Friday, July 2, 2010

Reasons why it's harder to be a parent these days...

I'm sure my parents or any other people in my parents' generation (or beyond) would have an equally compelling list to counteract this one, but there are so many things that make parenthood these days more complicated than it used to be. So, in no particular order...

1) Working parenthood - I'm sure there was plenty of this back in the day as well, but I just don't remember hearing about kids who had both parents working...at least not full time. I never remember having friends who went to afterschool programs when I was in school. Most kids had a mom at home, or at least had parents who worked opposite/flexible schedules so one was around for after school, field trips, class parties, etc. Nowadays it's so common (and often necessary) for two parents to be working (probably for some of the other reasons I'll be covering), and it's just unfortunate. It definitely doesn't give kids the foundation we had. Sure, they get different experiences and more formal education at an early age, but it's no wonder society is going to hell in a handbasket when you realize how little impact parents may have on their kids these days. And yes, I am one of those people furthering the cause...and it bothers me every single day. If I really let myself think about it, it saddens me that Jacob will have such a different experience growing up than I did, an experience that I took for granted. When I hear how co-workers' kids have to go to an all-day rec program all summer and things like that, it makes me sad that Jacob will too, because it's that much less time we'll have than I had at home with my mom. On the bright side, it's that much less TV he'll watch in his lifetime, but...still, it's hard to be an involved, energetic and creative parent when work sucks the life out of you and you only have a few hours a day with your kid.


2) Technology - From the evils of the Internet to the lure of video games to the ever-present cell phone age, I don't even know where to start. And very little of this stuff was around when I was growing up, so I don't even have life experience to know when and how to handle these things. When it is ok for a kid to start accessing the Internet? And alone, no less? What parental controls will be the best? Are kids' sites ok, even educational, or is it no better than video games? And what if your kid does come into contact with something inappropriate? How do you ever begin to explain that? And speaking of video games, what's a good limit? Should it just be a reward? Are exercise or educational ones exceptions to that? Or are they all useless? And cell phones...oy. They didn't even exist when I was a kid, and now everyone has them and they do all sorts of fabulous things. But is it safe to let your kid hold one or put it up to his ear, thanks to radiation? At what age should you let you kid have one? Will it impact their social status if they don't have a good one or unlimited texting? Will having that stuff ruin their grades? And what about the risk of "sexting"? Dear God, I am SO not ready for that one. Good thing I have a few years before this becomes a serious problem. And while this is lower on my list, the wide range of cable TV available these days is probably a cause for concern, too. Back in the day, cartoons were on on Saturday mornings and afterschool. Now? There are multiple networks that show cartoons or other kids shows 24 hours a day. Hard to not become addicted to TV when there's always something on.

3) Sunscreen - I think this was a slight issue back in the day, too, but now it's serious business. Back in the day you may have thought about it or just tried to cover them up so they didn't get sunburned, but now it's practically like smoking in front of your child--a serious health concern--if you don't lather them up with sunscreen. There's a ton of different ones to choose from, and you have to remember to reapply after activity or after a certain amount of time. Kids need to be wearing hats, and even when they're swimming, it's preferred that they wear a shirt. And hopefully that shirt will be one with SPF protection, because who knew we still get sun exposure through our clothes? We were at a party with multiple kids a few weeks ago, and while the kids were swimming I was looking around. All but one of the kids (not including Jacob) had a swim shirt on, and I almost felt like a bad mom that Jacob didn't have his on. But he did have a hat and lots of sunscreen. But, oy, so much guilt if you don't cover 'em up! But I wonder, doesn't that get hot? Since you're swimming, the assumption is that it's hot out. Doesn't wearing a shirt defeat the purpose?

4) Food - While I'm sure our parents always tried to feed us balanced, wholesome, healthy meals, there's just so many more unhealthy options out there today. And with busy schedules, it's easier to fall into those traps. And now we're that much more aware of what's bad for us and what kind of damage it can do, so it gets hard to weed through the research and balance it with common sense. Should we never, ever eat at McDonald's, or is it ok once in a while? Mandarin oranges as a side have to be better than fries, but wait, they have high fructose corn syrup! On one hand I want to keep Jacob's menu as reasonably healthy as I can for as long as possible, but then I feel bad that he might not get to enjoy simple kid pleasures--the joy of a McDonald's Happy Meal, the yummy taste of a (soda) pop, the sugary kick of those terribly unhealthy kids' cereals that won't fill him up past 10am. I got to enjoy them as a kid, but again, that may have been before we were so aware of the evils of those things, and should I let him have them (in moderation) just because I did? Or should I ban them because they're just not good for him? Jacob periodically wants to drink our pops, but of course we haven't let him. When will it be ok for him to drink them? And of course, we only have diet pop in the house, so will we have to buy regular for him to keep him away from artificial sweeteners? There's just so much stuff about artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, processed foods, sugar and sodium contents, nitrates in lunch meat and hot dogs, burnt spots on grilled foods, and trans fats in kiddie pastries that it makes you think twice before plunking anything down in front of your kid. At least Jacob eats a lot of fruit. But wait, that probably has pesticides, so should I be feeding him organically? We all survived, but is it that much worse now?

