It is something I witness with the families I work alongside, and it is something I have experienced in my own family. Parents feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out. Children are in distress and need more from their parents. Parents are exhausted trying to manage the demands of modern life. Families, parents, and children are all stuck. Usually it is the parents who blame themselves and believe they’re wrong. The problem lies in a fundamental disconnect between our modern world and how we wire ourselves to raise our children.
According to evolutionary theory, there are 8 dimensions to parenting in modern times that can cause problems. There are always risks and benefits to any endeavor. However, many of the factors that can cause problems are also the source for many amazing advantages. Many generations before us would have doubted the number of resources and options available today to help parents. Being able to understand and be aware of the context allows us to make better decisions and protect our children. It is important to recognize that modern family life is very different from the way our species used to live.
1. This is not something we are meant to do alone.
It takes a village “to raise a child”, as the old saying goes. In the past, parenting was done by the entire community. Modern parenting is not common. It involves one or two parents raising children by themselves. This puts a lot of pressure on caregivers and creates unrealistic expectations.
2. Science is powerful
This has the advantage that parents now have a lot of evidence-based information about parenting. This information is not available to parents in the past. We now know how to help parents avoid negative parenting behaviors and how to support them in creating the best possible outcomes for their child. The SIDS back is best’ campaign is an excellent example of how science has provided information that has literally saved children’s lives.
This has the disadvantage that parents are now approaching parenting from a head-versus-heart space. This leads to rigidity. They rely on experts, books, and google for guidance. We don’t look to our children as a guide, but instead make decisions based on how parenting should look. Even if a method is not working, we can continue to use it because that’s what our books say. Even more dangerous is the fact that we blindly follow ‘experts’ who aren’t credible. It is important to be flexible, sensitive, and attuned in parenting. Over-reliance on science can cause problems.
3. Exposure is limited
Human history has shown that people have been exposed to many children and babies before they had their own. Experience with younger siblings, nieces, and nephews, would have been a part of life for those who had larger families and more diverse social structures. You would have seen others breastfeed, had your parenting style modelled and had a good idea of how raising children. The first time someone holds a baby today could be their own.
4. Technology is rapidly changing
Today’s parents are helping their children prepare for a future that is not yet known.
We don’t yet know the impact of current technology.
Parents are left in uncertainty, trying to figure out what is best for their children in the next 10-20 years.
5. System of schooling
Modern schooling is a very unusual environment.
Children are often grouped with their peers of the same age and expected to sit still for long periods of time. In foraging societies, this is not possible.
This is not possible for some children.
Parents’ priorities are influenced by the dominant role of school and academic/cognitive achievement in childhood today. Even with the best intentions, some parents end up prioritizing cognitive growth at the expense or the mental health of their children and their relationships with them. While this is an understandable choice when trying to raise children to thrive and survive in today’s world, there are significant costs.
6. Fewer children
Humans have had fewer children throughout the evolution of parenting. However, they have invested more in their children. This trend has been significant over the last 100 years. It means that more attention is being paid to our children. This is not a good thing or a bad thing in and of itself, but it can increase the expectation and pressure on parents in certain circumstances.
7. Connection is more important than distance
Technology has made it possible to connect with parents and caregivers around the globe, regardless of distance.
It is difficult to know the capabilities of human babies, toddlers, and children to create and maintain psychological connections using technology. This research will not be sufficient to determine the short- and longer-term effects.
8. Different spheres: Work and home
Today’s parents have to manage work and home, as well as multiple roles, worlds, and physical spaces.
Parents have always done other things in their lives than taking care of children. However, in foraging and agricultural societies, much of the work needed was done in the same space as the childcare.
This act of juggling creates stress and pressure.
This is the take-home message: The reason so many parents find raising their children in modern society difficult is the disconnect between how we wire our offspring and the environment in which we live. It doesn’t take much effort to succeed. It doesn’t work out for everyone else. It is not your fault. You’re doing your best to make it a difficult job. Parenting becomes easier when you have self-compassion and flexibility, as well as the right support. Place your hand on your heart and take three deep breaths. Then, tell yourself that you are doing a great job.