Sunday, 28 June 2009

Fraught parents

New mums and dads are still expected to be besotted with their little darlings, loving the experience of being parents, and getting a whole new lease of life from child-rearing.

Any parent who steps out of line and tells another parent they're disillusioned, depressed and disheartened is still seen as a bit peculiar and lacking normal human reactions.

But anonymous internet sites tell a different story. Parents let rip with their secret thoughts and feelings and some of them are at their wits' end. They fantasise about getting their children adopted, killing them, killing themselves. And they wonder why on earth they wanted children in the first place.

It may be just a small minority of parents who feel like that, but nevertheless it contradicts the stereotype that once your child is born the natural parental instinct kicks in and you turn into a loving, devoted mum or dad who takes to childcare like a duck to water.

Sites like Mumsnet, Netmums and Parentline Plus are full of despairing confessions from parents who feel totally inadequate and inept and are begging for advice on how to cope better with a hopeless situation.

What causes all this hidden misery is anyone's guess. The experts have plenty of ideas - post natal depression, too much anxiety and stress, perfectionism, rosy expectations of parenting, the urge to compete, you name it.

Certainly it can't help that having a child is so often idealised as the best experience you can have, giving your whole life a new meaning and totally reinvigorating you. If the reality falls in any way short of this utopian picture, then of course you're going to feel pissed-off and cheated and wonder where you're going wrong.

But the fact is that childrearing is full of trials and tribulations and pitfalls like anything else in life, and it doesn't necessarily come naturally to anyone.

Perhaps if we were more realistic about what it involves, there might be fewer distraught mums and dads wanting desperately to turn the clock back.


  1. Or perhaps more people would use birth control!

  2. Meno - Indeed! And leave having children to those better equipped for the task....

  3. Nick I think a load of parents try 'too' hard. Not all little Johnny's are going to be angels and frankly these days a lot of parents are scared shitless of discipline. I don' mean phyisical discipline just simple routine, the teaching of 'manners' and learning what is acceptible behaviour and what isn't. A well behaved child is stress free .. well almost!

  4. I think we're over-sensitized. Kids now have access to MSG, E numbers and food colouring which drives them nuts for a start. Also there are endless instructions on what we should be doing which quells the natural order and instinct that guided parents before.

    I think we're all programmed to instantly love our offspring from the outset, but the feeling that we're letting them down screws with that instinct, it makes us hate ourselves... I sure as hell know what that feels like.

    There's too much pressure and not enough guidance, though sites like are a lifeline.

  5. The refreshing thing about all of it Nick is that parents are becoming more honest and open about the challenges. I don't think anyone is ready to become a parent, I've surveyed all my friends. And absolutely no one is prepared for it being a life long job. It never stops.
    It is a primitive, biological urge in most cases and yes the babies are loved but what happens next?

  6. Baino - I think you're right about parents being scared of discipline. I see so many children running completely wild and the parents either pretend nothing's happening or wonder why other people are complaining.

    K8 - I reckon parents have always been regaled with too much advice from others, and there comes a point when they realise most of the advice is subjective and start relying on their own impulses.

    The feeling that you're letting your kids down must be very common, but in the end you can only do your best, and they'll mostly be resourceful enough to fill the gaps in their upbringing.

    www - I think that's true that most parents aren't ready for the job and flounder for quite a while until they adjust. And yes, parents forget that even grown-up children can still make huge demands, especially if they're physically or mentally ill.

  7. It's definitely not easy to be a parent, but I also think too many parents do that "helicopter" parent thing these days. They're always hovering instead of letting the kid be bored for awhile. But they hover because they're so worried their kid won't be a "success". I tend to think if more parents would relax a little and ease up, they might not be so miserable.

  8. We train for jobs. Most young couples now train for marriage - they live together beforehand. But with parenthood there is no training and unlike library books, there is no handing back. We learn by trial and error.

    Having said that, I enjoyed and still do enjoy being a parent.

  9. Liz - That's true as well, the helicopter thing. My parents used to leave me to myself most of the time but many parents nowadays watch their kids' every move and take away their initiative.

    Grannymar - I've always wondered why parents don't get some kind of training in advance. It's one of the most demanding and important things you can do after all, and the consequences of getting it wrong can be dire.

  10. I was born to be a parent so it's not easy for me to understand others who feel the opposite. But I do know that hormones are in total chaos after birth and if they get too messed up post-natal depression results.

    And babies can drive you mad with screaming or not sleeping or ... etc. These forums are especially good for parents who may otherwise feel cut off or alone or that they're the only ones who ever felt like murdering their child.

    And most people don't go that far, and get through it with reasonably sane children. The human race is quite spectacular at surviving!

  11. Liz 2 - Good to know parenthood came quite naturally to you. But whatever did people do before all these forums came along to vent those negative feelings? I suspect if my mum was feeling fraught the first person she turned to was her own mum.

  12. Human beings as they have evolved are not equipped to handle parenting as it has evolved. Small communities, or the joint families, provided the infrastructure as it were for bringing up children in a community environment. Such communities exist and those parents grow up as well the children to be successful human beings. In such communities, the obsessive bonding between children and natural parents, does not exist and the children grow up loving all the elders and all the elders in turn, love all the children in the community equally.

    Utopia? Perhaps we will end up there some day, the way things are going.

  13. Ramana - I've often read that children brought up in large communities such as extended families and tribes are much healthier than those brought up solely by the parents. Parents coping on their own can easily become too obsessive and protective.

  14. Here, here! It didn't come naturally to me at all but I grew into it gradually. I often feel guilty that I am not the perfect mother.

  15. Suburbia - Glad you grew into it and didn't fall into despair! I'm sure no mother is perfect, despite appearances. As long as your children are happy and developing their potential, that seems more than enough.

  16. There is a notion which has been around for quite a while that everything that is wrong with anyone is his mother's fault. If we could just get rid of that idea parenting would be a lot easier, and people would learn to take responsibility for themselves.

  17. 20th - Indeed, fathers are equally responsible for their children being brought up properly. Funny though how so often the blame for a child's misbehaviour gets aimed at the mother.

  18. I'm sure you're right about a woman turning first to her mother (I hope my daughter will.) It used to be though that daughters were close - location-wise - to their mothers. But distance shouldn't be a problem with the internet making communication easy. Daughter and I 'speak' several times a day.

    AS for father's and mother's responsibility: they have all my good points and all Husband's bad!!! :)

  19. Liz - True, even family members who live thousands of miles from each other can keep in touch easily through the net. They may not be able to rush round in an emergency but they can give advice and support.