Over this past century, society has evolved quickly, with changes happening one after another and faster than ever before. This influenced everything, including the way we see and relate with our children. In the 1970s, a new way of care for our little ones emerged: parenting.
Parents were no longer the adults who take care of children and helped them grow… they had a harder job now. Parents had to shape their children into the human being they wanted them to be. Gopnik (2016) explains it with an interesting metaphor, calling the new parents, carpenters “(…)your job is to shape that material into a final product that will fit the scheme you had in mind, to begin with.”
Obviously, this scheme is not parent-friendly nor does it take into account each child’s particularities, quirks, desires, and wills.
“The parenting picture suggests that you can measure the value of caring for children by measuring the value of the adults those children become” (Gopnik, 2016), so parents want to transform their children into smart, happy and successful adults. Let’s not forget that those adjectives are, in truth, far too subjective for us to make them such a hard rule or goal to be guided by.
Besides, our world is always changing and, with it, so are we. Our children need to evolve with this changing world and what we now face as truths, can be quite a different story tomorrow. And it’s on this uncertain and mysterious tomorrow that they will live. Now, think about it: do we really want out children to turn out exactly like us?
Again, according to Gopnik (2016), we shouldn’t want to shape them into something that will fit perfectly in the world right now, but instead, we should create a generation which can be “robust, adaptable and resilient, better able to deal with the inevitable, unpredictable changes that face them in the future.”
Are we harming our children in our eagerness to make them better?
Over the last century, the concept of family itself suffered great changes, that might have boosted this phenomenon. It’s a fact that nowadays we have fewer children than before, but that’s not the only change. We do indeed have smaller families, but also families with more mobility which means the larger or broader family is sometimes far away from us.
The valuable experience of the past, passed down by mothers, grandmothers, and aunts is often enough no longer there and most of us never took care of a baby sibling or cousin. Generally speaking, women have careers and less time for the family, so we started to have children later than before and with almost zero notion of what it is to raise children.
In this context emerged the so-called helicopter parents. We can observe this phenomenon, mostly in some anxious middle-class parents, who want to control everything, avoiding a child’s self-evolution by managing each bit of their schedules and activities. Controlling the environment will not help children in the real (and uncontrolled) world, it’s important that parents ‘let’ children learn and not ‘make’ them learn.
I, personally, think that the modern life enables this behavior even more. Our worries are quite different than before, we want to study more, work more, have more and this creates a gap between the adults and their children, a gap that parents try to compensate, apparently, through the wrong means.
According to Gopnik, there isn’t any scientific evidence proving that following one or another parenting theory will really have some long-term effect. For example, co-sleeping or not, letting them cry or holding them to sleep are pointless discussions that, in fact, do not lead us anywhere, merely draining our energy.
So, in the end, is it all pointless? Is it useless?
We can’t answer this question with absolute certainty of what we’re saying, yet scientific facts seem to point to this being the case, yes.
Parenting does not make it better for anyone. Actually, on the contrary, it seems to make it worst for both parents and children. Parents have to deal on a daily basis with anxiety and guilt about pretty much everything, as well as, great doses of frustration since they put so much of their efforts into parenting and yet, it seems that no matter what they are doing, it’s never enough. For children, parenting brings them an “oppressive cloud of hovering expectations” (Gopnik, 2016).
So, what should we do?
Things change, it’s a fact. The world, ourselves, everything is a constant evolution and we can’t (nor should we) go back. Evolving and adapting is what has always helped mankind stay alive, so we have to find the best way of doing so, while looking forward. This is the most important lesson you can give to your kids.
Great generals and executives don’t take ages to think through every possible plan and pick the absolute best one (why should we do it with a baby?), they pick one that is good enough and execute it confidently and decisively.
We know that children learn from their parents and caregivers, but in the parenting model, parents believe that they can consciously control that learning. However, studies suggest that the most of what we learn didn’t even come from “conscious and deliberate teaching”. (Gopnik, 2016)
According to the mentioned author “the puzzle is how to provide children with rich, stable, secure context they need to grow up without expecting that we can or should be able to control how they turn out.” So, take confident decisions and know that you are doing the best you can with the best you have.
GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.