Why seek sympathy…?

It’s concerning how, with increasing regularity, print and broadcast media calls for special sympathy and understanding for one particular group in society … PARENTS! Yet parenthood is a ‘natural’ role and doesn’t happen by fiat. As never before in history has ‘parenting by choice’ been more available. However, notwithstanding that most parents have opted for their role – with an increasing number achieving success only after months, even years, of expensive and challenging fertility treatment – we are called to sympathise.

Whilst it is true that parenting can be specially challenging at some stages – each requiring particular skills, focused energy and patience, but when it’s only the ‘mewling, puking’/boring baby’, the ‘overactive and demanding toddler’, the ‘recalcitrant teenager‘ and the ‘profligate student’ that are headlined .… it’s a wonder the UK population isn’t diminishing at a faster rate than is currently the case.

New and concerning pressures on older children and young people to conform to values and behaviours which their parents may not choose does perhaps mark out extra challenges for 21st century parenting. But this is not the case for babies and toddlers when parents DO still possess significant power to choose and to influence. Here is a unique and precious infant with the potential to lead a full and satisfying life – perhaps to make a big difference in the world.

Parenthood is challenging for sure – but, did anyone promise a picnic? This is a grown-up role requiring individuals to have the flexibility/adaptability and ‘other-centredness’ to meet the daily needs of their small, and subsequently not so small, offspring. Parenting should not be pathologised, but embraced, not least as potentially the most powerful opportunity for selfknowledge and self-development people can ever have – if they accept its potential. Yes, parenting can be tough at times – but rarely a case for public sympathy…

Is the headline focus on ‘parenting‘ problems really about today’s adults being discouraged from drawing deep within themselves to find that necessary dollop of selflessness the role requires within the prevailing individualism of 21st century society? For ‘me time’, ‘me space’, and ‘me resource’ is often in short supply for parents. Through generations it is to be regretted that women as mothers have been ‘nudged’, even bullied, into managing their lives according to the prevailing cultural zeitgeist. For earlier generations their role focus had to be on Motherhood. Now, it is only women’s achievement beyond motherhood that is respected – even ‘valorised’ – with only roles in paid work argued as affording adequate levels of women’s self-valuing (we note the dominance of these ‘achieving heroines’ on Woman’s Hour!)

And it is the case that combining paid work and parenting does bring additional pressures. Doing parenting well for both mothers and fathers requires informed recognition of what the critical needs of their babies are. But giving the necessary time and commitment every child deserves is likely to bring for parents a satisfying harvest. And who would not wish to be a parent of happy children? However, less money, less time, energy and resources to meet one’s personal needs is the reality; but even that great feminist, Simone De Beauvoir, recognised that one’s ‘freedom should not be at the expense of others’. So, I would say – ‘Parents, you chose the role, now deal with it’.

Not everything needs to be perfect for our little ones – far from it – but every child must hold a sufficiency of good feelings in their heart, and joyful memories in their mind, to serve and sustain them into the future when life may be troubled and bleak. For this to happen, we need informed, committed and optimistic parents convinced of the value of their role and prepared to commit time and energy to it.

A baby is a magic gift, full of possibilities for them, for you, and for the world they will inhabit. So, come on parents, smile as you engage in your precious task, nurture and value your little ones for what they truly are, and can become ….

In summary, parenting endeavour needs public respect and admiration and support, not pity. Overall, we need to seriously question why being a supplier of ‘loving care’ to one’s own precious children currently is viewed as so deserving of headline sympathy.

Dr Carole Ulanowsky (Researcher: Women as Mothers – Changing Role Perceptions)