Parenting fashions come and go, and in this mass-communication world parents can’t really avoid hearing about them. Some new idea is ‘proved to work’, it’s publicised all over the place as gospel and then it quietly fades away leaving a trail of guilt-tripped parents in its wake.
Some of these new ideas are fiercely marketed. Do you remember Baby Einstein? Those products were withdrawn quietly from the market when it was finally recognised that just a normal home environment is rich enough stimulation for babies and that it’s impossible to ‘grow’ your baby’s brain (it grows itself).
‘Building your child’s self-esteem’ has had a long run as number one in the parenting-fashion hit parade, but recent studies show that the kids with ‘high self-esteem’ tend to be the ones that get into trouble and, when teenagers, display the highest levels of what is euphemistically called ‘risk-taking behaviours’ – which we all know means taking drugs and having sex.
It happens in schools too. Emotional Intelligence, Positive Thinking (‘Happiness Lessons’), Daily Gratitude and Brain Gym, whatever happened to them? Well they found out that the demographic with the highest levels of Emotional Intelligence is the prison population, unrealistic Positive Thinking has been cited as one of the reasons for the economic crash, Daily Gratitude has been shown to result in less gratitude and Brain Gym…um…doesn’t work.
When my children were small the biggest buzz-word for parents was ‘Quality Time’. Oh what guilt that one caused! With four children, to have any ‘time’ at all was a bonus. One day, in an effort to have not only ‘quality time’ but – heavens! – ‘one-to-one quality time’ with my daughter, I took her in to town for a wander and a cafe treat. It was totally ruined by her screaming and crying that she wanted a set of dolls’ clothes which I was not prepared to buy for her. As my frustration and irritation built (‘You’re supposed to appreciate Quality Time!!’) it got worse and worse.
And then I gave up and decided that instead of my daughter and I having a nice time together we could have a miserable time, and that was ok too. At least we were doing it together. And of course as soon as I went with that as a concept she calmed down rather quickly and we really enjoyed our time in the cafe eating scones.
In my parents’ generation there weren’t lots of different theories flying around to make every parent feel pressured to ‘get it right’ and in the end, here in the privileged western world, most children thrive given a fairly comfortable home and one or two loving but imperfect parents.
Babies’ brains grow, self-esteem ebbs and flows for all of us, quality time happens by itself in odd moments, and everything works out well enough just by muddling through and doing our best. Why add on any extras when our children learn all they need to just through something the marketing people might call ‘Normal Life’. Hope it catches on.