Why is parenting so hard today? It’s always been hard but I think that modern life has made it harder.
For all of human time before the late 20th century, the family was a much larger unit than simply mum, dad and the kids. Today many families are just mum and the kids. Could a Chimp mother raise her young all on her own? The value of the larger group is that it not only spreads the work load but also recharges the emotional battery of the mother. For successful parenting is not only about having the money to get the stuff and the help but also it is also about emotional energy. Modern life seems to have stripped parents of the emotional and the physical support that they really need.
Two generations ago, most new parents had a lot of help around. Young girls had looked after real babies. Babies were not scary novelties but old hat. Most women had learned as girls what works and what did not. Most were taught by osmosis by observing their sisters, their mother and their aunts. There was always someone to talk to who would not judge – all were sisters of the mystery of raising kids. There was also help with all the workload. Young mothers had sisters, aunts and your mother were close by. There were fewer economic pressures that took the mother away from her baby. Not all families had this support but most did. The timeless stuctrure that all primates use to raise the next generation was there. It did not work for all but it worked for most of us.
This essential emotional and physical structure for raising primates, indeed for raising most mammals, has been eroded and even destroyed by aspects of our modern life.
Today, for many mums, the first baby they hold is their own. They have no hard earned experience. The baby is indeed a mystery and many worry a lot about whether they are doing the right thing. Competing books by “experts” often make you feel even worse. Who is there to support you emotionally? Your girl friends are busy and maybe your sisters and mother live far away?
I think of my own family. My daughter is in Toronto. Her mother in on PEI. Hope has no extended family to draw on at all. She has a mortgage, a full time job and soon a long commute. She has a husband with a challenging business of his own who travels a lot. She is going to be fully stretched without much help when she has a baby. She has a middle class income and will be able to afford daycare. but who will support her emotionally?
What about a single mum with no income and no supportive partner. She is confined to her room and her baby. What future does she dream of at night?
When you are unsure of what to do, how do you feel? When you are alone and exhausted and your baby has returned from daycare and wont eat or go to bed are you strong? When you are alone and exhausted and there is no daycare for your baby and no work and hence no money for you, how might your feelings affect your relationship with your baby? When the man in your life treats you badly how does this affect and hence your baby? When you have no one to talk to that you trust, how do you feel and how does this affect your baby? If no one grooms you, can you groom your baby?
This is the challenge that most mothers face today – rich or poor- they are often drained emotionally and physically. There is not much emotional strength left for the baby.
What kind of support so mums need? If all had access to good daycare, more on what good means in a later post, at least some of the physical drain would be reduced. Also for many, it would be possible to be in the workforce and have the chance o have some economic stability. We all know how draining it is to have money worries and to be dependent.
But my bet is that, just as a baby monkey will chose love and affection over food, our primary need is emotional support. Sure we need to know how best to feed and look after our baby. But we tend not to hear advice from experts. We best take advice from people we know love and trust us. Look at the two girls in the picture. They are experimenting together.
So yes, a great thing would be to have a universal daycare on PEI. But the real gap to be filled is the emotional support gap. Here is link to the next chapter that offer you more detail as to why mums and why their emotional health is so central.
Can this be done? Are there some models that we can learm from? Can we in this modern world find a way of filling in the gap that has been left by the death of the extended family.
I think that there is and I look forward to sharing this with you later.