We helicoptered, we overshared, we felt inadequate. So are we learning from our mistakes asks Lorraine Candy.
At the beginning of this decade I was a married, working mother with three children under seven. Today, at 51, I'm a married, working mum with four children aged eight to 17. I wrote my first weekly parenting column in a national newspaper in 2009, so I've charted the changing parenting trends as a curious observer and an enthusiastic participant.
And if I could choose one headline to sum up the past 10 years, it would be that unforgettable Time magazine cover, "Are you mom enough?" The accompanying photograph, of a mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son, who was standing on a chair to reach her nipple, infuriated women worldwide. The cover articulated the huge pressure mothers have felt to embrace the decade's No 1 trend, attachment parenting, a philosophy that promotes empathy and physical closeness. This has been the dominating force in the multibillion-pound parenting industry, consistently advising us to only breastfeed, to co-sleep and be constantly available to our children's needs, not ours. For me, the cover highlighted the stranglehold attachment parenting theorists have had over educated western parents, particularly mothers, who have been encouraged to believe they must lead child-centred lives.
As more women returned to work after childbirth, especially where they had previously dropped out or taken a career break from a male-dominated industry to start a family, they had to live with the niggling worry that they were not "enough" for their children, that childcare was still the mother's responsibility more than the father's. It felt overwhelming for many, though of course some women heaved a sigh of relief at being able to cherish parenting as the best and only job they wanted to do.
While I mostly ignored the outer edges of this theory, many sleep-deprived women buckled under the emotional battering of attachment parenting. It felt particularly judgmental of mothers who chose to work, which felt like a step back in time.
We also witnessed the emergence of snowplough parenting. Remember the example of the parents who called their child's new school to advise the canteen about the teenager not liking sauce near his food? Snowploughing is shovelling all problems out of the way before your child even hits them. Modern parents are guilty of it, even though it is exceptionally damaging for children. They cannot build resilience this way and life is harder, not easier. Trust me, I have spoken to expert after expert about it.
And over the decade we have all felt the pressure to measure our parenting against others more keenly because of the rise of social media. Facebook is almost 15 years old, Instagram and Pinterest both turn 10 next year. They are invaluable sources of parenting advice and I have found them hugely helpful, but there is a dark side.
A survey in 2010 found that 92% of American children under two had a digital footprint — a detail of them that had been shared online. We started the decade casually unworried about privacy; we know more now and yet the issue of "informed consent" has still not been explored as it should have. If your eight-year-old says they don't mind you sharing their picture online, do they really know enough to agree to that? Check yourself, as my teens say to me. And I note that I wrote about my youngest's birth on the relatively new platform of Twitter in 2011. Was it fair to share intimate baby pictures of her that will appear on her digital CV one day? Probably not. But we all make mistakes as parents, that's one thing I know for sure — and that change is the only constant in parenting.
So, as my eldest child prepares to fly the nest next year, what have I learnt from chronicling our messy, noisy and joyous decade of family life? Well, I was sad to see Dora the Explorer come and go on telly, but glad we've still got Horrible Histories. I'm happy I don't have to read The Hungry Caterpillar ever again, but teary about packing up Where the Wild Things Are.
The most important thing I have learnt is to slow down, to treasure every second, to parent more kindly, with less focus on achievement and more on experience.
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Oh, and to go outside. That's the newest parenting trend coming your way, from forest schools to walking everywhere with your kids. Mother Nature: it turns out she does know best.
Written by: Lorraine Candy
© The Times of London