It's a pretty big statement to make that parenting is in crisis.
But for many of us who are birth, breastfeeding and parenting workers, we well know that there is indeed a crisis going on, and it's been happening for quite some time.
Perhaps as a parent, deep down you feel it too. Something isn't quite right about how you feel or how you are coping as a parent.
You probably don't even know what to do about it, because you feel that it's something even bigger than you.
If so, you should know that you're not alone in feeling this way.
Today, many parents are exhausted, lost, confused, stressed, depressed, anxious and have a lack of confidence in their abilities. They think it's all them not being ‘enough' when they most certainly are.
Most people don't even realise that in many countries, the leading cause of death amongst new mothers is suicide. Surely that's saying something — yet you don't hear a peep in the media, nor do you see any government plans being put into place to help reverse this situation.
So what's causing all this? Here are 9 big reasons why parenting is in crisis:
#1: The Village No Longer Exists
The village has long gone for the vast majority of parents. There is nothing truer than the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
Once long ago, we lived in communities, where women shared in circles and supported one another. They'd keep each other company during the day, while the men hunted, gathered and protected. It was a team effort for the whole community. Parenting was much less stressful, because there were many arms to share the load. Children were happier, because they had more freedom and nature around them to explore too.
Today, sadly it's the norm to raise children single-handedly for most or all of the day — without even a whiff of a village. Some families are very lucky to have a close-knit relationship with their relatives, with plenty of help on offer. But it's more the exception than the rule these days.
Feeling isolated and unsupported is a real, painful thing. We have to actively seek out support and build networks with strangers if we want anything that somewhat resembles a village. That alone can be anxiety provoking for parents.
#2: The Lack Of Parenting Skills Being Modelled
We can be quick to blame our parents for how we turned out, but before we blame them, we must consider too that they likely had poor modelling themselves. The parenting crisis doesn't belong to one generation. It began long ago, when industrialisation came onto the scene. Men were sent away to work for a living, away from their families and communities. Steve Biddulph talks about this in his fantastic book, Manhood, which will open up your eyes into the not so obvious, real life struggles that men face.
Men of today grew up during a time where fathers didn't always tell their sons that they loved them. For many of our parents, they grew up during a time where a woman's work was in the kitchen, and a man's work ended when he returned home. A time when kids were seen and not heard.
Something else to consider is that these days is that the first — or perhaps second — time an adult holds a baby is when it's their own.
Once upon a time, birth, breastfeeding and parenting was an every day part of community life. Children were exposed to these things from a young age, and they gained hands-on skills as they helped to tend to babies. But now, that's gone along with the village. Many of us have to learn how to parent with very little knowledge, experience or positive modelling.
Opinionated people like to blame parents for being too soft, too hard, too left of field… but so many parents are just doing what they can to get by, or are behaving in ways based on what they saw growing up as a child. They may parent they way their parents did, or may be so opposed to how their parents did things, that they swing far in the opposite direction.
Taking a parenting course is one answer, but there are actually few national or international parenting courses that give both parents and kids what they need. If you're curious, BellyBelly recommends Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), which was created by award-winning psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon. We also have a range of recommended parenting books here.
3: Money Rules The Parenting Domain
Big money rules this multi-billion dollar domain. Parents buy products based on expertly crafted, sneaky marketing messages. These professional sales pitches come full of promises and have one purpose: to get your money into their pocket — at any cost.
Breastfeeding counsellors often pick up the pieces of breastfeeding problems after a parent has bought into a unhealthy feeding or baby sleep routine. Or perhaps a parent tried formula because they they heard their baby would sleep better, only to be broken-hearted to find their baby started weaning completely.
The market is awash with unqualified advice from baby whisperers who require no license to write a book, and they're making a fortune. They promise parents everything, at the cost of a baby's (and sometimes parents) emotional health and wellbeing. Some routines may ‘work', but they come at a huge cost.
If parenting wasn't in crisis, we'd well know what is normal and healthy for a baby. We'd feel much more supported and cope a little better. We'd spend less money, because we'd know that babies truly need very little, aside from their parents, to be content. Here are four common and unhelpful baby sleep myths, for example.
In the book Parenting Inc, author Pamela Hall takes a look at how the billion dollar baby industry has changed the way we raise our children. Marketers prey on our anxieties and insecurities as parents — after all, that's what marketing is designed to do. We are driven to buy they things we think will make us feel complete and adequate, or good parents. What better way to drive sales than to make you feel inadequate without them?
#4: We're Have Disempowering Birth and Breastfeeding Experiences
Believe it or not, your birth and breastfeeding experience will change you forever. How you were treated, how you felt and what happened, creates thoughts and beliefs that become our ‘stories'. Ask a grandmother — she'll still remember what happened and how she felt when she gave birth. Birth is a rite of passage that we must honour.
Birth intervention rates are sky high, despite years of warnings from the World Health Organisation and other peak bodies. They have told us that based on extensive research, c-sections should not exceed 10-15% of births. It simply does not save any extra lives after that point. Yet, we accept major surgery or other interventions as being part of the course that we had to have, and live with unresolved questions and feelings.
There's so much hurt, pain, dashed hopes and guilt when it comes to birth and breastfeeding. Some mothers seem to harden from their experience, and project that hardness onto other mothers. Some women feel broken, depressed and anxious all the time. On top of that, we feel like we are being judged, which adds to our guilt.
Until we start acknowledging one others experiences, have adequate debriefing post-birth and reduce the ridiculous rate of interventions, this will continue. Here are 9 effective ways we can increase the vaginal birth rate.
