Monday, September 22, 2008

Parenting in the Age of Change

As a child, I grew up with the belief that all families would forever operate like the families in Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best. In these television programs, there was a father and a mother who got along well. The community was safe. The kids had normal childhood struggles, but for the most part, the children were well behaved and the family was harmonious. People were honest, kind, and acted in a manner that was good for the community. I loved to watch these television shows and also loved to listen to the wonderful stories of previous childhoods as told by my parents. Since becoming a parent, I frequently reflect on these movies and stories. Life seemed so much simpler back in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Life seemed so wonderful.

But then when I really start thinking, I realize that most of these images of family life are select stories, in select conditions, and often glamorized by Hollywood . In reality, there is no way that things could have been that wonderful for everyone. Think about it. Let’s take a few events from the 20th century. World War I occurred from 1914 to 1918 and was fought primarily in Europe. This war resulted in over 40 million casualties. Of course, this affected families tremendously. In 1929, there was a stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. People lost their money overnight , and people were forced to stand in line for food. This economic hardship surely caused the parents and families great stress.

World War II began as the depression was ending. People in Europe lived in great fear, and many of their loved ones were killed. The families in Europe were worried that the Nazis would take over everything. We had a brief moment of peace in the United States after World War II, but elsewhere in the world, families in the Soviet Union and Asia went through a period of immense upheaval as their individual countries came under communist rule.

In the ‘50s, we became engaged in a new conflict, the Korean War. Again, more loved ones were lost, and many families in Asia lived in fear. At that time in the United States, we were very scared that everyone was becoming a communist. We became paranoid. As an example, in the early 60s, teachers in my elementary school taught us how to survive in a nuclear blast.
In addition to this fear, many families of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds faced immense discrimination. The southern part of the United States continued to practice segregation of whites and blacks. African American families did not experience the same privileges that our family of European descent probably took for granted.

Finally, in the ‘60s, we engaged in another conflict, the Vietnam War. During this war, many of our nation’s children were drafted to fight an unpopular war. This war was a major cause of the social unrest during that period of time. Many of the kids at that time looked for alternatives to the current lifestyle and war. They rebelled, became hippies, and engaged in all sorts of behavior that left their parents in shock.

Throughout the history of the United States, people immigrating to the country had to work hard and often away from the family and children they loved. All these events in our country have had profound effects on children and families at large. My childhood primarily was in the ‘60s, and I personally grew up in fear that the country was falling apart. I was very concerned that the Soviet Union would eventually take over.

With due respect to previous generations, I have come to the realization that parenting has always been a challenge. I presented this to my 85-year-old mother, and she agreed that life has always been hard. She noted that people loved the classic movies and shows because they depicted a life that could be, not one that was. The films and shows presented a fantasy in which they could escape. There has always been fear and uncertainty about the future. For many families in the world, there has always been fear of war, economic hardship, periodic environmental disasters, and other stressors that we are facing today. Now is really no different than before.

The only difference between then and now is that the types of stressors have changed. We now have an information overload from the media and internet. We are constantly bombarded with news of doom and gloom. Partly because of this, we live in fear. Further, our families have changed in make-up and composition. We now have many single-parent families, families with divorced parents, same-sex parent families, and families with mixed ethnicity and/or culture. We are also experiencing new economic hardships that we have not seen since the Great Depression. Many families cannot pay their mortgages, and higher gasoline prices are making us all tighten our belts. The current economic situation is downright scary. And as we all know, we have lived in fear of terrorism since the September 11th tragedy. These attacks have changed our perception that the United States was a safe place to live. We are undergoing so many changes in our country that it is really hard to keep up with them all.

The review of these events helps to put all our worries about parenting in a historical context. Throughout time, parenting has always been challenging. There have never been perfect conditions in which to raise a child. Parents have always faced hurdles to overcome. The majority of parents throughout time have been successful in child rearing. The same is true today. Most children end up okay. This is not to minimize the hardships we are currently experiencing. Instead, this is to raise awareness that having to face great challenges is nothing new. As a parent myself, I can totally relate to the concerns many parents have about raising their children. Knowing that previous generations of parents felt the same anxiety about raising their children helps me to not feel alone. Knowing that many parents before us in possibly worse situations from mine were successful in their childhood is quite reassuring that my children will be okay as well.

You, too, can be a successful parent even in the face of all the hardships and changes we are experiencing in our country. You can raise your child in a quality manner. Your child can grow up to be happy and successful. To greatly increase the chances of successful parenting, it is important to focus on the “little things” with your children. Really take the time to appreciate your children for who they are. Spend a lot of time loving them. Frequently hug them, kiss them, play with them, talk with them, guide them, support them, and respect them. Try to face the life challenges that have been given to you in a grateful manner. It is good to realize that someone somewhere else has been given challenges that are far worse. Do your best to stay positive. Have faith that things will be okay as they have been for generations of parents before you. Realize that parenting has always been challenging, but the majority of children do quite well in life. Keep working hard and do your best to enjoy the process.

Parenting has always been challenging, but it has always been one of the most rewarding things you can do. Your children will give you much joy and wonderful memories if you allow yourself some enjoyment. When I come home at night after a long day at work, I typically am greeted with a very warm reception, “Papa!.” My daughter and son both are excited to see me. It is fantastic. I cannot think of anything better than to watch my children grow in a happy, healthy, and successful way. It is a delight for me to see my children smile and have fun. Whatever your situation is, keep your hope and vision for them alive. In time, you will be quite pleased with the outcome of your efforts.