Should I vaccinate my child? What on earth is baby led weaning? What is the optimum temperature for my child’s bedroom? Does breastfeeding increase intelligence, or is fed really best? Is smacking abusive or necessary? Should I home school? Is gluten bad for my child? What about dairy? Red meat? …
You cannot escape the abundance of options in today’s Information Age. This is often discussed in the context of consumerism, where it is claimed that overchoice leads to increased anxiety and greater dissatisfaction in the shopping experience, a.k.a. the paradox of choice. How many times have you walked into a store, determined the eighty bucks in your pocket will be spent on a fabulous new pair of shoes, only to leave empty handed after a stressful 45 minutes of deliberation over the countless available styles?
(Forgive the materialistic scenario; it was the first thing that sprung to mind).
Equally pertinent to this paradox is the context of parenting. Mums and dads in the 21st Century can access free parenting advice from the scientific, professional, industry, blogosphere and peer-to-peer communities, simply by activating a screen.
On the face of it, great! Knowledge is power, and all that…
But don’t you think our grandparents had it easier?
Sure, kids might have grown up on a diet of simple carbs, living in asbestos houses and chewing toys covered in lead paint, but all most of them survived. At least parents back then were not ripping their curlers out over the fluoride content in little Archie’s toothpaste or whether or not an iPad will stunt his creativity.
I am not just writing this for the sake of it. Joking aside, there are some really unpleasant side effects to the overinformation that parents are drip fed today under the guise of parenting advice and expert education. One of them, perhaps the biggest one, is:
That’s right. While the befuddled shoe shopper can simply leave without shoes, parents do not share the same luxury. When faced with countless (and often conflicting) studies and blog posts and news articles and bestsellers that tell us how best to raise our children, it is overwhelming even for the most decisive of folk. However, those choices have to be made.
Take immunisation. For some, the decision is easy, but for many parents, the question “Should I vaccinate my child?” is something that haunts their every toss and turn. Personally, with a background in prenatal education and public health, it was a no-brainer. However, even I cannot claim to have done it without a flicker of stress or doubt, even if only over the guilt of plunging a needle into my delicate babies’ flesh. And there are countless loving, well-educated parents out there feeling a great deal more uncertainty, guilt and torment than I ever did as they navigate the minefield of information at their fingertips.
Negative emotions abound, welcome to Parenting in 2017.
It is intense, guilt-ridden and exhausting. The messages are unclear, especially for mothers. We should stay at home with our kids until we put them in an education system that fails them (or perhaps homeschool them and deprive them of socialisation skills), while setting an example as a hardworking, financially independent woman. We should breastfeed, but not in public. We should be authoritarian without being authoritative or permissive. We should always put our children before ourselves, while simultaneously modeling the importance of self-care.
Dads don’t get off lightly, either. They now spend 4x as much time with their kids than they did half a century ago and just as much time working, and are often co-directors in domestic decision-making. Mums on average spend 2x as much time with their kids today, despite such greater proportions of women now being in the workforce. Yet, parents are told to spend more time with their children. To give more of themselves to their children.
Nothing we do is enough. Unless, that is, we are doing too much, which is also a school of thought.
In future posts, I will discuss strategies to avoid parenting burnout, but I would love to hear your experiences and views. How do you make sense of the modern parenting advice landscape? What do you do to sidestep information overload? >>>