Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What Good Parenting Looks Like

Parenting is so damn hard. It's really easy to get caught up in the aesthetics of parenting: Having the right stroller and posting photos of their cheerful, tidy room on Instagram. Those things are fun, and baby and kids' stuff is so cute! But parenting is not about any of those things. Unless you're impoverished and struggling with basic securities like rent and putting food on the table, then your main risk factor as a parent is far from not providing enough and actually very simple.

But don't let the word simple mislead you. Simple simply means "not complicated." And if something is uncomplicated that does not necessarily mean it is achieved without effort. Simple does not equal easy.

So what am I getting at here? What's not easy? Victoria Prooday, Occupational Therapist, described it as "The silent tragedy affecting today's children" in her recent viral blog post. She starts out by highlighting the alarming rate of childhood mental health issues, increases in ADHD, teen depression, and the sharp rise of teen suicide. These are very scary, very real problems. And yet none of them is the result of deprivation or poverty. We're simply parenting wrong. She writes:
Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:
Emotionally available parents; Clearly defined limits and guidance; Responsibilities; Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep; Movement and outdoors; Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times; and Boredom. 
In many ways, how can you blame us? We rush from work to school pick up, to sports, to the grocery store (where the kids are given a lollipop), back home, and then we have 45 minutes to make dinner, 15 minutes to eat and then it's time for bath and bed and we get up and do it all over again. The result is that provided-for, non-impoverished children's lives are fully furnished, but completely lacking. Prooday goes on:
Instead, children are being served with: Digitally distracted parents; Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”; Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility; Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition; Sedentary indoor lifestyle; Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification; and Absence of dull moments.
I think most American parents are stretched very thin. They love their kids and they are doing the very best with what they have. But it is completely inadequate and totally unacceptable. We are not giving our kids what they need and it shows. In the work I do with kids of all ages, from kindergarten through high school, and in the behavior I see in my own kids, we have got to do a better job. But how? Despite the fantastic recommendations Prooday offers in her full post, I do feel that the time and energy constraints are a real obstacle. Proper parenting and the setting of limits is a practice that takes time, energy, and patience, none of which I have at the end of the day when I'm reunited with my children.

Do you feel that you're giving your children the fundamentals of a healthy childhood as outlined above? Or are you a digitally distracted parent? Please share your successes and failures, or maybe even just a moan in the comments below. I'll admit that Coco and Theo have discovered how to work together to get what they want and they're kind of playing J and I like a fiddle lately. A very tired, out of tune, defeated fiddle. We're Montessori teachers for goodness sake! You'd think we'd be immune to such tactics. But no. Modern American life feels so hectic and busy, it's almost like there isn't even a space for children to fit at all. This is one big problem that isn't going away. Thoughts?

(Photo of Oeuf bunk beds (I am ashamed to admit that I want these for Coco and Theo;) via My Little Room)


  1. Oh my goodness--this post completely resonates with me. I need to go back and read the original article as well. I recently left a job working at a children's hospital to stay home full time with my daughter. And at the hospital we were seeing more and more of the problems you highlighted above with mental health and behavioral issues. This was a part of what prompted me to want to stay home with my daughter...but apart from that option which I know is not available to many, I don't know what to do. It is exhausting to keep patient and set limits and be creative with your children after a long day and a long commute. Many of my mom friends try to work part time to get this balance. Best of luck to all the mamas and papas out there as they navigate this, but I hope we try for our children!

  2. Oh my goodness! I agree 1000%. I will read her entire article, I just skimmed it, but I could not agree more. So sad :(.

    I also agree with what you say: "Modern American life feels so hectic and busy, it's almost like there isn't even a space for children to fit at all. " You are completely right. I don't think there IS space for children in our culture. I'd go so far as to say that our culture almost hates children. At least we act that way. Everything in urban, American life is seemingly about faster, more, "better," immediate gratification, etc. . ."go, go, go!" the list is endless. Kids, and their slow way of life, etc. have no room in such a culture. I am a stay at home mom and I absolutely LOVE my job of being with my three kids all day, but I find myself constantly struggling with being patient and not sacrificing our days at the altar of "efficiency." Disciplining my kids (and by that I mean "correcting" them and setting boundaries) is exhausting. In my selfishness, I want a quick fix, but the reality is that teaching kids how to have character and to obey a moral compass (in my case, I would say how to obey God) is very time consuming and tedious. I worked as a litigation paralegal for 11 years at a top tier law firm and I find myself thinking about my day with the kids in the way I thought about my days at the firm (billing time, rushing through projects, etc.). It's ridiculous. I could go on and on about this. It breaks my heart :(.

    I recently read The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax and I thought it was FANTASTIC. I'm sure there are plenty who don't like what he has to say, but I think what he says is true and I suspect that Prooday agrees with him.

  3. Truth! Thank you. As a pediatrician, I know of these sad statistics all too well. As a mom, I was most encouraged by your honesty of things being hard, even with your Montessori training. I, too, am being played like a fiddle. But it's so worth it, isn't it. Also, loving your Montessori posts.

  4. A lot of my friends have responded in a backlash, as if indignant that on top of everything else we have to do, we have to worry about THIS too. I understand the feeling but I think it's unproductive. I get angry about a lot of things like this, where breaking out of the default can be both necessary and incredibly difficult. But the difficulty doesn't change the necessity and it doesn't help to get angry about it.

    I get anxiety because I know this is even more vital than it is insurmountable (and it does seem insurmountable). My older stepson was prodded into an ADHD diagnosis at 7. I was indignant that his school would even expect him to sit still for hours ¬¬at that age, but I could see problematic behaviors at home, too. Early in step-parenting, it was easy to simply adopt the habits they already had at their other household, which we came to be able to articulate were not the habits we wanted in ours. There, they eat breakfast and dinner in front of the TV; they have an Xbox, PS4, 3DS, a tablet each, an iPod each, a computer each. They are 7 and 11. They are each in a sport that meets four days per week, plus band, plus school play, plus Scouts. This is how most of their friends live as well. It became clear to me via the “preview years” of step-parenthood that opting out of this lifestyle, as a parent to my own child, would need to be a conscious, deliberate choice. It was not a choice that my culture was going to make for me, or make easy for me.

    To me, the key is knowing that I am fallible, that I live in an often unhealthy culture and can only do so much; and therefore that I have to make healthy choices (all types of health) as easy as possible. Almost as easy as the unhealthy ones. The habits I rely on are sometimes absurdly small but they can have big effects.

    I don't charge my phone at night. That means that when I get home after work, I go put it on the charger in the kitchen to juice it up again. It is inconvenient to have my battery running low in the evening, but having to plug it in when I get home forces me to leave it alone and just engage in those hard hours before bedtime. (I even got a smartwatch so I will know if a vital call comes up, so I have no excuses for reaching for the phone, ha!)

    I value healthy food, but life is crazy and junk is easy. So I have easy "cheat night" meals that I can turn to when everything becomes too much. I'll make boxed mac and cheese, but I choose the brand without all the fake dyes etc and when cooking it, I throw in a ton of frozen spinach and frozen peas. Everyone loves it and it requires no planning or preparation, but I know that if nothing else, we are all getting some veggies with our carbs and powdered cheese, even on the "worst" of nights. Etc.

    I am speaking from a place of privilege and I know that. I can walk around with my texts buzzing on my wrist, free from the siren anchor of the smartphone; I can carve out a schedule for myself in these early parenthood years that leaves me more days at home in exchange for more hours billed late at night from the kitchen table. That, in turn, lets me hire my mom as a caregiver - 5 days a week would be too much; 3 is okay. And so, if my days are hectic just to make this all work, at least my son’s are child-led, play-oriented, and self-driven. I am fortunate and I don't mean to discount that. But I do think that - whatever it means in each situation – carving habits and routines that point you towards where you want to be - it's all we have within our power to do. I give up career momentum and my fun internet time and having a dust-free floor; and my children will give up things as well – sports with absurd schedules, gaming consoles, etc.

    It is sad to me that it is a privilege to be able to give up so much. It is a real paradox that that is how the issue stands in our culture – that a healthy family life rests as much on what we can afford to give up as it does on what we can afford to provide.

    1. We were so inspired by your phone charging pattern Alexandra that it prompted us to try a little experiment. GAME CHANGER! It has completely changed everything. I think I'm going to write a full post on it!!! I love all of your deep thoughts here. THANK YOU. xoxo

  5. Oh, man, I feel like I am doing okay on some of her suggestions but not on others. Here's an article I read sometimes when I'm feeling discouraged. It's Canadian but I think it might apply to the US too:

    1. Oh how interesting!!! I definitely get way too down on myself as a parent. I know that overall I'm doing a good job, and I feel that all of my mom friends and the parents I know from Coco's Montessori school and Theo's daycare are doing a good job, too. Absolutely. But when it gets so crazy and chaotic that I really, truly don't enjoy it and it feels like a merry-go-round spiraling straight down to hell, that's why I try to do things "better" or differently. Just to be able to enjoy it and my kiddos more. But definitely bookmarking that article for wintertime when they will probably watch a fair bit of TV!! ;) Thanks again for posting and sharing. xx

  6. That link didn't work but the article is called "Don't worry about what the experts say, the kids are going to be alright" by Leah Mclaren in the Globe and Mail.

  7. I do admit, I am on my phone too much. However, I think much of the issue are lazy parents. Seriously. I sat and watched at a restaurant as a young woman, her child, mother, and maybe sister came in. They immediately set her ~1year old down in a high chair and propped the phone up in front of him. This was not a super nice, be-quiet type restaurant either. And yes, I did totally judge. The child was not acting up or anything. It is a parental choice. And despite all the warnings, parents are taking the easy way out. I give the allowance, that some do not know better(sad), like my aunt, a former teacher, who bought my child several Christmas gifts with lights and noise, but the majority tend to go with what is easy. I'm guilty, maybe not to that extreme, but little things, like letting my toddler play with a huge basket of cars that serve no purpose, while he goes vroom vroom for 30 minutes. Will they all turn out alright in the end, yes, but, I love the way my kids ask questions, and that they can tell me which trees are evergreens, and what a blue jay sounds like. It's hard, but so worth it.

    1. Haha!! I love your honesty. Thank you so much for sharing all this. I'm so relieved we all have the same struggles. ;) xx

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