Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘Parenting Is Harder Today’

Tracy 1Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article: “Parenting Is Harder Today.”

Parenting was probably never easy. Even back in the Little House on the Prairie days, kids still talked back, parents wondered if their kids were getting enough to eat, parents questioned whether their kids were using the brains they were given….I can’t imagine a time when a parent didn’t roll their eyes or worry about the health and safety of their kids.

However, I am supremely confident that raising kids today, in our society, is much, much harder than it ever was before. I know, many people are going to roll their eyes at ME and comment that our generation just MAKES it harder to parent. Let me make my argument first, before you decide.

With the advent of birth control for the masses in the 1960’s, it became possible to prevent pregnancy, control the number of children you had, and control how far apart you had them. For “parents” today, the decision making starts WAAAAY before inception. To have kids or not to have kids? To have them when you are young and full of energy, or have kids when older with more money?

In the past, if you had regular “relations” and did not get pregnant, you were infertile. While heartbreaking, it was something you had to accept and deal with. Today, with infertility treatments, sperm donors and now even uterus transplants (!), infertility is yet another huge decision making process; to accept fate and change plans, whether to have treatments, how many treatments to have, how much money you are willing to spend.

Once a baby is born, the decisions are endless: to save the cord blood or not (at big $$) in case of cancer later, to circumcise or not, to vaccinate or not? Breast or bottle feed? Stay at home, work part time, or work full time? If working outside of the home, daycare, nanny, relatives for care?

Regardless of whether you stay home or not, how much TV? When I was a kid, there were exactly four shows on television that a kid under five would watch – Sesame Street, Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo, and Romper Room. My mom didn’t have to question how much TV I was watching, because there were only two hours of shows a day for me. Today, there are entire channels, twenty-four hours a day of “kid” related shows.

Potty training at two, like your parents did, or Pull-Ups and let your child potty train when they are “ready”?

By the time your child is three, it becomes a question of preschool or not? Do they need the experience before they go to Kindergarten, or should you continue to keep them home? Will they learn things you don’t want them to learn in Preschool, and if so, how will you deal with it?

Here is where it really gets tough: back in the day, if a kid was a little “out of the norm” parents, teachers, and the community went, “Oh, this kids a little out of the norm.” And everybody just moved on. Today, every parent is expected to monitor their children’s every move…height, weight, development, behaviors, habits…..and if they are out of the norm, we’re expected to find an “expert” to “treat” it. An example: I went to school from 1st through 12th grade with Joe*. In 5th grade, Joe could not tie his shoes. Or, wouldn’t tie his shoes. The teacher was all over him, every day, about his untied shoes. He tripped over his shoelaces. Other kids stepped on his shoelaces. Occasionally, he fell down, because of his shoelaces. Joe managed to graduate in the upper third of his class, went to college, got a degree, and has a successful career. I would bet that if I ran into him today, I would see that his shirt was untucked, and he would probably need a haircut. Joe simply did not care about appearances, or felt that shoe tying was too time-consuming, or whatever.

Today, however, we are not permitted to say, “Whatever.” Today, Joe would be evaluated by an Occupational Therapist to see if he actually had the manual dexterity to tie his shoes, and would then be given a “behavioral plan” with a reward system of stickers for tying his shoes.

School age: public school, private school, home schooling, Cyber School? There used to be two choices – public or private, and your checkbook decided for you.

Food: Back in the day, a parent made a meal, the child ate it, or did not. Simple. Some families had rules that you had to finish what was on your plate. Even if you sat there for two hours. Today, it’s a hundred questions: too many calories? Too much fat? Too much sugar? Due to the obesity rate, should you make a child finish a plate, or be done when they feel full?

Folks, milk used to be easy. It was healthy. Gave you good teeth and strong bones. Today? Vitamin D whole milk until 2 years, lower fat after two years. What happens between two and three years old that makes whole milk suddenly bad? 1%, 2%, skim, lactose free, coconut….which milk is the right milk?

I totally realize that I’m on a rant here, but can we just be real for a minute? In the 1970’s, when I was twelve years old, I babysat infants at their homes. Their parents hired me, and left me in their homes caring for an infant. TODAY, four states have enacted laws that prohibit a twelve year old from being left at home alone. You can assume that another forty states will soon enact the same.

My point? Parents have hundreds, if not thousands of decisions to make today that they didn’t even fifty years ago, and live in abject fear of being found to be “bad parents” by the authorities, by the schools, by the community, and by the internet.

Folks, stuff that used to be so simple, a “no-brainer” is now a delicate back and forth decision that is time consuming, with no simple answers. When your kids came home from school in the 1980’s, you sent them out to play. Why? Because “everybody” knew that kids needed to blow off steam, that fresh air and activity were good for them, because “hanging out” with the neighborhood kids was a valuable experience.

Today, a parent can’t just send a kid out to play. You have to consider the child molesters, the “missing” kids on the milk cartoons, the fact that your kid has three hours of homework to do. How are you supposed to be outside, watching these kids, protecting these kids, when you are supposed to be inside making a gluten free, fat free, low calorie-high energy meal?

Cell phone or no cell phone? Dating or no dating? Sports or no sports? How many activities does your kid need to be in? How busy is too busy?

Back in the day, your child had a choice of one or two activities, and your child’s ability level and your checkbook made those decisions for you. Today, it’s a whole different ballgame. If a parent doesn’t have their kids in activities, they are lazy, worthless parents. Nobody cares about the checkbook when virtually everyone can get a credit card. Likewise, the parent who allows their child to be involved in baseball, football, music lessons and church youth group is “pushing” their children, being a “helicopter” parent and living vicariously through their children.

Here is the saddest part for me: Our parenting role models were our parents. Most of us look at ourselves and say, “Hey, I turned out great. I’m a law-abiding, tax paying decent human being. My parents did alright.” But, in our world today, what our parents did, and how we in turn were taught to parent is simply not “good enough” according to “experts.”

Where does all of this parenting anxiety come from? Well, it seems to me that our constant exposure to twenty-four hour news channels, the internet where anyone can blog, and social media have created a situation where what once was a private parenting decision is now a situation where complete strangers can debate your motives.

Parenting is harder today than it ever was, because parents are exposed, daily, to laws, programs and procedures that undermine parenting, in a public forum. We cannot win.

I am a parent. I am a speech therapist. I own a company that provides therapy to children. I have a 16 year old and an 11 year old that I love with all of my heart. I long for the days when a parent could make a decision that was not instantly put out there for the whole world to debate.

On this blog, we try to give parents good advice. We don’t like to bring up problems and then not offer workable solutions. So, here is my best advice: While it is okay to look up information on the internet, read parenting blogs, watch television, and read magazines, ultimately, go with your own gut. If it feels wrong, ignore it. If it doesn’t match your parenting and family values, ignore it. If it truly doesn’t make sense, let it go. Your obligation is to your children, not to people commenting from a faraway city who have never met you or your kids.

Just as we tell our kids not to be swayed by peer-pressure, we adults need to not be swayed into a parenting style that does not feel right by zealous “experts” in the “cloud.”


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