Updated: Mar 8
✦ Parenting 101 - wouldn't we all love to have an instruction manual we could just follow to know what's the 'right' thing to do when we become parents?
Bridgette and Veronica with their granddaughter, Victoria in Luxembourg
Let's face it. It's tough being a parent.
There's no need to sugarcoat here. You don't get to go to school to learn or train how to be a parent. Pilots train to fly a plane and get everyone safely from one place to another. Doctors spend years poring over books and hours practising and learning how to help people who are sick. But to become a parent? There's no Parenting 101 or Proficiency Parenting courses we can take.
You can read all the books available on parenting and when you're faced with your toddler having a meltdown you still feel frustrated and guilty (yes, those two emotions can actually go together). There are tons of books about pregnancies and preparing for the big arrival. And we diligently apply ourselves to becoming the expert on this stage of becoming a parent. But somehow once the child arrives, perhaps there's too much going on, but it is not as common for parents to pore over books to learn 365 Mantras for Managing Meltdowns with Terrible Twos or How Not to Scream When Teenagers Push Too Many Buttons.
You just... get busy surviving being a parent.
So to all parents out there, know that you are not alone, and that we recognise Modern Day Parenting can feel arduous and stressful.
It doesn't end when you become a grandmother
I recently visited my granddaughter in Luxembourg and landed to a very different parenting experience which got me thinking about parenting styles and how one can never really know what is the 'right' thing to do. Parenting styles are different not just across generations but also across countries and culture.
It had been a long wait to finally meet my granddaughter, and now that travel restrictions have been lifted, I was raring to pack my bag and jet set my way to meeting Victoria. After a gruelling journey all the way from Australia through several countries and battling long flights, COVID tests and lost baggage, I finally got to meet our latest precious member to the family.
We all have expectations of what it would be or feel like when meeting our grandchildren for the first time, and yes it was magical and totally worth all the travel misadventures, but what I was not prepared for was how unsure I actually was about parenting. Thing is, just because you become a grandparent does not mean you have been awarded a promotion or a PhD in Parenting. If anything, I found myself even more confused about what parenting really is about!
I'm sure some of you have struggled over these questions:
Do I pick up the baby if she's crying?
How long should I let her cry before picking her up?
Do I put her down the minute she stops crying?
Am I hugging her too much, too long, too often?
Is ignoring a fussy baby going to emotionally hurt them?
Is pampering a fussy baby going to emotionally hurt them?
Why can't I feed her the things I used to feed my own daughter?
and the biggest question is... OMG... am I a bad mother / father?
... and the list goes on and on. You get the idea.
Many of us look back to our own childhoods as a point of reference as to how to parent. But our children are growing up in a totally different generation and there just isn't a template for how to parent in this present environment.
So as parents we are caught in this strange, eternal twilight zone between two worlds - the traditional and the modern. I thought I'd shine a brilliant light on these two seemingly opposing ways of parenting and see what I can discover about this elusive thing called parenting which seems so impossible to ever get right!
Keywords: Authoritarian. Discipline. NO.
Main aim: The parent is the authority figure here. They teach children skills, manners, values that will allow them to become responsible adults who will in turn become useful members of society and contribute to their families.
Characteristics of children: They have good manners, have been 'well-taught' by their parents, behave really well, understand school and education are important. They get good grades and collect accomplishments in various areas of their lives. As adults, they are dependable, reliable and have good work ethics.
Style: It is a very practical way of parenting, where the focus is on the long term and the benefit of the greater good. Many may be familiar with the philosophy of "You need to study hard now so you can get a good job in the future."
Parents are more likely to exert power and authority over the children who are expected to be obedient and responsible.
In this style, parents impose more restrictions and boundaries and say no a lot more. And a NO in traditional parenting is a complete sentence. There is no room for negotiation. Discipline is strict and resistance is futile.
The values and belief systems of the family are also important here. Children are expected to behave according to these values. Children learn to abide by rules at an early age and they learn the consequences of not following rules as well.
Tantrums, meltdowns and disrespect have no place here. And like an ever reliable mathematical equation, every action has its consequences.
Downside: This makes the role of the parent the 'bad guy' where everything is rigid, inflexible, disciplinarian and lacking in ease and affection. It is tiring for the parent to constantly put on an 'armour' and set strict boundaries, sometimes to the point of disconnecting and pushing the child away in the name of punishment and education. Spare the rod and spoil the child is what parents fear in this style.
Children growing up in this style learn a fear of authority figures, some become timid and withdrawn and have difficulty socialising. Others can go to the other extreme and become rebellious, driven by fear and anger. Children do not have the chance to fully develop a sense of self in a safe, loving and healthy environment, because their point of reference is always an authority figure in the family. They constantly seek approval and base their behaviours on how others react.
