Parents used to have children for practical purposes: to help out around the home or in the workplace, and to care for their parents in old age. Previous generations of parents didn’t feel they needed to expend much thought or energy on child rearing. Modern parenting is very different: alongside increased employer expectations, comes pressure to make family life more child-centred.
Maintaining a holistic approach to child rearing: –
- Is it possible to improve on your parents’ child rearing methods or just to make different mistakes?
It’s easy for each generation to criticise the previous one and to be determined never to make the same errors.
A – ‘My parents didn’t understand peer group pressure. I had cheap trainers and all my friends had Adidas. My children will never suffer that sort of embarrassment.’
But will the children be spoilt and come to expect to receive whatever they ask for?
B – ‘My parents never complained to the school. There was a teaching assistant who picked on me, but they just told me to stay out of her way. I’m going to speak up for my children.’
But will children learn how to deal with difficult individuals when parents constantly intervene on their behalf? It is an unfortunate fact of life that other people will dislike you for no apparent reason.
- Do you want to get on or off the roundabout?
Parents will fight to get their child to the top of the academic tree: a good school, extra tutoring to access top sets and additional music, drama and swimming lessons to ensure a broad and balanced CV. They will be delighted with their children’s exam results, their entry into a top university, recruitment into a prestigious company, their fast promotion and additional responsibilities at work. But is this really the sort of existence that parents want for their children?
- Don’t be afraid to tell children it will do them good to do things they don’t want to do.
Adult life is often like a long and unpleasant piece of school homework: cleaning a dirty oven, enduring a weekend with your partner’s irritating friends, getting up at the crack of dawn for the long commute to work. Sometimes children need to be told to, as Nike would say, ‘Just Do It’.
- Encourage children to be content.
Try to avoid saying things like: ‘You’ll enjoy school more next year when you’re in Mrs Walker’s class.’ ‘You’ll love it when you’re in Year 9 and can drop French.’ ‘Wait until you get to university; you’ll have so many friends.’
In later life, the child may continue to chase this elusive Never-Never Land: ‘I’ll be happy when I’m married’, or ‘I’ll be so much happier when my divorce comes through.’ ‘If I could get that job, I’d be happy’, or ‘I can’t wait to retire.’
- As a parent, you don’t always have to be patient and considerate.
Let the child see your dark side occasionally. This will help them to realise that none of us are perfect. Children and parents need to be accepted as they are with all their faults and foibles, rather than judged against some unrealistic ideal.
- Pick your battles, always keeping an eye on the overview.
Don’t fret over fussy eating, an imaginary friend, a refusal to wear socks, or an irrational fear of rabbits. It is best to accept and accommodate this sort of behaviour and not make a fuss. The majority of children will grow out of such habits.
- Set the bar at a realistic height.
Your child is not spectacularly exceptional, and you will make their lives easier if you don’t tell them that they are. To improve children’s confidence, don’t build them up; be realistic about everyone else. Explain that we all: the Prime Minister, the Queen, Spider-Man, Gareth Southgate, headteachers and celebrities, feel misunderstood, vulnerable, embarrassed, anxious, awkward and frightened sometimes. No-one is better than anyone else: everyone is just doing the best they can.
- Accept that children seldom listen to advice.
It would save so much time and angst if children listened to the advice of their elders, but this is unlikely to happen and children will have to learn from personal experience.
Every generation is different. Every generation has different concerns, perspectives and norms. Parental advice to children, (and vice-versa), will rarely be appropriate to the situation.
‘As the present now, will later be past; the order is rapidly fading. And the first one now, will later be last, for the times they are a changing.’
‘The Times They Are (Always) a-Changin.’ Bob Dylan. (1963)