"Puzzled Grandma in the South" recently wrote to "Dear Abby" asking, "Why is there so much angst today over raising children, especially in young mothers?" Grandma has observed that moms of her generation (baby boomers) did not agonize over raising kids, and neither did her mother or grandmother. She also rightly points out that today's moms seem to lean a lot on expert advice, which she thinks is "a bunch of nonsense." Ironically, I agree.
Grandma is correct in her analysis of the problem, which is that "a generation or so back, moms began to elevate their children to top priority in the family over their husbands."
This shift of priorities took place because the standard message from the experts has been that good parenting is a matter of properly interpreting and responding to a child's feelings. In effect, progressive parenting authors claimed that children's emotions were a) legitimate expressions of internal states that cry out - literally - for parental attention and b) barometers of the quality of the parenting they are receiving.
I'm hardly alone in believing women to be, on average, much more emotionally "intelligent" than men - more attuned to and seemingly more intuitive when it comes to knowing how to respond to other people's feelings. (I don't find many men who disagree with that, by the way.) In short, the books in question "spoke" to women, who began to conclude - and correctly so, if the premise is valid - that they were the only gender qualified to properly carry out the new parenting prescription.
In short order, women began to feel that a) their children's futures rested entirely on their shoulders and b) their kids' success in school was a measure of their worth as moms. Rather quickly, the fairly laid-back American mom (as testified to by Grandma) was transformed into a stressed-out, anxiety-ridden, child-focused micromanager. Without intention, women ended up marginalizing their husbands, turning them into second fiddles. As parenting shoved the marriage aside, husbands began to compensate for the loss of relationship with their wives by, among other things, becoming their children's buddies.
Abby told Grandma that moms are stressed because women want to work outside the home, while at the same time, they want their kids to succeed in an increasingly complicated world. She says that Grandma's peers and female ancestors didn't agonize over her kids because the world was a simpler place 50 years ago. In short, Abby just doesn't get it.
Yes, the world's a more complex place than it was 50 years ago, but 50 years ago, the world was a more complex place than it had been 50 years before that, and so on. But there's no historical evidence to the effect that as the world became more complex from generation to generation, mother anxiety steadily increased. In other words, the world becoming more complex isn't new, but moms agonizing over their kids is.
It's the price they are paying for listening to experts tell them how to do something that is fundamentally simple. The experts made it sound very, very complicated. The new mom believes proper parenting is something she does solely for her child. Not so. Proper parenting is an act of love for your neighbor. But that's hard to see when you've got tunnel vision.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his websites, johnrosemond.com and parentguru.com.