A journalist asks, “Why do today’s parents seem to be having so many more parenting difficulties than parents of previous generations?”
There is more than one answer to the question or, rather, there is one answer with a number of aspects. One of the primary features of parenting back then — then being before the psychological parenting revolution that began in the late 1960s — was cultural consensus. With rare exception, everyone agreed on how children should be raised. The fundamentals included that parents, not children, were the center of attention in a family, they ran the show, and children did what they were told simply because they were told. The legitimacy of parental authority was a given. Parents were not required to explain themselves to children. In effect, pre-psychological parenting adhered to the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle, before it was ever articulated as such.
Consensus was shattered by the cacophony of expert voices that began to arise in the late 1960s. As parent-babble increased, so did parenting disagreement. Today, parenting differences are one of the leading causes of divorce. Informal polls I’ve conducted indicate that at least 50% do not approve (to varying degrees, of course) of how their grandchildren are being raised. The primary complaint I hear from teachers and school administrators is that today’s parents are more likely to disagree than agree with the discipline meted out in schools. More than a few parents have told me they don’t allow their kids to play at the homes of certain children because of parenting differences. In short, parenting disagreements fracture marriages, families, and friendships. It now appears that parenting should be added to religion and politics, as a “don’t talk about” subject.
Issues that were non-issues 60 years ago — family sleeping arrangements, discipline (generally), spanking (specifically), diet, education — have become major sources of controversy. And as is the case with American politics, the parenting middle ground is disappearing as parenting wars become part of the culture war.
Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, there was a village in which adults agreed and supported one another, concerning child-rearing matters. Children, therefore, knew what to expect. Today, the village is a battleground. Confusion has replaced consensus. The foundations have been destroyed. What was once a fairly straight path from infancy to emancipation has become a long and winding road to who-knows-what or even when. Psychologists would probably say we need a cultural conversation about how to raise kids. Nah. We have already overly intellectualized a process that can be done from the heart, rather than the head. We definitely do not need more talk, more intellectualizing.
We need to get back to square one, which, if that’s ever going to happen, will take place one parent at a time. Who wants to go first?