Keywords: Customised. Nurturing. Permissive.
Main aim: Mental health is not some trend here - it's a vital part of modern parenting. It is a more nurturing approach that respects each child's individual talents, preferences and needs. You could say that it is customised to how every child is. Modern parenting is aiming to raise children who are confident and who can trust in their own abilities and self-worth.
Modern parenting is not so hung up on scoring grades and achievements. It takes on a more all-encompassing approach and recognises the child´s unique skills and tries to build up on that so they can find their place in the world and be able to fit in as well as contribute.
Characteristics of children: Children who grow up under this style of parenting have a stronger sense of individuality, confidence and are more trusting of their own abilities to take on the real world. They are less likely to be socially awkward.
Style: Parents are very involved in this style. They are not so rigid with rules and boundaries and are able to see another way of approaching a situation or trying to understand why a child behaves the way they do. This style encourages children to respect (and trust) the authority figures as opposed to fearing them. Children are encouraged to explore, play, try different things. Punishment is not the modern parenting cup of tea - it's not about punishing, threatening or shaming a child for not doing something. It's about rewarding them when they do, and finding ways to get them interested.
Downside: As is often said, balance is key to everything. Zero discipline leads to an overly permissive parenting style. You do not want to have the child to lead you by the nose and become the boss of the house where they can do anything they want. In the long run, this actually hurts the child because they are unable to cope in the real world where life is very often unfair and comes with its challenges. They are unable to deal with rejection and lack the resilience to push through difficult periods.
Obsessing over every single thing the child does leads to being too involved which can feel suffocating to the child (and maybe to the parent if they cannot cope). This is what is commonly known as helicopter parenting. Over control is not love, and it is harmful to the child who may act out with tantrums and meltdowns.
For a comparison of the differences between traditional and modern parenting, check out this table here.
So now what?
There is no one style that is perfect and the easy solution to parenting. If you look at nature, species evolve by selecting the strongest and healthiest traits and passing them on to the next generation. So perhaps that is what we can do when it comes to parenting styles. Be selective and be prepared to adapt with each generation and agreeing with what my son-in-law says, "Adapt with each child as everyone is different."
Parents with more than one child can attest to how frustrating it is that the blueprint that worked like magic with their first child rarely works for the second or the third. It's back to the drawing board with each child. There is no one-size-fits-all parenting here.
From the day you first meet your child to the day you see them get married and have their own kids, you will always have doubts about your parenting choices and decisions.
We all want to be the best parents to our children, and that can cause a lot of stress if we focus too much on that. It can make us forget that here is a little person who is seeking and needs an emotional connection with us.
This little person is not here to judge how we fare as parents. This little person just wants to BE with us. We are human BEINGS. Not human doings.
Perhaps a much more realistic and far kinder approach is to aim to be a Good Enough Parent. We do our best, and that's enough. At some point when we grow up, we can all look back and understand why our parents behaved as they did and made the choices they made. Our children will do the same with us.
What is true is the world continues to change and we have to keep up with parenting differently. Parenting Version 0.1 may no longer be compatible with our world now. We need to update, reboot, refresh and go for Version 4.5. We are also getting more awareness and knowledge which we can wisely apply in appropriate doses to help make our parenting more manageable.
Many countries and companies are also doing their part to step in to help parents. Especially with modern parenting, more attention is focused on the child, and we are seeing an increase in maternity and paternity leave and government support for families.
Bulgaria for example, is leading the way in being the country with the most generous maternity leave. Mothers get 410 days of maternity leave in a phased approach. This is funded at nearly full pay, and social security covers 90% of the salary. Learn more about which are the 5 countries with the best maternity leave here.
Loved as I Am
Being with my granddaughter and listening respectfully to what my daughter and her husband think about parenting, as well as to what her husband's parents think has given me a new way of looking at parenting. Yes, it was uncomfortable feeling unsure and lost, and I also know that regardless of the parenting style, Victoria is growing up in a loving environment with so many adults who love her and want the best for her. I trust Victoria loves me anyway, right here right now as I am (babies and children do not obsess and worry about the future!), however I (grand)parent. I am a Good Enough Grandmother, and I am proud of my daughter for being a Good Enough Mother, and I hope she enjoys her motherhood as I have enjoyed mine.
For a 'job' that does not offer year-end bonuses, promotions, recognition or a tidy early-retirement package, parenting is an experience that is ultimately as much about your own growth and development as that of your child.
To our readers who are parents, tell us about your parenting experiences and share the kindest advice you've received or learnt that helped you cope with difficult moments. It is in our shared experiences that we all come to realise we are simply humans trying to do our best.
I wish all Mums a very Happy Mother's Day. You've done well, very well.
As the poet Kahlil Gibran famously said in his poem On Children:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you...
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth...
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
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