Maternal one-upmanship is exhausting. So why don't we simply step off the hyper-parenting merry-go-round?
Raising children is a privilege, a responsibility and mostly a joy (that is, in between the nits, the slime and the thumps). But we now live in a world where parenting has become an Olympic sport. So how did we get so consumed with what it means to be a parent? And when did perfect offspring trump happy, chaotic homes?
There has never been more pressure to be a superwoman — to have four (yes, four) well-behaved, sporty, smart and neat children; a fabulous home; be trim with the right clothes (not too mumsy, mind) be involved in the PTA; have a flexible, respectable career and still stay on top of playdates. Oh, and no stretch marks.
The FOMO is intense. “Not doing tennis yet? Poor Harry, he might not make the team in 4th class in that case.” “Yes, Ava is doing ballet, jazz, drama and hockey, and that’s just on Tuesdays.” In the snake-and-ladders game of life, the parents are gilding the ladders, killing the snakes, and rigging the dice in favour of their children.
Pressure, pressure, pressure is all around. But is it Keeping up with the Joneses syndrome or is our always-on culture affecting how we parent?
I look at the up-turned chairs, the food on the floor, the bedraggled children, the roots that need doing, and part of me feels overwhelming guilt. The other part forces perspective; their muddy mess is a sign of curiosity, of fun and of exploration.
The sports and activities that I’ve chosen to pursue with my kids are based on what they enjoy doing (even if they can barely do a handstand after two years of gymnastics). Are we offering them these things to give them an advantage, add happiness to their lives, or to tick them off an invisible list we then compare with other mums over coffee?
Being confident is important, of course. But have we become obsessed with feeding our children with undeserved praise for every tiny thing they do? At the school sports day last year, a little girl missed out on a medal. She was, naturally, devastated.
After a few years of everyone being awarded prizes (or points), the girls had now graduated on to the more senior competitive races — a natural learning curve in a world where we have to accept disappointment, merit-based achievement and the humility of losing.
Her mother was equally devastated. As she shepherded her sobbing 11-year-old off the sports field, she reassured her that she’d buy her her very own medal that day. “Don’t you worry,” she crooned. “Mummy is going to fix this.”
“Our hyper-parenting has disorientated us so much that we are caring about the wrong things too much, and the right things too little”.
Instant gratification. Easy rewards. Perfection. Sweeping away all the problems. This was a lesson in how to raise a future snowflake.
Not everyone likes that word. But the side-effects of hyper-parenting have created a bubble for our children where they are being primed for a world where they have little resilience.
We don’t let our school-age children walk to school, yet we allow them unfettered access to the internet. Our hyper-parenting has disorientated us so much that we are caring about the wrong things too much, and the right things too little.
It is easy to get caught up in. I’ve sat at book club with some of the mums and mentally vowed to get my son or daughter into some activity they are all raving about. Of course, I want to see my children succeed. My ear is always to the ground, and I’ve gotten some great tips and advice over the years, both of which have benefited them in many aspects.
But… the motivation has to be right. I sometimes have to catch myself and ensure I’m using common sense instead of getting caught up in this crazy world of parenting perfection with our perfect children accessories.
Being a mum these days is very different to how we were raised. The rise of social media and the slew of “parenting experts” means that parenting is a competitive sport.
Being a great parent involves using instinct, trusting yourself and filtering those other voices. It is not about outright bans on sugar or video games or TV. It’s about finding the balance.
It is about not being afraid to put yourself first sometimes and letting them figure a few things out for themselves — even if it ends up being the messiest way.
Image via Unsplash.com. This article was originally published in August 2022.