The Unnecessary Stress of Modern Parenting

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None of this is as stressful as holding your child on your feet all winter while you don't eat anything and your wife has gone off to hunt in the frigid Arctic waters where killer whales and sea lions may eat her at any moment, but still. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

None of the things in this post are as stressful as holding your child (as an egg) on your feet all winter while you don’t eat anything and your wife has gone off to hunt in the frigid Arctic waters where killer whales and sea lions may eat her at any moment, but still. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Parenting can probably not be totally free of stress and responsibilities. Human young take a very long time to fully mature compared to other animals, so there is some responsibility inherent in being a parent. However, I think there are many ways that humans have created unneccessary stress and responsibilities for parents.

Take the common complain from parents about being a taxi. The internal combustion engine wasn’t invented until last century. Prior to that it was impossible to be a taxi for your kids. There was nowhere that you could take your kids that they couldn’t go themselves, unless they were too young to walk.

Before the last few centuries, nearly everyone lived in small towns of less than 300 people. Almost all of those people would be related by blood or marriage. This meant there was no need to worry about strangers. You knew every person your child was likely to come into contact with, and most of those people would be relatives.

As late as 1910, 80% of Americans were involved in agriculture. For most people, there was no concern about whether their child would find a job, because the answer to what job they would have was immediately apparent: for boys, a farmer. For girls, a farmer’s wife. The situation now is better in many ways, since farming can be very hard work and stifling to human creativity, but it is also worse in many ways. We definitely have more worries about our children’s future job prospects.

Because we have worries about their future jobs, we also worry about their education. We worry about their grades in school. We worry about how they will pay for college. Widespread public education simply not exist before the 1800s, meaning that every single stress about grades, homework, school supplies, dress codes, teachers, school events, prom, and whatever else to do with school, also did not exist.

There was no need to worry about what to do with your kids while you were at work (who will care for them? is this childcare center acceptable? are the people who work there pedophiles?) since most people were farmers, so their children also worked on the farm. Children shared the responsibilities of their parents, both working together for the prosperity of each other. This ties in with the earlier worries about children being prepared for jobs, because if they’re working with you on the farm, they’re being prepared all through childhold for working on their own farm as an adult. What’s more, without the pull of time-suck videogames and trash media, your children would *want* to help you, because your work is interesting compared to how they regularly spend their time.

Junk food is a recent invention. You didn’t have to worry about what kids were eating, because they were eating the same food as you, most likely food that you grew on your own farm.

All forms of media are recent inventions, so now we have to worry about what our kids are watching and listening to. What’s more, with headphones, smartphones, and the internet, we now have less idea what they’re listening to or watching than at any time in the history of media, which only causes more worry. When you go to watch a movie together, you have to think “Is this movie appropriate for my child?” These are additional responsiblities, stresses, and worries. If your school is anything like the one my kids go to, you’ve had pamphlets, websites, and books about internet safety. Without the internet, those concerns could not exist.

Advertising is another recent invention. It’s there on your TV, on the computer, on your phone, in newspapers, in magazines, on buses, on billboards, in public bathrooms, and I’m sure many other places I can’t think of. This means that your kids now want things they wouldn’t otherwise want. That means you now have to tell them no when you otherwise would not have. What’s more, most of the things you’re having to tell them no about did not exist until recently. In my experience, (and certainly I am but one person, so your experience may be different) forbidding someone from doing or getting something they really want to do is very, very stressful.

Of course, if you go back even farther, then human life involved very few things indeed: eating, sleeping, sex, hunting, foraging, playing, talking (probably a few others, but you get the idea), and older kids could be involved in them most of the time.

In some ways, things are better – we didn’t have to worry about what our kids were reading 200 years ago, but only because everybody was illiterate, and we didn’t have to worry about vaccinating our kids because we didn’t even know what disease was – but in most ways that things are different, they’ve created new stresses and responsibilities for parents.

Let me know your thoughts!