by Angèle Alain
There has been many, many articles circulating online lately about how this generation of school aged children is the worst there has even been; that the parents of those children (I am in this category, as my child is twelve) are failing at parenting for a million different reasons, generally revolving around lenience, electronics and lack of time.
As a teacher, being around some groups of kids can be a challenge, but I wouldn’t say that all children have parents who are failing. In fact, the majority of students are polite, helpful, hard working and pleasant. But even those students can be uprooted by an off kilter group dynamic; you can see it clearly in the classroom when one child eggs on another, and then it snowballs from there.
I find it shocking to meet the parents of those disruptive children, because I have preconceived notions of what they will be like (e.g. the lazy coddlers we keep hearing about in those articles) We have a tendency to judge other parents - maybe it’s because we are all performing the "fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants parenting" and feel inadequate most of the time. We unintentionally try to lift ourselves up by bringing other parents down. But the parents of the disruptive child are usually regular, every day, trying-as-hard-as-they-can parents. They are our friends, our family, our neighbours and our coworkers.
So why does it seem like we struggle at raising our children?
I think a big part of it is time and energy. Society dictates the speed at which we live. We are expected to leave for work at eight in the morning and not come back before six in the evening; we bring work home; we barely get three weeks of holidays a year; and we over-book our evenings and weekends with extracurricular activities. Of course, if we do this because we love our job or love those activities, it’s all good.
But for many of us, is it really what we want? I hear so many people I know talking about working four days a week, taking unpaid leave, or cutting back on activities. Yet they struggle with the decision. Money, pensions and oddly, judgement from others, are often the reasons for not making the change.
After taking the leap myself, I always have comebacks:
My salary will go down: You will hardly notice up to a 20% reduction.
It will affect my pension: You might not even live to get to retire (it's true, and I know from experience. Sadly, my friend who use to talk about "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" motherhood died at 40 of heart failure)
People will judge: Will people judge or are you judging yourself based on a definition of success you've created?
My kid deserves these activities: Of course they do, but do they need to do three different ones in the same semester?
Unfortunately, I had to learn all of this the hard way. At age thirty-five, I was diagnosed with cancer. My child was five years old. When I went back to work after a year of surgeries and chemotherapy, I could no longer keep up with life’s speed. I burned out after a year, went back to school part time and quit my job two years later. Now I work three days a week at most. My salary is smaller, my pension was affected and maybe people did judge. Yet, it was the best decision of my life.
Cancer isn’t a gift, it’s a disease. But it was also a great teacher. It taught me all I needed to know about this one life I get, and how slow I want it to go by.
Back to our children’s behaviour
My sense is that many of us are simply exhausted; too exhausted to stick to what we know we should do as parents. When our kids act out at night, when they want this or refuse to do that (another hour on the computer; not doing that chore or going outside; refusing to eat their meal or go to bed) we are too tired to fight them on it. We pick the battles we feel we can win or that we feel are worth fighting: “I know it’s better for you to go play outside than watch more videos, but you are not cooperating and I can’t deal with a scene”. Let’s face it, it’s so much easier to give in than to hold our own with them, isn’t it? My twelve-year-old daughter, a very nice kid on most days, is a four-feet-eleven grouch when it comes to emptying the dishwasher. This is what it sounds like EVERY DAY in my house:
“I hate it, you do it!”
“I hate it too. I hate cleaning your clothes, and doing the dishes, and vacuuming. If you don’t do it, guess who will have to.” (a little guilt, I admit)
“Then daddy should do it.”
“Daddy fed us. It’s our job to clean up. You empty the dishwasher and I fill it and do the manual dishes. We are a family; we have family responsibilities.”
“I’ll do other chores then.”
“No, this is the one I need your help with”.
Grumbles, grunts, sighs and more grumbles.
You are probably feeling tired just reading this. It would be so much easier for me to get up and do it myself. And I’m usually pretty good at persisting! Luckily, when I do cave, my husband holds tight and reminds me that she needs to learn. Thank god for that.
So if I feel this struggle every day, despite slowing down my life, I can only imagine what other parents are going through. It takes a village to raise a child and many members of this parent generation feel alone. Those parent-bashing article would be so much more useful if they could act as our village and offer help instead of casting blame, wouldn’t they?
So here's my way of lending a hand to you - take a moment and consider how you might change the way you view success. How could you slow down on this highway of life long enough to get a little rest, find some energy, and stick to your guns when it comes to your children’s behaviour? Ultimately, we all know what we need to do, but on most days, we’re just trying to keep our heads above water. Here's your permission to stop treading water, and swim over to shore.
And remember - we may not be doing everything right, but we are getting a lot right.