It seems to me that the challenges of parenting are more daunting these days than they were in years past.

Post WWII parents read Dr. Spock’s books on child care and parenting and followed his every word. Today there is no one person offering advice but hundreds offering conflicting “words of wisdom.” You can find them on the internet, in magazine articles, in books, on television, radio and in your daily newspapers. The problem is that too many are pointing fingers in opposite directions.
Some say that if you give children everything they want, you’re not teaching them good values. Others say that deprivation never taught anything positive and that a child can’t ever be spoiled or loved too much.

If you cook healthy meals that your children refuse to eat and you send them to bed hungry, some consider you to be heartless. Others believe children should eat whatever they feel like eating and if they don’t want to eat no fuss should be made.
If parents insist on good manners and their children exemplify what they’re being taught, their children may also be singled out by others as being “goody two shoes” and still worse might fall prey to schoolyard bullies. Also, if your child happens to be one of the bullies, you will be judged for not teaching compassion and for creating the little monsters they appear to be.

Then, too, if you happen to be a single parent trying to make ends meet, always having to make sacrifices for yourself and your children, you will either be admired, judged harshly or feel too tired to care about what others think, including your children. So, what are parents to do? How are they able to create a balanced life when they feel pulled in so many directions and have so many responsibilities?

Without even addressing the demands felt by parents who may be ill or care-taking a spouse or tending to parents of their own who are ill, the challenges confronting parents today are real and often daunting. The vast majority of parents of young children are those in their 30’s and 40’s who are doing their best to keep their families in tact and offer their children a “good life.” More to the point, I believe that what defines a good life in 2010 is very different from what defined it in the past.

Of course LOVE and COMMITMENT have to be a part of the equation in any era. Without
those ingredients everyone loses. Yet, even the most well-intentioned parents these days seem to be so stressed that few take the time or have the energy to express their love beyond doing what’s necessary to feed and clothe their children. Even fewer find adult time just for themselves to appreciate the simple things in life and gain new energy to move forward as adults and as parents.

Perhaps much of the challenge as well as the problems boil down to priorities. If it’s easier
to have kids sit in front of a TV or play computer games while a parent cooks or cleans house or does business at home, then all too often that becomes a way of life for their children and not just an hour to be passively involved, sitting still. Also, if parents encourage or permit competition to be the name of the game then little girls studying dance will all want to be the best ballerina and will be devastated when they’re told that they are not. Boys who are heavy into sports will then always need to be on the winning team or become the winner for their team and when they’re not, their world collapses. And while it’s natural and sometimes even healthy to be competitive, it’s the degree to which competition is the motivating factor that will affect the life of any child. Perhaps we’ll begin to find solutions when we explore what happened in the days when boys played stick ball in the streets, girls jumped rope and everyone felt delighted simply to “play” with friends.

Also, in an age when so many adult children don’t leave home after completing high school or move back home after graduating from college or graduate school, what guidelines do parents of adult children follow? When the children were toddlers, it was natural for parents to pick up all the pieces of the puzzle left on the floor after play-time. Yet, with adult children, what do parents do when they see the pieces and know their boundaries should be different? Some continue to pamper without realizing that they are infantilizing their adult children, not permitting them to make their own messes, their own mistakes, and in need of picking up their own pieces if they are ever to complete the puzzle of their lives. And what about the grandparents who want so to love and cherish their grandchildren but in over-indulging them deprive them, as well, from learning from their mistakes and moving on.

When the pressures of parenting far outweigh the pleasures, then parenting becomes yet another pressure of 21st century living and we are left open to a host of stress-related illnesses.
To avoid that, we must – at the very least – attempt to appreciate the dividends earned from living a balanced life. That includes teaching our children the importance of being in competition first and foremost with themselves. We need as well to find ways to make eating pleasurable enough so that the necessity to eat well is not done because a parent says that’s what must be done but because the habit is put into place early and one simply eats what one is served and even manages to enjoy it.

When children are given respect and are openly admired, will they not be better-adjusted and happier? Is it ever in their best interest if they are idolized and taught that the world revolves around them? I don’t think so! Also, at the other extreme, I believe that parents who think only of themselves and leave children more or less to raise themselves are guilty of doing irreparable damage. Again, the answer I come back to is balance.

Acting as though everything is black or white, good or bad, and having no room for all that’s in-between does not help our children develop the attributes of becoming healthy, kind, compassionate individuals who will be productive citizens one day.

When I’m in the presence of young families or listen to stories about children and their parents, it seems abundantly clear that we must re-define the importance of family, the meaning of friendship, the desire to please without being insincere. Above all, perhaps, is the need to teach children to want to excel for the sake of wanting to be the best at whatever they are capable of doing.

Anything in the extreme is never in a child’s best interest. If the message that children get is to please only others, to conform to whatever those around them are doing, or if they are taught to please only themselves, they are unlikely to live a balanced life and we, their parents, will have failed to help them strive toward healthy decisions with values from which they and we can derive pleasure and pride.

Please respond with any family stories or theories of your own. All of us can benefit from sharing our experiences and our beliefs.
Have a great week!