Apparently, there is a crisis in modern parenting. It's not that there's no paid parental leave, affordable daycare, or better-funded public schools, it's that parents are letting their children pick their own Sippy cup color, directly contributing to the utter squalor that is Modern Society. Oh No. What Will We Do.
Certainly, if you've read one essay from a warm-but-strict British nanny telling you you're doing it wrong, you've read them all. But this one at HuffPo, titled "5 Reasons Modern-Day Parenting Is In Crisis, According to a British Nanny," is getting shared so voraciously in my feed by moms and mommy groups that I had to take a look. Finally, they seemed to suggest with their shares, someone has told it like it is. (I'm sure they don't think it's about their children, but rather, other people's kids, who are always worse than our own.)
In the piece, British nanny Emma Jenner, who has "worked with children and their parents across two continents and two decades," says she has seen things that alarm her in recent years. Not an increasing diagnosis of autism, or decline in vaccinations, or troubling student-teacher ratios in public schools, but rather, a permissiveness in everyday choices threatening to unravel the very fabric of our society. If we don't fix these "grave mistakes," our children will become "entitled, selfish, impatient and rude adults."
Her five hot beefs are that:
We are afraid of our kids
We've lowered the bar for their behavior
We've lost the village of people who could keep them in check
We rely too much on shortcuts
We put kid's needs in front of our own
So if this is a modern parenting crisis, things were better before, right? Parents of yore (read: her parents, our parents) knew how to raise their kids right and show 'em who was boss. I am so grateful to them. Think, if it weren't for them we'd all have to deal with entitled, selfish, impatient and rude people today in our everyday existences. But luckily now the world is perfect and awesome and no one has any problems except just the kids today who are getting parented by the disciplinary equivalent of a bag of flour.
Here is a representative sample from Jenner's piece:
1. A fear of our children. I have what I think of as "the sippy cup test," wherein I will observe a parent getting her toddler a cup of milk in the morning. If the child says, "I want the pink sippy cup, not the blue!" yet the mum has already poured the milk into the blue sippy cup, I watch carefully to see how the parent reacts. More often than not, the mum's face whitens and she rushes to get the preferred sippy cup before the child has a tantrum. Fail! What are you afraid of, mum? Who is in charge here? Let her have a tantrum, and remove yourself so you don't have to hear it. But for goodness' sake, don't make extra work for yourself just to please her — and even more importantly, think about the lesson it teaches if you give her what she wants because she's thrown a fit.
Ugh. Let's break this down:
Children are actual people. Don't you dare make extra work for yourself just to please her! That greedy little shit, how dare she ask for something! is how this reads to me. What would happen if you pleased a child? In every other relationship we endeavor we are told to go out of our way to please the other person — marriages and friendships are defined by how generous and caring we aim to be. In every way we are counseled to understand first and then be understood. To listen and try to understand where someone else is coming from before reacting. But with children? Fuck that noise, says Emma Jenner.
Parenting is not a shootout at the OK Corral. Kids should get age-appropriate choices. They have zero control over their lives and won't for years. Picking a Sippy cup color here and there is not a big deal. Yes absolutely a child will test your boundaries, no I am not saying let them ask for every color of the rainbow cup to their heart's content. But the bullshit thinking here is that every single preference a child exerts is somehow a boundary test to be smacked down into oblivion or else. WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE? YOU ARE!
Helping through a tantrum is how you teach a kid to regulate emotions. If you cry, I'm outta here missy. I won't be around you when you're upset, that's how bad it is for you to get upset. If you're dead-set on not letting the child change cups, how about making a plan for when she can use that cup, like the next day? And if she throws a tantrum, how about letting her know it's ok she is upset, and that you understand that she wanted the other cup, and when she's feeling more calm you can talk about it? Or is that you don't actually understand why a kid wants the cup?
I won't address them extensively, but Jenner's other points are equally sad to me. For one, she says "The only reason they don't behave is because you haven't shown them how and you haven't expected it! It's that simple." Simple bullshit! That's what. Children are able to be taught to behave in many/most circumstances, but to suggest they are developmentally appropriate enough to never misbehave is a pretty nutso misread of child development.
If anyone has a child that has never misbehaved from now or any time in history, please report directly to the Emma Jenner Foundation for Unicorns to claim your winnings.
Jenner is also right to complain that we've lost the village, but we aren't talking about the same one. I lament a village of closer-knit communities to influence your child and offer different cultural perspectives and help you love your child, whereas she longs for the good old days when "bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child."
Am starting to realize that a lot of people who care for children don't actually like them.
But let's clear one thing up: Strictness is not the same thing as good parenting. If the only measure of whether a kid is "good" or not is compliance, that often comes with authoritarian parenting — the my way or the highway parenting — and recently a University of New Hampshire study found it is actually the least effective style of parenting, and more likely leads to delinquent kids.
So to Emma Jenner, I would suggest some very light reading. There is a wonderful children's book called Red Is Best by Kathy Stinson. It's about a girl who happens to be in love with the color red right now, who only wants red cups and red balls and red stockings, in spite of the fact that it isn't practical. She opens the story with a killer kick-off: "My mom doesn't understand about red."
In it, she explains that red is just better. Red boots make bigger steps. Red mittens make better snowballs. And juice just tastes better in a red cup. What I wish for every kid was that instead of someone getting mad and pulling a classic dick control move because they wanted a red cup, was to just try to understand that maybe that kid is just figuring the world out. Maybe it's important to let kids explore the world and colors and preferences in a safe way that doesn't involve you getting pissed over nothing or somehow registering totally healthy explorations as personal affronts to your power. Maybe juice just tastes better in a red cup, and maybe you forgot what that even felt like because you are too busy making sure everyone knows who is boss.
Image by Jim Cooke.