What’s Making Us Miserable

I don’t usually do “response” posts, but a friend shared this on Facebook last night, and I had a whole lot to say… more than felt reasonable in a comment!

I was excited to read the article! Maybe I would discover some paradigms I had been unwittingly buying into that were making me unhappy. I enjoy having my illusions shattered! And in her intro she reveals that she parented both with and without the internet, and that she had noticed huge differences. That made me realize that a lot of my conflicts around parenting with my own mother are mostly about access to information: I have way more than she did. I couldn’t wait to delve into the differences and become a happier mama!

Unfortunately, this article didn’t do that for me.

The crux of the piece is that despite having more access to information, “modern” mothers are less happy than previous generation because we’re overwhelmed. She then lays out a list of “myths” that this excess is apparently driving is to believe. Once we break free of them, we will be happier more fulfilled parents. As a new mama who consumes a ridiculous amount of parenting and baby related media online (from a variety of sources) I ought to be an ideal candidate for the change in perspective she is offering!

But before we get to her list, take a look at this bit:

Fast forward twenty short years (inserting the internet half way through), and few mothers I meet would say the same. Though most are striving, hardly any of us are actually arriving at a level of self-assuredness and satisfaction proportionate to our dedication and investment. In fact, the amount of self-doubt I’ve experienced in my own post-internet parenting has been exponentially more than my pre-internet days, even though I know about a kajillion more things than I did then.

How can this be? How can such a wealth of information be both increasing our understanding AND decreasing our sense of self-worth?

She claims that the reason we doubt ourselves as parents is because our brains were not wired to handle all if this information. She does not say how much information we ARE wired to handle or mention any studies on this, it’s just “less than this” and “take my word for it.”

But take a look at that first paragraph again. Contemporary parents are STRIVING she says, but we are not satisfied. Maybe that’s because the state of if the nature of the act if striving.

If I’m striving to be a better parent, what does that entail? It entails self examination. It entails being willing to admit when I’ve made a mistake and being ready to change my mind. It entails humility. And yes, that comes with some self doubt. I don’t doubt my parenting decisions because I’m overwhelmed by too much information – though I respect that there IS a lot of information out there and that many parents do indeed feel overwhelmed by it – I doubt my parenting decisions because I’m testing them and evaluating them. Doubt is baked in, it is not a side effect to be done away with, it’s an integral part of the process.

Yes, intuition can be lovely and helpful, especially as a parent. But many parents don’t always feel an intuitive sense about every single thing. Or they may simply want to know more about a given topic. Why is my baby doing this? When is this stage likely to end? How do other parents deal with X? I you’re not privileged enough to have a great source of parenting info (like a stellar parent or friend or pediatrician) the magic of he internet is, well, sort of magical in those situation.

Now lets dive into just a couple of the myths.

3. A desire to stay home with your kids signifies a lack of intelligence, motivation, or competency.

Which corner of the parenting internet, largely populated by blogs by stay at home parents, is perpetuating this myth? Where on earth is she getting this and how does it have anything to do with our supposed overload of information?
Maybe in the deepest depths of the parenting forums some working parents comfort themselves by talking shit about stay at home parents. But I can’t think of a single online publication that subscribes to this idea. Everywhere from babycenter to scary mommy seems to take a similar stance: some moms work. Others don’t. That’s cool.

4. A desire to work outside the home signifies a lesser degree of love for or attachment to your kids.

See above.

10. Our children’s questionable choices reflect bad parenting on our part.

I’ve never met a parent, my own included (and they were certainly parenting pre-internet y’all), who didn’t feel that way at least some of the time. And while many parents work their asses off and do a great job, and their kids still make poor decisions sometimes because they are human beings, you know what? Sometimes bad parenting does lead to shitty outcomes. It happens. Again, that’s why we question ourselves and strive.

11. There is a right way to parent.

If there is one thing that having a ridiculous amount of parenting information has ever convinced me is NOT true, it is this statement. Many people had access to more limited information (like their parents for example) seem to think this though. “Well that’s the way I was raised, and I turned out just fine” etc.
Maybe some days I wish there was one right way, but the magic of the internet gives me a little window into hundreds upon hundreds of parents parenting in vastly different ways and still yielding largely positive results.

14. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.

This is certainly an idea that is prevalent in our society, but again I don’t think it has anything to do with contemporary parenting or our supposed information overload. Parenting forums are full of people doing just that – reaching out and asking for help – and while responses can vary I have never seen another parent respond with “why weren’t you good enough to just deal with this on your own?”

A couple of her myths did ring true for me, as ideas I sometimes suffer from and ideas that are sometimes perpetuated by the onslaught of information available to me.

6. Balance is what we’re all seeking.

This one hit home for me. I never feel less balanced or at home in my own skin than when I’m worried about balance. And yet I keep falling for it, believing that the mythical balance between parenting, work, and adult life is just around the corner and just out of reach.

9. We’ll feel joyful about our mothering experience once everything’s lined up and organized.

Yeah, totally. Ugh.

Go read the whole list, and if you are suffering from any (or all) of these myths, please do try to take comfort in the fact that they are largely untrue. If you got something useful out of the breakdown of myths, I’m glad, and I’m not here to shame you. Certainly, there are parents who are suffering.

But I think by and large our suffering isn’t due to too much information. Here is a short list of places I think it does come from:

1. Parenting is hard.
2. Lack of meaningful support.
3. Lack of representation and information for many types of families.
4. Some people think it’s ok to tell parents what to do.
5. Economy is total shit and global capitalism is screwing us over.
6. PARENTING IS HARD.

7. Bad ideas about parenting, which we absorb without realizing it from all kinds of sources, sometimes even our own families.

I think on the whole it is always a good thing to challenge the ways that people feel bad, and people doing the labor of parenting certainly need that. I guess I’m just ultimately sick of being told that these are “modern” problems, and the implication that we would be happier and better parents if only we didn’t have so much darn information! I have a copy of What To Expect from the 1980s, and I am damn glad I have other sources of info!

Yes, the internet can be overwhelming. But the thing I’m most overwhelmed by on the internet is people on the internet telling me how overwhelmed I must be by the internet.

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