They say “It takes a village to raise a child,” but where are they?
If you’ve got kids, you’ve got worries. That’s pretty much how this whole parenting thing works. Yet, something about raising kids in this particular moment in history feels different, more demanding, and impossibly high-stakes.
The parents I interviewed for my new book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, recognized this feeling of pressure all too well. Katie, the mother of three school-aged boys, admitted, “I feel like every interaction with the kids—every decision that we make as parents—has this huge weight associated with it. How is this going to impact them as they grow into adults? Is this the right thing to do? Will this set them on the right path?”
It’s hardly surprising that this anxious state of mind is the norm for so many of us. We’re raising kids in a world that seems harsher, less forgiving, and ever more perilous. We feel torn between our desire to love and connect with the people our children are right now and our responsibility to prepare them for a future that is frighteningly unknown.
That’s why it’s time for the village to step up. Here’s why.
An Uncertain Future
Economic uncertainty is certainly a catalyst for heightened worrying. Roughly four in ten Canadian workers now report that anxiety regarding their own employment interferes with their personal lives on an ongoing basis. And, of course, as we plan for the future and start thinking about what the working world may look like a decade or two from now, we, as parents, can’t help but stress about available job prospects for our kids. How will they manage to get by in a world where precarious employment is well on its way to becoming the new normal—and where the co-workers of the future may even be robots?
It’s a lot to process alone. Immeasurably harder is the fact that many parents are reluctant to speak frankly and openly about the amount of anxiety they are truly experiencing. It is understandable that many of us are choosing not to lay our cards on the table, holding our less-than-perfect hands close to our chests. We’re part of a culture that is quick to accuse us of being “helicopter parents” and to blame us for raising “snowflake kids,” if we do dare to articulate our concerns.
Changing the Conversation
We need to push back against that narrative—the one that accuses us of being an overly anxious generation of parents raising an overly anxious generation of kids. Instead, we need to make the case that anxiety is a perfectly rational reaction to the state of the world today—and then discuss the ways in which we can handle that anxiety. As it turns out, this is one of the most challenging requirements in the job description of the modern parent: Identifying key strategies for managing our own anxiety and, in turn, helping our kids to do the same.
A good place to start is by acknowledging our own strength and by encouraging ourselves to recognize just how brave we parents truly are. Think about it. Parenting, in itself, is the ultimate act of bravery. It represents a bold investment in the future—one that requires a huge leap of faith. So rather than beating ourselves up for feeling anxious and uncertain, we need to give ourselves credit for showing up and facing our own vulnerabilities. We need to support other parents that are choosing to do the same.
We need to pinpoint the anxiety management strategies that work best for us—and then help our kids to do likewise, understanding that what works for us might not necessarily work for them—and vice-versa.
It’s Time for the Village to Step Up
We should strive to be the kind of family that knows how to wind down and take a break from all the worry – a tribe that supports one another in doing just that. We should refuse to allow our nervousness about what lies ahead to cast a shadow on our children’s lives in the here and now. We don’t want to treat our kids like mini-adults by asking them to shoulder worries that they shouldn’t have to think about quite yet. Yes, it’s important to prepare our children for the future, but not if it means sacrificing their one-and-only childhood along the way.
We need to teach ourselves to become comfortable dealing with deeply uncomfortable emotions like anxiety—and to celebrate the many ways that anxiety can move us to action. Instead of trying to bury the uneasiness, let’s hear it out. The message is clear — the status quo simply isn’t good enough, not for us and not for our kids.
We need to recognize that while some of the situations that are making us anxious are within our immediate control, others most certainly are not. We can’t solve the problems associated with climate change singlehandedly, and ditto for fighting off the robots that seem to be coming for our kids’ jobs. However, we can join forces with other people who share our desire to create a better world and who are eager to tackle these kinds of monstrous issues together. Systemic problems require systemic solutions, after all.
Finally, we need to shift our thinking about parenting in a way that allows us to offload at least some of the effects of anxiety. We need to stop treating parenting as a personal problem that we are required to solve on our own and to recognize it for what it truly is: a collective responsibility.
Bringing up the next generation of citizens is, without a doubt, both a hefty responsibility and an exciting opportunity—and one that the entire community should embrace. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child’s parent.
It’s time for the village to step up.
Want to learn more about raising a happy kid? Check out my new book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids.