"Parenting today is so much more difficult than it was back when you were a kid," says my mother-in-law, and I have a feeling she's right. Parenting is never easy, regardless, but I'd argue today's parents have a slew of new challenges that are nothing if not difficult to navigate. Today's moms, especially, have to deal with so many things that moms in the '80s did not have to worry about. From the online world of misinformation to the conspiracy theories about vaccinations, moms are constantly challenged by so many new struggles, no wonder parenting seems way more overwhelming.
Today's moms have so much more competing for their time, too. Their jobs, partners, children, social lives, and social media all require their attention. Furthermore, today's moms are burdened by all of the choices presented to them. "They" say that choice is the root of all distress and, well, "they" are correct. I can't even tell you how much I agonized over every choice I made when I was pregnant. Walking into the store to register for my baby shower was its own existential crisis. What if I chose the wrong item? Does this bottle have toxic chemicals, which I just recently learned about and know nothing about, in it? Is this mattress firm enough? Which is the safest car seat? The most comfortable stroller? The best of the best pacifier? Should I even use a pacifier? Isn't that bad for your teeth?
When the choices are endless, the information plentiful, and the knowledge and experience lacking, a new mom may feel overwhelmed. And, while choice was always the "root of all agony," the choices and challenges moms have today are way more intense and vast than they were in the '80s.
Facebook started in 2004 for select college and university students. Ever since, social media has threatened to overwhelm the daily lives of everyone, including young children and their parents. Seemingly harmless, parents started opening accounts and sharing information about themselves and their kids. While some parents were cautious about their digital presence, many others shared away with little thought concerning the possible consequences.
Most parents, however, quickly learned that social media (arguably) made parenting way more difficult, and gave parents a new reason for anxiety and apprehension. While it does give parents an opportunity to form support groups, create online communities that can prove to be very helpful, and share with family and friends from across the country, parents today are constantly berated on social media for pretty much anything they do and/or don't do. It's not wonder so many parents are now choosing to minimize their digital footprint, or to forgo social media altogether.
While vaccine critics existed throughout the history of vaccines, the anti-vaccination movement didn't really gain a mass following until 2000s, after British doctor Andrew Wakefield claimed there was a relationship between autism and the MMR vaccine. Although the publication of that study was retracted, the study invalidated, and Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine, it was too late. By that time, numerous high-profile celebrities chose to present the misinformation about vaccines to the public, and parents became overly concerned with the safety of vaccines. While vaccines are mandatory in order for students to attend public schools, many state laws support the parental right to choose whether to vaccinate their children and allow religious exemptions. In today's world, unlike the world during which I was a child, less kids are vaccinated, causing a rift in the herd immunity factor and massive outbreaks of preventable diseases.
In the past two decades the safety regulations for baby and child products have become way more rigorous. The U.S. banned or restricted the sale of the sale of drop-side cribs, cough and cold medicine for kids under 2, crib bumpers, sleep positioners, and walkers. Many chemicals have been removed from infant and toddler products. Car seat and crib safety regulations change yearly. And, while most of this is obviously great for parents and their children, some of these regulations change so frequently, it's difficult to keep up, making parenting a tad more stressful than it already is.
Because of social media, "mommy wars" are arguably a bigger problem than ever before. Breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, co-sleeping versus crib, baby wearing versus stroller, crunchy moms versus silky moms, stay-at-home moms versus working moms, and so many more "mom wars" have overwhelmed mothers and fathers alike. In today's digitally open world, where parents willingly share their parenting online, you're wrong if you do and you're wrong if you don't.
Today's parents are fighting an uphill battle with technology. While plenty of research speculates how harmful these electronic devices are to children, especially to children under 2, parents everywhere are trying to decide for themselves about the need for such devices and how much "screen time" to allow their children.
Yes, it's definitely easier to give your kid a smart phone when you're out to dinner, but is that move causing your child harm? No one knows for sure. There hasn't been nearly enough research (and time) to conclude the effects technology-driven parenting has on children's development. But hey, years down the road, our kids may say things like, "I can't believe our parents gave me an iPad when I was 2." Just like my generation now says, "I can't believe our parents smoked in our home."
According to 2016 study, the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of kindergarten has risen from 30 to 80 percent between 1998 and 2010. Today, preschool and kindergarten are more like first grade. The expectations for children under 6 are much higher now than they were in the 1980s. With those expectations come the "elite" daycares and preschools, in which parents compete over spots. Even the local daycares around my home, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, have month-long waiting lists.
I'm sure you've heard this many times, but when I was growing up, children were "seen, not heard." And, sometimes children weren't seen or heard. If my parents happened to take me with them to their friends house, I was to occupy myself and not bother them. If the other people happened to have kids, I played with those kids. If those other people did not, I had to figure out what to do all on my own. That was most of parenting back in the '80s. Today, parenting revolves around scheduling playdates, activities, and excursions for children.
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