Franciscan Spirit Blog

Parenting Paralysis: What's Changed About Raising Children?

I don’t recall questioning my parenting like parents do these days. My daughter has more self-doubts raising her six-year-old son than we did with all five of our children. What’s changed?

A whole lot. Too many to elaborate here, but two stand out: society and me.

Society. Throughout history, societies changed ever so imperceptibly. Their structure, beliefs, morals, if they did shift, did so over many decades. Consequently, from one generation to the next, the social milieu in which children were raised stayed predictably constant.

Accelerating technology, for better and worse, has transformed all that, putting societal change on fast-forward. Parents face a landscape far more complex and challenging to navigate. Put simply, it’s just not as easy to raise a child today than one single generation ago.

Twelve years separate our oldest from our youngest—a time span equal to a half generation. Our oldest spent the first half of childhood without the presence of such things as computers, smart phones, and morally decayed pop culture. Our youngest began life with these everywhere. No question, raising her raised more questions for us than raising her oldest brother.

What’s the second big change? People like me. Meaning, the childrearing professionals. Waves of new and improved notions for guaranteeing well-adjusted children have swamped parents. Not that all are useless or misleading, but their net effect has produced a level of parental insecurity and self-doubt not seen in past generations.

“Psychological correctness” is the label I’ve given to this wide-spread childrearing phenomenon. It is the idea that there are psychologically correct ways to teach and communicate discipline; in short, raise an emotionally stable youngster. What’s more, deviating from these ways comes with dire social and psychological repercussions. No wonder parents tread so nervously. They wonder if they’re applying the right formulas.

When some of the formulas don’t work, they’re befuddled. “What’s wrong? Why am I not seeing success?” This leads to more self-questioning, insecurity, and searching for newer and better techniques.

How can a grandparent counter all this? First, don’t get pulled into the pace of the culture. Make sure that whatever your activities and gifts are, particularly of a digital kind, they meet parental approval. If your daughter feels beleaguered by a society pulling her son through childhood years too soon, don’t align with society. Align with your daughter.

Parents tell me of grandparents buying the kids televisions, computer games, cell phones, and cars that even the parents don’t want and wouldn’t buy. Don’t make your daughter choose between her motherhood and her mother’s (or father’s) wishes.

What about those experts whose ideas are directing your daughter? If she wants their direction, that’s her prerogative. She sees their way as the better way, an improvement from the past, even though she doesn’t see how it is fueling her insecurity.

On the other hand, if her self-doubt is building along with her frustration, your advice may be a relief. Help her to assess the problem: What do you see as the differences between my parenting and yours? Where do you disagree with what I did? Are you rethinking your discipline? Did we have more or less authority than you do? Which expert advice do you think clashes most with your instincts and common sense? Do the experts agree with your beliefs about life and morals?

With time, many parents reassess the worth of the ideas guiding them. If your daughter is one of them, you may just be the expert she turns to.

Excerpted from Being a Grandparent: Just Like Being a Parent … Only Different!, by Dr. Ray Guarendi. To learn more about the book, click the image below.

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