For a lot of people this picture represents what it means to be a parent today. It means juggling parenthood with a second job. Yes, I did say a second job. If anyone thinks that parenting is not the hardest job in the world, I don’t think that person has really thought it through. Let’s see; there’s no interview to see if you are suitable for the job, no job description, no training, no remuneration (including bonuses, pay increases, incentive schemes etc.), no annual reviews to check you are delivering what is expected of you, no holidays, no weekends, no fixed hours, no opportunities for promotion, no complaints procedures in place etc. etc. etc.
What you do get is the assumption that somehow, miraculously, you will instinctively know what to do. You will deliver the desired results, you will go above and beyond to bring about outcomes that are satisfactory for everybody. You won’t necessarily get recognition for a job well done, it’s your role after all. But you will be held accountable if the result is less than satisfactory.
Re. job description, yes, you know you need to feed your child, keep them warm, safe, protected, healthy and happy. But doing this is so hard to do when there is so much riding on it. It’s tomorrow’s generation that is being raised, and that is a huge responsibility.
There are a few things that stand out in the top photo, that for me, might make the job of parenting more difficult than it could otherwise be. Firstly, it’s the fact that the buggy has been designed so that the parent and the child can’t see each other. I’m not sure that the designers have truly considered the needs of the parent and the child when they drafted the drawing for this buggy. Where’s the eye contact between parent and child? How can the parent or other adult see what is happening for the baby? Is he or she scared, crying, sleeping, smiling, shivering? Studies have shown that not only is eye contact important for building that special relationship between the parent and the child and for strengthening the attachment, it also means that the baby can start to learn to recognise facial expressions and will be able to emulate these as time goes on. This is when the baby will begin to learn about their relationships.
The next thing that strikes me about the picture, is that the mother is otherwise engaged, talking on her phone. Of course, it’s entirely possible that this is a short call, but this is not the point I’m making. This is a scene that I see time and time again when I see parents out with their children, sometimes the child can be calling to mum or dad, trying in vain, to get their attention. Either there is a full-blown conversation going on, at the exclusion of the child, or emails, social media, apps are being scrolled through, again at the exclusion of the child. It feels as though we are actively being encouraged to be constantly in touch digitally with friends, work and social media. The irony is that the more we interact digitally, the less we have actual contact with each other, and therefore the more isolated we can become. How many times have you seen a group of friends together who are each on a separate device? Could it be that those times that you take the opportunity to catch up with friends etc, when you’re out with your kids, you might be unwittingly fostering feelings of being unimportant, of feeling ignored, or of loneliness, in your child?
My main point is about how to engage and interact with your children in an honest, meaningful way. If your child feels that they are heard, seen, understood, given enough meaningful attention, then it could be that they are less likely to clamour for attention at times when your attention needs to be elsewhere. If they have the sense that when you are able, you will be there for them, then you will be giving them the tools to be better able to manage some things for as time goes on.
It’s probably just as damaging for children to be over indulged, as it is for them to be emotionally, or physically neglected. Perhaps parents feel societal pressure, in this age of consumerism and materialism to provide your child with everything. Will your child be bullied or suffer in any way in their peer group if they don’t have the latest phone, trainers, game or toy? If you instil the right values for your child, then perhaps having the latest thing will matter less to them. If you yourself don’t fall into the trap of needing the latest “in” thing; whether it’s a gadget, phone, watch, holiday destination, type of kitchen, car etc., this is a good example to give your kids. Remember hearing your parents saying, “Do as I say, not as I do”? Doesn’t make sense when you think about it, does it? In your pursuit to give your child everything he or she could ever want, could you inadvertently be depriving them of the most important resource of their existence? You, your time, your attention, your unconditional love?
The way that you interact with your child is very important. I remember overhearing a conversation between a woman and her little boy where they were discussing space travel. I was struck by how seriously she was taking his suggestions – it was a proper two-way discourse - and by how completely engaged they were. There have been times when I have also witnessed the exact opposite. And while I know that children need to learn how to be gently teased, and to tease back, it’s also important that their thoughts, worries, concerns and ideas do need to be taken seriously, and not dismissed as childish nonsense. Think about how it would feel if you are with your friends, family or work colleagues and you are all having a conversation. You feel you have a valid point to make but you are being talked over, ignored, perhaps even laughed at, or ridiculed. That’s how it might feel for your child when you don’t take their concerns seriously. If you don’t get why something is important to them, why not simply ask them? Not only will you get a better understanding of your child’s inner world, you could be helping them to make better sense of it themselves. If you respect your child’s opinions and views, not only will you teach them to respect yours, but those of others in the wider world.
Have you found that you have become inexplicably bound up with competing to be the best mum/dad/parent in your house, in your social circle, in your workplace, or even in the entire world? Your child will want for nothing. Nothing will ever hurt your child, or cause them a moment of discomfort. He or she will be loved by everybody, and the world will be their oyster. If this is what you want for your child, do you recognise that this might be rather unrealistic, and that you might be setting them up for failure? The aim is to prepare your child for how the world is – the good, the bad and the ugly, not for a utopian world that only exists in fantasy. Take the pressure off yourself and give yourself and your kids realistic expectations, dreams and goals.
Finally, as for having the courage to take on the toughest job in the world, I believe that you will have done an amazing job if your children have no doubt that they are loved. And if one day your child says, “I hate you!” in a fit of anger, understand that though this may be one of the hardest things that you ever hear from the person you gave birth to, also recognise that for your child to be able to express his or herself so honestly, is testament to your good parenting.
If some extra support would be welcome while you're doing this amazing job then please get in touch for a non-judgemental, supportive, empathic listening ear.
My final thought about the picture is the fact that the buggy is pink, so I’m assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that this is a baby girl, but that is probably a topic for a separate article! ⯑