Saturday, 8 August 2009

Parenting: am I doing it all wrong?

When I see an ad telling me that if I don't by this particular product my children will end up vitamin deficient/illiterate/emotionally stunted/overweight/underweight/whatever, I know that there's a very good chance it's bullshit. And yet I can't help myself getting sucked into the vortex of parental guilt. It's not just a reaction to advertising, either - people's half-baked theories about effective parenting are just as likely to suck me into unhappy retrospection about every bit of parenting I should have done better.

The other day, I stumbled onto this sorry article - it claims that toddlers are 'damaged' by group childcare. It's clearly an uncritical bit of journalism amounting to nothing more than a PORSE informercial. Highlights include:

"We have to challenge the people who are making the decisions in early-childhood education because it's a huge movement ... It was very much that feminist movement because they didn't want women tied to the home.

"But it's really missed the point of what about the babies? The home is best, and if the home isn't coping, let's put the resources into the homes."

By mentioning feminism, this quote makes it pretty clear who is the source of preschoolers' supposed problems: mothers. There's no research quoted which backs up this yawn-incuding, decades old claim - but then no research is needed to activate maternal guilt.

The article made me think about the kind of parenting I do, and how it differs from what my mum did. My mum took care of the five of us. She didn't do the intensive one-on-one parenting that is expected of us today, because there wasn't time. She had to wash cloth nappies in an old-style manual washing machine. There wasn't enough money for convenience food, so everything had to be prepared from scratch. There were multiple sets of homework to supervise. She had no extended family she could call on for help. It wasn't possible to spend lots of time with each kid, developing our preschool numeracy and literacy or attending to our emotional and social growth (which isn't to say these things didn't happen - they just weren't done systematically). Although she was a stay-at-homer, what my mum did probably doesn't meet today's expectations around the 'quality' time we ought to spend with our kids.

I've always worked. For the first seven years of my eldest child's life, both her parents worked. Now she and her brother have their dad at home. I'm away for most of the day, but the time I spend with my kids tends to be 'quality' (in the sense that this seems to be commonly understood - I have huge reservations about assuming that the time spent in the 'mundane' tasks of feeding, clothing and bathing kids isn't 'quality'). Despite having had my kids in care, I've never felt my relationship with them has been compromised. If you take the dubious 'quality time' standard, you might conclude that the working mum parents better than her own stay-at-home mum (although you might change your mind if you saw my sorry housekeeping efforts!).

I'm not saying that whatever parenting practices are culturally sanctioned at a particular time are OK. I believe that some practices are better than others - for example, I'll never support smacking, even if 99% of the referendum results give it the thumbs up.

I know my own kids, and I know that they're happy. The choice to put them in childcare was a good one. Still, a dumb PORSE informercial, based less on 'research' than invoking parents' fears for commercial gain, managed to completely destabilise me for the best part of 24 guilty hours. And I'm guessing I'm not the only one who's prone to bouts of parental angst!


dad4justice said...

Try finding a role model male for your children to admire.

Anna said...

My partner's a perfectly good male role model, thanks D4J.

dad4justice said...

That's so cool Anna, as my greatest fear is we are heading for a ‘Fatherless’ society.
Children are beautiful gifts and should be treasured by both genders.
Kind regards.

Flynn said...


Nice save.

Hugh said...

One quote of Nigel Latta's I will endorse, even if everything else he says is crap, is that it matters not so much that children have good male (or for that matter female) role models, as that they have good role models period.

Anonymous said...

Exactly the reason why we believe the parents are the best people to judge what is best for the children and NOT the state. Politicians are terrible at judging what is best for other peoples children.

Hear hear to your mother for her hard work.

Anna said...

Actually, I agree with you, Hugh (about male role models and Nigel Latta being crap). I think the thing that makes my partner a good male role model is that his role modelling isn't particularly male. He moves quite happily between nose-wiping and bike-riding and homework supervising. It's a bit paradoxical that the the 'traditional' male role model is characterised by absence - ie at work much of the time, then emotionally distant when present - so wasn't really available for much role modelling. I'm not sure how many men conformed to that ideal, mind you.

Nigel Latta is a strange creature. I haven't paid much attention to the parenting show, but it seems an odd mix of quite liberal stuff and self-evident stuff, packaged up with the 'non-PC' title for no reason except to get disgruntled people to watch it.

A Nonny Moose said...

I dunno Anonymouse @ 1.37pm - I'm seeing some parents making some pretty dumb decisions of late. Collectively: the anti-vaxxers. Personally: a family member telling a their female child she shouldn't go to university because "girls aren't wanted in the career she wants to choose".

I'm quite happy to have a government with an interest in health and education incentives for our kids (I just don't think it's this one). From what I can tell, it's not parents wanting "hands off", it's people who just hate to be told off when their wrong.

And guess what, parents get it wrong sometimes.

Tui said...

You're so right anon - that's why parents beat their children to death, rape them, starve them, lock them in rooms, and neglect them - because they know better for their children than politicians. God, why can't we keep the state out of people's homes? Won't someone please think of the parents?!

Anonymous said...

Lucy said...

Agree with you about Latta's approach, Anna - for instance, his last show started out by, announcing it was about "punishment" and then went on to suggest time out and schemes based on rewarding kids for good behaviour. He uses the "anti-PC" shtick to draw people in and then proposes, well, very PC things - and he seems pretty sensible on gender stuff (when asked how you should treat sons and daughters differently, he answered that you didn't need to.)

I'm not sure I care for his style, but he appears to be giving fairly reasonable advice, which is something.

Anna said...

Yeah, I've been pondering that, Lucy - maybe, if he's giving new parenting ideas to people who wouldn't normally be open to them, then he's doing more harm than good. (He still makes me cringe though!)

LynW said...

As a mother of 3 wonderful young adults what I have learned so far: 1)We all do the best that we can with the knowledge and experience we have at the time. Remember this always!
2)Follow your heart..if it really doesn't feel right then it probably isn't.
3) Newborns and littlies are made dependent for a reason and need love and consistency. This can be achieved in a number of ways but with breast feeding it is usually guaranteed. Note the WHO and Paediatric recommendations are now supporting exclusive breast feeding for 6 months. (This is not a debate about who can or cannot BF as I realise that can be another 'guilt trip' for Mums)however it is a very valid reason for supporting extending paid parental leave.
4)Your children will grow and be independent in the blink of an eye! That is how it feels looking back. You dont get to do it again. Material wealth is no answer for the memories and history between families and poverty also has a lot ot answer for. So with the knowledge and education and experience you have now move forward for it is the future that can be influenced.
PS I agree wholeheartedly with your comments re male role models and have a husband with similar characteristics to yours.