few grandmothers who can come and sit with the baby while mom takes a nap or dad makes something to eat. Instead, parents who already are physically drained by the birth experience and sleep deprivation, are on their own in caring for their babies. Overwhelmed by the time and effort needed to care for the baby, both parents wonder why the other can’t do more to help. Parents who are lucky enough to have a job in this economy find that they have to return to work very early in their children’s lives. Some, especially fathers, have no time off at all. No wonder the scientific literature is filled with studies of how overwhelmed, isolated, and tired new parents feel.

Raising a Perfect Child in the Information Age

It is hard to imagine but the explosion in the use of the internet is less than a decade old. With “smart phones,” broadband connections, and Wi-Fi everywhere, parents are virtually surrounded by an army of parenting experts full of contradicting “truths” along with tragic stories about children whose parents didn’t follow their advice. With so much research on child development, it seems it should now be possible to raise a “perfect” child by following all the rules that recent science provides. Instincts and feelings, relied upon by so many previous generations (including my own), may seem to be old-fashioned or even primitive in today’s information-saturated world. Fearing making mistakes that might scar their babies, today’s parents struggle with day-to-day decisions and many live with constant guilt.

Parenting is both terribly hard and tremendously rewarding. Through parenting, many of us gain a sense of purpose and reach levels of intimacy with our children, partners, and families that we never dreamed possible. We take pride in and love our children, yet many of us struggle to meet our other responsibilities fearing that we aren’t doing enough in any of the roles we play. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more about what is known about parents’ roles in shaping their children’s lives. Next time, we’ll help you identify characteristics in your own child that can help you better understand his unique nature and how these characteristics influence his relationship with you and others. Through understanding more about your baby and your relationship with him, we hope that some of the stress you’re enduring can be reduced. Given the barrage of information that you’re already getting, we’ll make sure to keep the posts straightforward and concise. We've been focused on babies since we began our blog. Now, it's time to widen our perspective to include babies' hardworking parents too.

Next time: Babies with Personality! How Temperament Influences Babies' Relationships

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