To my surprise one of the most common responses to my little blog is people saying it makes them feel guilty. But why do these attempts to share lead so many of us to feeling guilt at our own parenting efforts? Is it because we only see the glossy clean houses of our blogging friends, the smiling faces of their delightful children, and wholesome ways they live?
Today I had a child free day and I did nothing for my children. No planning activities, no prepping for the upcoming week… (To be honest, I didn’t even do their dishes from breakfast this morning!) Instead I hammered, and dug, and generally did jobs I’ve been wanting to get done. I. Feel. Great.
After a full day with no concern for my children; I feel far more rejuvenated than if I had spent the day planning activities for my kids. This is why I write a blog:
If one parent can share what they are learning on their own child focused adventures, then others can benefit from the research and planning of one (without every single one of us needing to do the research in isolation!) as we all try and prepare our children for the unknown future that faces them!
Recently this article by Beth Berry of Revolution From Home talked about the anxiety parents face today being linked to the wealth of information available to us. Indeed the article makes some wonderful points and is well worth a read.
After reading though I agreed with many points but I also felt a kind of ‘blogging parent guilt’ – fearing that I was unintentionally contributing to this sense that no real parent will ever live up to the collective ideal that is constructed out of fragments of truth. I post photos of my children happily learning about the world (leaving out the ones when they are screaming at me because their pencil was the wrong shade of red!). I share the successes of what we are learning (so that others can join us) but never the problems that I face as a parent. I am not intentionally promoting my family as an idyllic happy unit without fault, but rather I am acutely aware that what I share about my children (good or bad) will remain their record. My blog is a place for sharing what we learnt, not a place for me to vent the many frustrations that parenting can present.
But just because I have good reasons and intentions, it does not rule me out from contributing to this sense of parental guilt that we all experience when we each see a little of good from every one, and form a conglomorate notion that these things are combined into a perfect parent. (Myself included of course, I don’t know any parent who can honestly say they don’t have any parental guilt.)
I believe parental guilt is mainly derived from two sources:
- Feeling we’re doing too many of the ‘bad things’.
- Feeling we’re not doing enough of the ‘good things’.
Of course these are intentionally very broad (and are subjective to what you believe to be a good or bad thing in raising a child) but I believe 95% of all parent guilt could be classed under one of those two headings: Too much screen time, not enough reading, too many lollies, not enough swimming, too much yelling, not enough teeth cleaning… Etc.
This guilt is all derived from a worry for the welfare of the child. We worry most for those we love the most. In a sense, a healthy dose of parental guilt is a natural byproduct of our love and concern for our children.
The problem is when parental guilt begins to dictate our actions and interactions beyond what is helpful for the child.
In this presentation Jennifer Senior talks about the changing nature of childhood (and indeed parenting) and how as a society we are increasingly preparing our children for what we perceive to be a greatly different future from the one we grew up in. (Weather or not the future truly is as radically different from the one we know remains to be seen – as I was reminded yesterday, people have been saying this about each generation since Plato’s day!) But nevertheless, this is what we collectively are preparing our children for: the unknown. A future that we don’t know means we are trying to prepare our children with every possible skill they might need in the future: team work, languages, analytical thinking, leadership, presentation… (Or in practical sense; soccer training, chess club, dance class etc… The value and risk of the after school activity culture is something I will address in a future post).
I believe, in my instance at least, that this is the greatest rout of parenting guilt and anxiety for me. It is not derived so much from a need to compete with others to be the perfect parent, but an unconscious desire to prepare my children for every possible future. This of course is an impossible task, leaving us feeling that we are doing ‘not enough of the good things’ or ‘too many of the bad things.’
How we can improve these impossible standards that we set for our selves remains unanswered for me. But at least we can rest assured that when we see the ‘perfect parent’ (online, or in person) it is not actually a person we a seeing, rather that they are simply acting as confirmation of a fictional ideal that we have constructed for ourselves in our own minds.
The perfect parent is simply a myth that we are all too ready to believe in, because we wish to become it… And (when we are able to remind ourselves of this!) this fiction should never be able to make us feel inadicuite or guilty!