Parenting is Hard in the 21st Century

I think we would all agree that, under the best of circumstances, parenting is not for the faint of heart. Just managing the logistics of raising children is a challenge in and of itself. Coordinating mealtimes, while simultaneously satisfying everyone’s gustatory preferences is worthy of a Nobel Prize. This doesn’t even take into account finding the time to go to the grocery store and ensuring the food is being eaten before it goes to waste! Add to that the management of laundry, dishes, cleaning the house, tending to the animals (the four-footed furry variety), charging or gassing up the cars, and you have had a full day before the clock hits noon. Outside of the orchestration of household management, there are your actual children.

As parents, we are charged with taking these little innocent babies and nurturing and growing them into independent productive adults, capable of making a valuable contribution to our world-ok, let’s admit it, if we can get the kids washed, dressed, and out the door on time, most days, that’s the mark of a successful day…the rest of the world can wait for their contributions! But seriously, while we are managing the basics of sustenance, water, a roof over their heads, clothing on their backs, quality education, and keeping them safe and healthy, there is a looming sense of worry at each stage of their development. We lie awake at night worrying about everything: will she be accepted at her new school? Can he be in the same bunk as his best friend? Will the kids make fun of their non-binary classmate when they walk into the classroom? Did she prepare enough for her exam? Did he do well on his SAT? It’s five minutes past curfew; why aren’t my kids home yet? The list of concerns is endless, and as they age and develop, new worries replace the old ones.

As we look back on parenting prior to the 2020’s parenting seems so much easier than it is now. I fully acknowledge the adage that every generation has its challenges, but lately, I have taken time to really ponder this because I have to say, I really believe the generation of adults who are parenting in the 21st century are facing not only a unique landscape of issues to contend with, but the pace at which these issues evolve is analogous to the I Love Lucy episode when Lucy is standing by the conveyor belt at the confection factory and the rapidly accelerating candies are coming down with such speed that she has to shove candy in her hat and every pocket to get the job done. There has never been a generation of parents that has had to navigate all we are facing on a daily basis: the double-edged sword of social media, gun violence epidemics, a global pandemic, an increasingly divided nation, the rise in hate crimes toward specific groups of people, a mental health crisis in our children and teens. Granted, many of us don’t regularly experience the repercussions of these issues, but they’re present as ambient noise stemming from our phones and social media, the news, and conversations with your children and each other.

This blog post is not meant to be a gripe session. Nor is it intended to overlook all the positives that are happening in this era, because there is plenty to be grateful for. I write this post in the spirit of validating our collective experience. It’s hard to be a parent right now. We don’t have all the answers our kids are looking for. (Nor do we have answers for our own questions!) There is not necessarily going to be an immediate solution to any of these issues. We have had to learn to pivot at any given moment without much warning, while looking out for the wellbeing of our children in the face of the flurry around us. It’s exhausting, mind-blowing, frustrating, and overwhelming.

As challenging as these times are, we can do this and we have been doing it…one step, one incident, one challenge at a time. Here are some suggestions that you might find helpful:

  1. Listen: listening can be one of the most powerful steps you can take as a parent. Our children are independently minded individuals who have their own experiences, feelings, and perspectives. As a parent, it is very easy to expect they will want to approach their schoolwork, friendships, and interests in the same manner we do. On a more global level, they will not necessarily feel the same way about current events and political issues that we do. Ask interesting questions. Forget about “How was your day?” Try any of the following instead: What was funny today or what made them stop and think? Who did something nice for them today? What was the best part of the lunch menu today? Asking interesting questions is likely to entice your child into an engaging conversation. Furthermore, asking your child how they feel about recent world events can offer you insight into not only their opinions about the issue, but it can also cast a light on their concerns about it.

    Listening can also take place unbeknownst to your children. No, I am not endorsing a spy operation! When my kids were growing up, one of my favorite times of the day was when I was transporting children from one place to the next. My passengers did not seem to realize they were broadcasting their conversation to an audience. Rarely would I say something because I wanted the conversation to continue unencumbered by parental input. These discussions were frequently entertaining but always informative, and I always put the car in park, having a deeper understanding of my children’s interests, joy, fears, and hopes.
  2. Self-care- if we are going to be of any use to anyone else, we have to take care of ourselves first. I am not suggesting that you throw your hands up in the air and make plane reservations on the next flight to Cabo (though that does sound nice right about now, no?) Start with the basics: make sure you are drinking enough water (64 ounces is ideal); eat a well-balanced diet complete with protein and complex carbohydrates; prioritize sleep and exercise; seek professional help if it is warranted-these times are traumatic and trying and sometimes a professional is the best way to process your feelings.
  3. Lean on others: spend time with friends because knowing that someone else out there feels the same things you do is very validating.
  4. Participate in your child’s school: whether you are just reading the weekly emails that you receive, attending open house events, monthly chats with the principal, concerts, sporting events, or community service opportunities this is a great way to not only meet other parents but be a part of your children’s worlds.
  5. Engage in activities: even though we are parents, that does not mean we don’t have our own passions and interests. Put those running shoes back on. Pump up the tires of that bike. Dust off the piano keys or restring that electric guitar. Create that book you’ve been longing to write. Wade through the family photos and design those digital photo albums you’ve been putting off all these years. Start a book club or a wine and cheese club. Whatever you love, find a way to reconnect with it.
  6. Utilize resources: music and voice instructors, behavior specialists, academic coaches (like AcademicAlly, LLC!), athletic trainers, parenting coaches, nutritionists, tutors….the list of resources in your community is chock full of people who are willing and able to help you and your family.
  7. Attend your place of worship: during these unsettling times, sometimes turning to one’s place of worship or spirituality can bring comfort and strength. It’s also a great way to meet like-minded people.
  8. Breathe: stopping to take the time to do nothing but breath can serve to ground you while the rest of your immediate world is being swallowed by bickering children, a barking dog, a blown-up cellphone, and the odor of dinner burning wafting through the air.

As parents in the twenty-first century, you are up against a lot. Take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone-parents all around you are facing many of the same challenges, chief among which is the fact that there just is not enough time in the day to get it all done, and the cloning of parents has not been perfected! But here’s the thing: you are doing it. Look back to where you have been as a parent and where you are now and take a few minutes to recognize all that you have accomplished. That candy will continue to stream past you, bringing with it an endless supply of chocolates needing to be properly boxed. But you’ve got this…putting each confection in its place, one piece at a time.