When you Google search: “latest trends in parenting,” over nine million results will appear in 0,36 seconds. By the time you finish reading all tips and tricks, or at least browse through 2016, 2017, and predictions for 2018, your child might end up celebrating his or her 18th birthday party in a sordid pub, surrounded by shady friends, making you wonder what went wrong with your parenting.
But why do parents today compulsively seek updates on parenting? People have been raising their kids for tens of thousands of years, and a nearly overpopulated Earth is proof that something was done right. Why do we need now such drastically designed and planned out guidance from experts at every step? It seems that parenting shifted from the basic definition of “the raising of a child by its parents,” towards a cult-like version, characterised by a lot of do's and don'ts, experts, theories, rules, and, worse – laws regulating what a family should be?
The promise of a calm parent and a smiling child that are both doing “the right thing” (eat more broccoli, watch less TV, for example) is tempting. But it is as unrealistic and as frustrating as a law stipulating that a family is made up only by a married couple, a man and woman. A horrid legislating initiative is in process of being approved in one of the EU´s countries, to stipulate a new definition for family, namely “a union between a man and a woman.” Beyond the crass backwardness of this project, aiming specifically at same-sex marriage, the consequences of such initiatives are felt by parents as well. When a single parent and a child are not enough to be called a family, and when two loving adults and a child are refused equal rights, something went really wrong.
Parenting has always been a cultural thing: kids are raised differently depending on the countries they are born in, and this is neither good nor bad, but just different. Mei-Ling Hopgood made a tour of global parenting practices that resulted in a wonderful book. How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is about how other cultures approach the challenges all parents face: bedtimes, potty training, feeding, teaching, and more. Children are perfectly happy (and rested) in Spain, for example, where they go to sleep almost at midnight, because they join their parents when getting out for late dinners. In Scandinavian countries, the habit is to put children to sleep at 7pm. Kenyan mothers keeping their babies in colourful cloth slings have become an example for carrying children all around the world. They do this, “not only as part of their cultural heritage, but [because] strollers seem outright silly on Nairobi’s chaotic sidewalks.”
If there is “more than one way to diaper a baby,” how could we be so reductive and claim that there is one perfect way of parenting? The latest trends have made out of parenting a cult in which parents are united by the same views, convictions, and habits, and by a strange promise: only by doing this will your child be happy. A parent who wants the best for their kids will try to meet these expectations. This drags in anxiety, stress, disappointment. When the cult of perfect and happy parents starts to produce more and more unhappy collateral victims, a lot of them just quit the “club.” Once relieved from the burden of being perfect, they start to accept themselves as what they are: good enough.
A breath of fresh air and a coming down to some fairly simple truths can stop the agitated over-consumption of these ready-made parenting recipes. Regardless of who raises them or where they grow up, children need love, kindness, play, and to know that they are important and they matter. Any legislative body should only intervene to regulate these.
Words: Joe Popov
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu
Cover image: Mrs. Peggy Johnson dresses daughter Antoinette, four, other children, 1946 by Morris Engel.