Are parents making parenting too hard?

For The Baltimore Sun
Are parents making parenting harder than it has to be?

One weekend, when my twin boys were not yet 2, I stood in my mother's kitchen, perturbed.

My husband and I had traveled from Baltimore to southern Prince George's County with two babies in tow. Pregnant with my daughter, I was on edge from the shriek-filled drive.

I whined to Mom that when the new baby got here, we were not going to make that trip down 95 so often. All that traveling an hour-plus up and an hour-plus back, skipping much-needed naps, dragging babies around? Not fair!

If people want to see us, they will need to come to Baltimore! Waaah-waaah! And WAAAAH!

And my Mom said, sipping her zinfandel, "We took you kids everywhere when you were little — all five of you. And it was no problem."

I'm sure I had a brilliant retort. But I've often wondered: Was my mother-turned-grandmother suffering from revisionist history? Or am I just a whiner?

I didn't even take my twins to the grocery store until they were close to 18 months old; the prospect of handling two small babies, a suitcase of a diaper bag, a shopping cart, groceries and judgy looks was just too much.

My parents had five children, the last four of whom came with two years or fewer between them. So my mother must have had SOME problems carting five small humans around in the Toyota hatchback. Right?

Equally as infuriating is when my parents insist that my siblings and I never misbehaved or had tantrums while out in public. Not once.

"You all knew better," Mom says, giving me a look that indicates I still better know better. Or else.

Can this possibly be true? Five kids and not ONE public tantrum? Parenting was a piece of cake in the '70s and '80s? But now it's so hard I have to read 10 parenting books and whine, whine, whine about it, and I'm still doing it wrong?

I read an article in The New York Times a while ago about a guy telling people to have more children. Economics professor Bryan Caplan's theory was that raising kids is easier than we make it out to be, if only we were to relax a little bit, have fun with the kids, pick our battles, and quit worrying so much about the latest studies or TV-watching or preschool-picking. Kids are a big responsibility, he agreed, but they're not supposed to equal so much stress. We adults bring that all on ourselves.

"Do you think your grandmother sat on the floor for five hours a day playing with your mom?" he asked. (I'm paraphrasing.) "No. She had things to do and she did them, and she didn't worry about whether your mom would be scarred for life or not say 20 words by age 15.4 months or get into the right college, or any of those things. And guess what? Your mom turned out fine."

So why do I lie awake at night trying to remember if earlier I had said to my son, "You're such a good Lego builder!" instead of "I love that you kept trying!" which apparently — according to all the "grit" and "resilience" theories I've read about — is the difference between making your kid a narcissistic, couch-surfing failure and having him get into college, marry well and not send you to a nursing home in your old age.

Why do I read so much parenting drivel?

Is all the stressing out taking away from the enjoyment I should be having in child-rearing?

To be fair, I enjoy it plenty. I love being these three crazy kids' mom. But could I be enjoying it more if I could Zen out some, happy to be a "good-enough" mother?

So much more seems to be at stake these days. Every decision I make as a parent feels to me like it has dire consequences. I try to relax but mostly I worry. And then I whine.

People with tweens and teens tell me the worrying only gets worse.

Great.

Expect more whining from me.

And send more wine to my mom. She's going to need it.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 5-year-old sons, a 3-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatchergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.

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