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Do we make parenting too hard?

Amid my irrepressible joy over the recent birth of my third grandson, I immediately started worrying.


Not about him; about his parents.


“... the U.S. has the most family-hostile public policy of any country in the western industrialized world when it comes to supporting work and family,” sociologist Caitlyn Collins recently told Ezra Klein in a New York Times podcast.


Child care is hard to find and harder yet to afford. Preschool is often not part of the public school curriculum. There is little guaranteed parental leave.


But beyond those problems, which could be fixed by changes in public policy, is a simple fact: “We've made parenting too hard and intensive,” as Klein, referencing his own life with small children, put it.


Experts agree. Parents today are under enormous pressure to parent “intensively,” said Collins, due to too-lofty cultural expectations of what it means to parent well. We look at the array of children's activities, classes, and camps, and think more is better.


I saw this tendency in myself. People would say, “How do you do it with four kids?” And I would think, “How do you do it with one? I would be obsessed with doing everything right, all the time. With four, you do the best you can. And live with it.”


Turns out that as people get wealthier, their expectations for what their children should be and the kind of parent they should be rise, Jennifer D. Sciubba, a demographer and political scientist, told Klein.


Parents become super-focused on what they think will most benefit their kids, often to the detriment of their own lives and that of the larger family. They sacrifice their well-being, because there's no time for themselves, for friends, for leisure, hobbies, etc., Collins said.


And while no one could fault that intention, the result is that family life totally revolves around the children. Family life adapts to them, which can be a disservice, since the larger world doesn't work that way.


To thrive children themselves must learn to deal with the world as it comes at them. (Children with disabilities are the exception; it is society's job to accommodate them.) Then, hopefully, when those children become adults, they'll have a clear-eyed view of what needs fixing in the world.


It's a collective good for our children to be raised well and natural for parents to aspire to that.


But hopefully, it can be achieved without putting parents and children under so much pressure that they miss out on the joy of the messy, imperfect, unplanned moments of everyday life with kids.


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Congrats on your newest grandchild! I agree with your statements on parenthood and raising children. It's definitely not easy, but it can be super rewarding and there's nothing like it. And children learn so much, so fast. Truly looking forward to being a Grandparent, like you, one day :)

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And you’ll be an amazing grandma! But until then, enjoy being Ma.

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