My husband, Jason, and I are constantly bemoaning the lack of respect shown to us by our kids. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “I never once spoke to my parents the way you speak to me”, I would be rich! But was I more respectful or did I grow up when family hierarchy was more dictatorship than democracy? All I know is that comparing our own childhoods with our children’s is unhelpful. We idealise our own childhoods and my husband and I hero-worship our parents’ style of parenting. But we aren’t our parents and our children aren’t us, so to long for something unattainable just adds pressure to the mix.
Parenting has always been hard. All parents face the same dilemmas with children – sleeplessness, separation anxiety, friendship dramas, puberty, boundary pushing, rebelliousness, illness and their relationships with others. To be a parent has always been to worry, to struggle, to feel frustrated, to fail, to love beyond what seemed possible.
And while I know that parents throughout time have faced these struggles, I also know that being a good parent in the 21st century is hard ‒ and I’m not even going to broach the minefield of the internet.
Jason and I have three kids – 12, 10 and 6. We love them; sometimes we even like them. If you met them I am sure you’d find them personable, engaging and fun ‒ and they are. We are proud of them.
But like their peers, they have a PhD in how to push their parents’ buttons. They also know exactly how to get each other fired up and seem intent on doing these things when we are particularly tired or stressed!
We spend a lot of time wishing we were better parents. The pressure can be debilitating, but it’s pressure we put on ourselves. I don’t want to yell and scream, but I do yell and scream. I don’t want to lose my cool but I do. I want to get down to their eye level and reason with them when they are angry and frustrated, but the twelve-year-old is taller than I am and the others usually stomp off before I can attempt such a caring manoeuvre!
We also have unrealistic expectations of our children. We think that they can be cognisant of our moods and dilemmas and stress; that they will be as attuned to us as we are to them. We think that they might look around the house and think, “Oh dear, the floor hasn’t been cleaned for a while, where’s that mop?” They’re never going to do that. They’re supposed to be self-absorbed. They’re supposed to enjoy their childhoods, unencumbered by adult problems. I didn’t help out all that much around the house when I was young. But because I am so busy now I have extra expectations of them. I’m just looking for someone to help and annoyed because I can’t clone myself or at least employ a chef/cleaner/nanny. Our kids will eventually be parents themselves – yes!
So yes, we live busy lives now and perhaps we can’t help but crave a simplicity that seems as elusive as winning Lotto. But we would be much happier as parents if we could just relax and let go of rueful comparisons and high expectations. Yes, we should insist on respect, boundaries and kindness and there is no doubt that our children need to be helpful members of our families and understand the consequences of their actions. Achieving that balance is surely the Holy Grail of parenting.
Our present reality though is characterised by juggling too many balls. It’s no wonder that we rarely get through a day without some drama. Mornings are fraught with indecision about breakfast choices, unrealistic hairstyle requests and at least one fight about who did what to whom. It’s the evenings that really destroy my husband and me and more often than not lead to conflict. I’m going to blame daylight saving, going back to school, sporting endeavours and the fact that three nights a week I don’t even get home until six o’clock ‒ but really, the lack of routine is our downfall. I’m sure you can picture it – snide remarks, not staying in bed after lights out; the list goes on. And of course, it’s bedtime when they want to express their deepest thoughts and feelings. So tensions are high, everyone is tired, parents still have many tasks and sometimes the fuse catches alight. So going to bed exhausted, worried and questioning your own parenting skills (or lack thereof) is common.
But no matter how disappointed we are, the next morning Jason and I get up and try again. And no matter how angry and upset our kids might be the previous evening, the next morning the first thing they want is a hug. We love each other, no matter what. And there is tremendous hope in that.