#5: Life Has Become One Big Distraction
Technology is in our faces everywhere, and it can be distracting and damaging. It can drive wedges in relationships, rewire brain pathways, result in addictions and anxiety, obesity and other health issues. We've become so reliant on our smartphones, and it's not going unnoticed. In fact, recent research found smartphone users use their phone to complete around 140 tasks per day. They also found 4 in 10 users felt lost when they were not using their smartphones.
Recently, I realised that working in front of a screen all day and socialising on technology was taking up far too much mental and emotional energy. At the end of the day, I would be so drained I couldn't even read words on a screen – it was all fuzzy. Yet all I could think about was my to-do list. I lacked the emotional energy to deal with family life at night because I just wanted sleep. I HAD to take a step back for the sake of my own health, my kids and my relationships with others. I was an emotional zombie — but cutting back and giving more to myself made me feel human again.
Another growing and largely unspoken about problem with screens: more mothers are opening up about their heart wrenching stories of having a porn addicted partner. High speed internet porn is more accessible than ever, and it's no longer just a men's issue — a growing number of women are becoming addicted too. For support and information, visit yourbrainonporn or fightthenewdrug.
We've forgotten how to be present. How to be in the moment. We're watching our life flashing by and missing life's precious moments. If we put technology away more, if we feel more and open up more, we just might enjoy life slowing down a little more. But, that is a task in itself.
#6: We Don't Feel Confident Trusting Our Instincts
All too often I hear and see parents drowning in a sea of advice with no clue as to what they should do. They think they should do what best selling book authors or “baby whisperers” tell them. As parents battle their heart calling out (and their baby's biologically normal programming) against routines, plans and programs, there is certain to be heartbreak and confusion.
When you tell parents to trust their instincts, they feel that information from an expert would be much better, in case they do something wrong. But, loving your baby requires no expert. Many countries don't even have the internet and cope just fine.
If you're waiting for permission: go hold your baby. Pick her up. Love her, snuggle her and wear her. Parent as your heart tells you, then it wont feel so heavy.
#7: Governments And Workplaces Do Not Support Optimal Parenting
The pressure of having to return to work sooner than we'd like, the lack of breastfeeding friendly workplaces and needing to rely on day care just screams the message that mothering is not a worthy occupation. Workplaces are about making money and having efficient, well oiled machines. There is no room to fit in optimal parenting if you want a career in most workplace environments. Obviously, without work, there is no income. Our maternity leave scheme is better than other countries, but we have a long way to go. The government needs to invest in this, not take away all important funding from families to better raise their children.
A recent question sent into BellyBelly:
“Can anyone give me some advice. I have a 10 week old little boy here who has just stolen my heart. The problem is is that I have to go back to work in about two weeks and I am dreading it. I think about it and burst into tears immediately because I don't want to leave my son. I have no choice but to work because I'm the breadwinner in the house and I'm fortunate to have both sets of grandparents watching my little boy but none of this is making me feel any better.”
The early years are SO important. They are critical foundation years. Most parents want to be there. But they either must work to afford to live — or work to afford childcare. It's backwards. We shouldn't have to live to work. We should be free to live for ourselves and our families. Since we're spending a fortune on unnecessary interventions (remembering that excess isn't saving more lives, it's just excess), the government could better serve by seeking to lower intervention rates, then shifting that money to new parents and supporting workplaces to become more family friendly.
I don't think governments or others have any idea of how much better life would be if gave mothers and fathers the time and freedom to return to work when they are ready, or have more flexible working from home options.
#8: Society Doesn't Value Parenting
Women get strong messages from society about what motherhood should be about. They feel pressure to get back to work as soon as possible and to lose weight as soon as possible (so they can be a ‘yummy mummy'). Parents get told to leave their babies with carers, so the babies will learn how to be independent and the parents can get their life back. It's as if becoming a mother or father is something to shake off as quickly as possible.
Men are not immune to feeling that being dad isn't a valued choice. Darren Mattock from Becoming Dad says:
“We now have this body of fatherhood research that speaks to the importance of men's role as a father that begins during pregnancy and has a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of babies and children. But we as a culture and society are not reflecting the value of that in the way we support men as they are becoming dad or value their contribution to family life.”
“We also see their primary role as ‘providing', yet still often measure and judge this in a financial sense, not valuing the providing that men are doing at home. This leaves many men feeling inadequate and that they're never providing enough,” he says.
We don't give mothers — or fathers — positive images and supportive messages about what it means to be a parent. At a time where parents need to hibernate, slow down and forget the manic life around them, life is still whizzing past on the outside, with a strong suction force, trying to draw them back in.
#9: Media Influences
You only have to look at the headlines of the latest magazines to see the way celebrities are celebrated and put on a pedestal for the way they handle parenting. They're able to whip back into shape super quickly, looking glamourous the whole time. I guess it's not so hard with a team around you to ensure you're back to your pre-pregnancy look and feel as soon as possible.
Celebrities are often utilised as a reliable source of parenting advice, or even seen to be more credible than sources who have been studying the emotional health and well-being of babies for many years. Here are 6 baby sleep experts worth following.
Understandably, celebrities too have massive pressure from their industry, in order to get back to work and look the part. But all of these above things mentioned in this article could apply to them too.
A Final Note…
Perhaps it might be too late for those of us who have already had children. But I live in the hope that one day, we can make big changes for our own children. Ask yourself this: how would you want your children to be supported as new parents?
By informing and educating others, this is my gift to them. Please spread the word. It's time for a revolution.