07 June 2010

The myth of perfect childrearing

Why do toddlers seem more difficult today than they did 50 years ago? With better health services, and homes full of time-saving devices, surely things should be getting easier.


Why do toddlers seem more difficult today than they did 50 years ago? After all, most of the dread diseases which terrified earlier generations are under control, and homes are filled with all sorts of things which are supposed to make our lives easier.

Well, the fact is children are no worse behaved today than they were in the past. However, it’s more difficult to rear children today for two main reasons.

  • Firstly, most families suffer because they have lost the support of the extended family – granny is no longer live-in help.
  • Secondly, competition and unrealistically high expectations of our children and ourselves cause both unhappiness and loss of discipline.

So how to deal with the difficulty? Here are five caveats that will make you think carefully – and then, most importantly, relax:

  • Beware the media-generated myths

Look at a glossy women’s magazine, and chances are you will feel that the typical woman featured needs a career, a husband, children, a home, jewels, clothes, excitement and travel. And men’s magazines would have you believe a man has a woman like that in the background making parenting a cinch!

There is no perfect child-rearing method! Nothing is perfect, especially not soap opera stars who seem to bring up children with no apparent effort at all. (Actually, maybe they don’t actually bring up their children so much as let them loose). Don’t ever believe the role of being a good parent is unexciting and lacklustre and not at all what real life is about.

  • Beware of learned authors

Teach your child to read by the age of four; The Joys of Breastfeeding; Perfect Families – all these titles have in common is they are making a false sale.

Imagine an owner’s manual for a baby: “Around the age of six weeks, the night feed will miraculously stop, leaving unbroken sleep thereafter.” Ha!

Books like these make no allowance for the child who hates books all his life; or for the mother who has no desire to breastfeed until her child goes to high school; or for those families who battle to find happiness for any of a variety of reasons.

Books that set unattainably high goals should be reclassified as fiction. Life is tough enough without someone making us feel as if we are second-rate!

  • Beware helpful advice

This is the only thing in life which is truly free. Some of it may be sound, but much will be misguided, inaccurate or merely provided to highlight the superiority of the giver.
Don’t listen to self-righteous condemnation – the largest part of behaviour and personality is in genes and luck of the draw, rather than exemplary parenting!

  • Beware the competition of pre-school and playgroup

“Please note that your child is failing at cutting out with scissors.” If your child is three-and-a-half when you get that note from the pre-school, relax! Your child is not a performing dog, to be exhibited for her skills picked up in an environment which may well be intimidating.

  • Beware the ‘helping professionals’

Some paediatricians and other professionals are still steeped in the 1950s and 1960s. Most others are only human.

If you are going to make use of professional help, choose you professional well. Watch out for those who suggest there is a “right” way to bring up your child, and those who suggest you will damage your child psychologically if you don’t follow their advice. Rather find someone who seems to share your life values, and accept that he or she will need to feel a way into dealing with you, your child and your relationship.

There is no absolutely right way of bringing up children, although some ways may be less wrong than others. The way that feels right and works for you has to be the best.

(Ilse Pauw, Health24)


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