This is the first chapter in my book. I just realized that I hadn't posted it on the blog. Please share with new parents and new grandparents.
Precision Parenting: There’s not an app for that!
Many baby boomers are becoming grandparents and are gathering stories about the “new rules” of raising children. They are taught these rules by their own offspring. As a psychologist working in schools and conducting parent workshops I too see the pressure new parents experience to abide by these rules. It’s given me an appreciation for what an intense “occupation” being a parent has become.
There is an unfortunate belief that there’s a perfect way to do the job. Most people in my generation were just raised when parent was a noun! There was sometimes a bit of input from Dr. Spock, but we weren’t “parented” -- so we meet this new trend with a mixture of humor and resignation.
One illustration was a recent email from a friend after she was “allowed” to take care of her baby grandson for the first time.
“After a week of rigorous training from both parents on how to change diapers-- (they go on their bottoms) and how to feed the baby with a bottle (the bottle goes into the baby's mouth) I am “ready”. They have all kinds of baby monitoring devises--I feel like I am in the Pentagon-- Oh--and don't let me get started on proper swaddling--I have to admit I never did that since we all kept our babies on their tummies so they didn't thrash about--but now, since babies are kept on their backs they have to be wrapped up like a Cuban cigar.“
The perfection assumption has either been spawned by or has led to a whole slew of books on the “proper“ way to perform every aspect of childcare. Some new parents also come from career paths that include specific management strategies and performance reviews. This might impact their perspective. Others have had challenging fertility issues that increase the anxiety about the perfect way to raise the baby.
The pressure is evident at each age. The prenatal group often gives way to a parent group where the precise how to's are shared with fervor. Parents can feel pressure about breastfeeding, sleeping, swaddling, etc., with all elements presented as doctrine.
Next, the perfect preschool is essential and then they hit school age and there are a whole lot of perfect enrichment activities. The poor parent who sits next to the perfect parent at soccer practice and finds that this person’s child is taking violin, chess and French lessons. Many well-adjusted, successful adults were not Renaissance children. But when you’re just taking your child home after school to hang out and play with the dog in the backyard you can feel a twinge, as your child’s classmate is escorted to multiple activities.
With “parenting” almost morphing into a competitive sport the process becomes more intense as the children approach junior high and other children are already building their resumes for college admission. Yikes! And who is all this for? It is for our kids, but also for or us to be viewed as good parents and even better -- the parents of successful children.
In workshops I often share my own experience of being a new parent and seeing all those neat little stickers in the back windows of cars – the ones that say “Harvard”, “Yale”, “Stanford” and the like. Back then I thought, “Hmmm, I’d like to have one of those some day.” As it turned out I did not have a child in one of those schools and that’s been fine. People say that God laughs when man makes plans, but I believe God really cracks up when we make plans for our children. So I advise parents with this aspiration to do the following,
“While your child is very little, go get one of those stickers of your choice. Put it in the back window of your car. Get it out of your system now, so that when your children inevitably take a different route you’ve already gotten the sticker and you can be more comfortable with their choices.”
To new grandparents, I suggest they continue with the resignation and humor approach. They can even be supportive or at least appear to be.
Children have survived very well with cloth diapers and disposable diapers. Children have thrived on breast milk, commercial food and home made food. They have developed by playing in the back yard and by taking classes.
Perhaps the greatest risk in this precision parenting trend is that in trying to be perfect parents we might also be trying to create perfect children. In spite of my occasional efforts at perfect parenting my children often adopted a “good enough” approach to many things -- so much so that “good enough” became equal to a four-letter word in our house. After so many years as a psychologist and parent I’ve come to understand that the value of being a good enough parent is that we can then appreciate our children as “good enough.”
There’s a lot of pressure on everyone involved. Reasonable expectations of our children and ourselves are central in this child rearing process. I’ve come to believe that good intentions, good sense and good humor count for more than anything. These are good enough.