Parenthood is the most important and definitely the longest-lasting job we assume, usually going into it with unsuspecting optimism and little experience, if any at all. First-timers often don’t know what they’re getting into, and veterans are all too aware of the ginormous responsibility it is.
Considering the length and breadth of the duties involved, it should be no surprise that all parents screw up occasionally. Some mistakes are minor, others life-altering, a few you don’t even find out about until years later when what’s done is done.
For instance, I was appalled to find out that my sons, when there were no adults around, used to jump from the top railing of the deck at our old home onto the lawn below, which was several feet too many to do so. I thought about it for weeks after finding out, guilty as guilty could be, tortured by all the potentially horrendous outcomes and relieved that nothing had happened. How could I have not seen them do that? Were they doing other dangerous things that I didn’t know about?
As parents we’re full of imperfections. We try our best, but let’s be honest – sometimes we succumb to convenience, knowing full well we should be doing different. I know I should be going home to cook a nutritious dinner, but sometimes those good intentions have turned into two nights in a row with a Happy Meal.
A newly released survey of 2000 parents, published by Time Magazine, showed that the average parent makes 221 “parenting mishaps” a year, for a grand total of about 4,000 by the time the child turns 18. The most frequent parenting gaffs are too much screen time (65 per cent), accidentally teaching children swear words (42 per cent), and letting kids watch something that wasn’t age-appropriate (39 per cent).
Four thousand mistakes, when you’re just quoting a number, might make you wonder how it’s possible that children survive to adulthood intact. When you think about it, though, it’s nothing to sneeze at over the span of an entire childhood, is it; especially when you consider that most of them are very minor. It doesn’t, however, stop people from disregarding any perspective and picking parents apart.
Judging parents for what they do and what they fail to do has become something of a social media pastime, full of crude accusations and self-righteous suggestions. This criticism is often called mom-shaming, but I’ve also seen plenty of dad-shaming. Gender doesn’t matter when everyone is an expert on other people’s children. And you don’t need Twitter or Instagram to see people spout out grandiose advice, you can just have a conversation. With literally anyone.
We talk about breastfeeding, working vs. staying at home, nutrition, discipline, even choice of TV programming. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, strangers who have no children – everyone puts in their two cents, and everyone thinks they know best.
Reading the Time survey brought to mind all the pieces I’ve read about parenting and how there are such opposite schools of thought on how best to approach it. Some take my generation to task for being too permissive and ruining our kids by giving them too much leeway. Another set of experts express their concern over perfectionist parents who demanded perfection in return, viewing their kids’ failures and triumphs as a reflection of their own character. Two opposite viewpoints, but not entirely dissimilar in their tone: we know better than you, so if you want your kids to grow up right, you should be doing it this way.
I’ve been hearing these arguments for at least two decades, which has been long enough for me to realize that the more things change the more they stay the same. As a parent twice over, experience and hindsight now allow me to recognize the importance of effort and good intentions. Over the long arc of childhood, most of the incidents we spend so much time worrying about in the moment, turn out to be mere blips.
The pressure on parents is mind-boggling, and the drive for “results” can be debilitating, so it’s a wonder how so many aspire to the job. In the end, most moms and dads are doing the best with what they have. The rest, I believe, is about keeping your head up, your mind open, and your fingers crossed.