“The good side of being a millennial mom is that we’re so informed. There’s so much information, we’re so hands on. But the bad side is we’re so hard on ourselves. I think the millennial mom is under insane pressure.”
Jennifer Senior, a mom to a 6-year-old boy and a contributing writer for The New York Times, had similar thoughts. During a TED Talk she gave on modern parenting, she asked, “Why is it that raising our children is associated with so much anguish and so much confusion?” Answering her own question, she continued, “I think in another era we did not expect quite so much from ourselves.”
Where is this pressure coming from? And why does it overwhelm parents so much so now? Jennifer listed down the unique difficulties that parent today faces.
1. There is information overload. Despite shelves upon shelves of parenting books and manuals (and bookmarked parenting websites), parenting has not become any clearer or any easier. In fact, they can make things more difficult.
“All of these books are well-intentioned. I am sure that many of them are great. But, taken together, I am sorry, I do not see help when I look at that shelf. I see anxiety,” said Jennifer. All these books, with their varying views and opinions, could also show how much of parenting we have yet to figure out, she added.
2. The parenting to-do list doesn’t end. “Parent, as a verb, only entered common usage in 1970,” said Jennifer, pointing out how much attention and effort is now being placed on how to raise children. Parenting used to be simpler in the past, she said, with a parent's role more clearly outlined: provide food, clothing, shelter, and moral instruction.
But now parents are also expected to do more for their kids: sign them up and drive them to extracurricular activities, check their homework, monitor their screen-time, etc. A parent’s to-do list is so packed that it can feel like it doesn’t end. “Our roles as mothers and fathers have changed. The roles of our children have changed. We are all now furiously improvising our way through a situation for which there is no script.” 3. There’s so much pressure to do more. We live in a fast-paced world with an increasingly unpredictable future. It can feel like there’s always something more we could be doing for our kids to prepare them for what lies ahead. “We teach our kids chess, thinking maybe they will need analytical skills. We sign them up for team sports, thinking maybe they will need collaborative skills, you know, for when they go to Harvard Business School,” she said.
“What we all do, as good parents, is try and prepare our kids for every possible kind of future, hoping that just one of our efforts will pay off,” said Jennifer. But, when the pressure of it all becomes too much to handle, parents need to know that things are going to work out and that the kids are going to be fine.
4. Parents have to balance family life and working full-time There are more women now in the workforce than ever before. This also means that moms are still trying to figure out how to become hands-on parents while holding down a full-time job and keeping up with the house chores at the same time. Dads, too, are becoming more than just breadwinners and becoming more involved with parenting, said Jennifer.
“We have no rules, no scripts, no norms for what to do when a child comes along now that both mom and dad are breadwinners,” she said. Society has progressed and every household has to figure out and designate roles on their own -- a necessary part of modern parenting that can prove to be challenging.
5. Unrealistic parenting goals can be a burden Every parent wants their child to be happy. But “happiness” as a goal is too vague and imposing, said Senior. “A child's happiness is a very unfair burden to place on a parent. And happiness is an even more unfair burden to place on a kid.”
True happiness is not something parents can teach their kids. It’s the result of a number of different things coming together, she explained. “It strikes me as a better goal, and, dare I say, a more virtuous one, to focus on making productive kids and moral kids. And to simply hope that happiness will come to them by virtue of the good that they do, their accomplishments, and the love that they feel from us.”