5) Stuff! - There's just so much STUFF out there in the world. All it takes to figure that out is the overwhelming feeling you get the first time you walk into Babies 'R' Us to register. My mom specifically remarked how much stuff there was that didn't even exist when she was pregnant. And sure, a lot of that stuff is useful and we're happy to have them around (hello, boppy pillow and Diaper Champ, electric breast pump and pack 'n' play!), but I'm sure a lot of it is just far from necessary or even that useful. But it only gets worse as they get older and there are Joneses to keep up with and full, huge lines of toys that kids have to have every single piece of. And all that stuff is important to keep them in with their friends and playing what everyone else is playing. And I think every parent wants to give their kid the very best and encourage their interests, so I suppose it's hard to say no or pass up something that even you, as a parent, think is cool. Did Jacob need even the few birthday presents he got from us? No, he probably wouldn't have known the difference. But we wanted to give him a baseball tee, because we fear for the safety of our hands without one, and we wanted to give him his magnetic doodler because he LOVES the ones at daycare. And again, I'm sure it will only get worse as he gets older and figures out that he really does want everything he sees in the store. He won't get it, of course, but it's a tough thing to navigate as a parent, finding the balance between giving them something they really want and will enjoy for a long time vs. just buying something for the short term or for merely societal purposes. Anyway, it just seems to normal today for kids to have so much stuff that it's hard to make your kid be the one that goes without...even if you know it's better for them in the long run. It's just a tough call trying to decide which indulgences are going to be the cool things they remember forever, and which ones won't.

6) Allergies - You hear so much more about kids' food allergies these days. They still don't seem to know why they're popping up so much more, but maybe it's just that they're diagnosed better and kids that spent their entire lives with indigestion, flatulence, and constipation were actually just allergic to something. Who knows? This one is tough for two reasons--figuring out if you can prevent your own kid from getting them, and watching out for other kids that already have them. We've gotten pretty aware of the second one from working around our nephew's egg and nut allergies. It's made party planning a little tougher, but we manage. I can't imagine doing it every day of our lives, let alone spending your life living with a touch of fear that your kid might accidentally ingest something while they're out in the world and still not old enough to know to read labels. It's definitely got to suck the fun out of a lot of things we took for granted as kids--going to fairs and carnivals, sporting events, parties, etc. I know that some schools don't even let you bring in things like birthday cupcakes unless they're pre-packaged so they know the allergen information. And school staples like peanut butter and jelly can't be eaten in many schools these days either. As for preventing your own kid's allergies, you hear a lot of conflicting information. One one hand, it's "Don't eat this during breastfeeding," or "Don't give this to your kid before a certain age," but then you hear that if you avoid those things, they may have a reaction when it finally is introduced into their system. I tried to follow recommended guidelines for introducing foods, and so far so good. We still haven't tried peanuts, but I suppose we will in the next year or so, given a good situation where we're at home and can get to the emergency room around the corner quickly if he had a reaction. But everything else seems ok--and thank goodness for that since his food intake is pretty limited as it is! But all of the conflicting information makes it all such a crapshoot, and perhaps all of these recommendations for food being withheld (which apparently never used to happen, per all of the tales of one year olds eating peanut butter sandwiches) is making things worse. It's hard to tell, and who knows if any of it matters? Perhaps if your kid's allergic, they were always meant to be.

7) "Growing up too fast" - Maybe this has always been a problem to some degree, but it seems like it's becoming more and more of an issue these days. When I see some seven year old walking around in a spaghetti strap dress or teeny bikini, it worries me. Or when I see some four year old with a Nintendo DS playing some sort of shoot 'em up video game, I just shake my head. Many things and activities that used to be reserved for older kids are making their way into the younger set. Overtly sexual lyrics in pop music and certain themes in kids' TV shows just seem to be a little beyond what we dealt with back in the day. Maybe I'm wrong, since I did grow up in the era of "Let's Talk About Sex" and untold other numbers of lyrics we all sang mindlessly. But somehow that seems tame compared to a catchy tune with lyrics like, "I kissed a girl and I liked it..." Ugh. How do you explain that one to your kids? As a whole it just seems like society is granting the wishes of kids that want to grow up faster. It's scary.

I'm sure this is just scratching the surface, but my brain is spent and full of party planning right now. Tomorrow is Jacob's long-awaited 2nd birthday party, and I've been off work all day today getting things done. Still a lot more to do tonight and tomorrow, but I think we're getting there. Should be a good time with great weather for the pool, so we're definitely looking forward to it. I almost wish I could just sit back and enjoy the party instead of running around like a maniac, which I'm sure I'll be doing. Hopefully I'll have time to snap a few pictures and a few minutes to take it all in so I'll have plenty to report back here! Regardless, have a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

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