Why parenting is harder today than ever before, says Maggie Dent

Kinderling News & Features

The very essence of our daily parenting tasks haven’t changed very much since our own parents raised us, right? Getting kids dressed, out the door, making sure they’re eating they’re veggies. Have these basic tenants of parenting really changed all that much over the years?

Maggie Dent believes parenting is way harder today. She’s a parenting educator and author, with four grown boys of her own, and she shares how things have changed from her early days as a mum, to now.

The pressure to be perfect is stressing us out

Maggie believes that aspects of social media has contributed to an idea of perfect parenting, which isn’t a good thing. “It gets distorted because we don't put enough of the crappy moments up,” she says. “That puts pressure on parents and particularly mummies for the developmentally normal behaviours. They kind of see it through the lens of 'I must be doing something wrong'.”

She’s had parents say that they lay awake at night, re-running the day through their mind to check for parenting mistakes. Of course, kids have always had tantrums, but in generations gone by parents weren’t beating themselves up for such things, like many do today.

“It just becomes this kind of addictive pattern around us that if I don't know what's going on, I'm failing my children as a mother,” Maggie explains. “It’s the compare and despair.”

Information overload

The Internet has given as a lot, both good and bad. Access to an unlimited amount of information has both its pros and cons. “You can access with a tiny weeny flick of your finger all sorts of sites that have the developmental markers for what your child could be doing or should be. And we take those far too personally,” Maggie says. “Every single decision that you tend to make is clouded and influenced by all these other ones. I think it disempowers us, the people who know our children the best.”

We become less able to trust themselves, so Maggie suggests that you talk about what you see online with your partner and girlfriends, and not keep it bottled up inside.

“What we do is we look for a perfect solution to something that's imperfect and there isn't one.”

Instead, Maggie suggests that we look at our child and be really present with them. Consider what is happening in their world, what needs aren’t yet met in that moment, and think about what you can give them then and there.

“No parenting book has ever been written about your child. You are the best person to make the choices about your child.”

24-hour news cycle

Along with the Internet comes 24/7 news. “The world is faster. We are so much more. We do not have the spaces where we are uncontactable” Maggie begins.

So, while terrible things happened in the world previously, previous generations of parents weren’t glued to the screen, or constantly notified by an alert when something horrific happened. They would only see news if they purposefully sat down to listen to or watch the evening news.

“I was oblivious to the horrible things that were happening in our world [when I was growing up] and now they're on our news cycles all day on massive screens, scaring the heck out of all of us,” Maggie reflects.

As a result, Maggie suspects that every grown adult is now running with heightened nervous system bundled with stress and anxiety, leading to a constant worry about family safety.

We do too much, too fast

Maggie remembers the days where families didn’t do much. Today there’s the impression that if you’re not busy, you’re failing. There’s pressure to exercise every day, keep your careers going, have the perfect house.

“This is what the modern world does. We're in a hurry,” Maggie notes. “At the end of the day I just think we need to all calm down a little and slow childhood down as much as we can up to age seven.”

Know that there’s plenty of time, and you can be and most anything – just not all at once.

Everything is a competition

One of the unintended side of effects of broad testing like NAPLAN is that we focus on how smart our kids are from an extremely early age. There’s this burden to get them into the best early childhood centre so they learn enough, so they’re smart enough, so they do well in NAPLAN in Year 3.

“Every single child is a unique blend of all sorts of things,” Maggie says. Each child has their own strengths, which may not necessarily be in their schooling.

So, is there hope for modern parents?

Of course! Maggie says there are two things to do.

1. Unplug a little. Make sure your child has the basics to thrive. “Have they got that loving people who love them? Are they living in a world that's an environment where they are reasonably safe? Are they being fed?” Maggie asks. Then they will grow in their capacity to become authentic human beings.

2. Celebrate good enough, imperfect parenting. And you WILL enjoy yourself more! When we’re stressed we lose our sense of humour. 

Instead, Maggie suggests that we “embrace imperfection because this is how our children learn about life. Embrace sibling rivalry it's a great opportunity you develop social and emotional awareness. Embrace burnt dinners. Embrace you know those moments we slam doors and get crabby at ourselves and our children, because that's how they're going to learn that people can still love us when we have those moments in our lives. It's not bad. It just 'is'. And 'is' is okay.”