The New York Times recently had a story called “The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting” that really struck home. I’ve seen it shared about 15 times on Facebook by friends and others, and I thought it would make a great discussion here. Here’s the subheading: “Raising children has become significantly more time-consuming and expensive, amid a sense that opportunity has grown more elusive.” Yeppppp. Some quotes (with hyperlinks from the original article):
[They quote a professor mom who describes all the different lessons she signed her under-5 kids up for, and then note:] While this kind of intensive parenting — constantly teaching and monitoring children — has been the norm for upper-middle-class parents since the 1990s, new research shows that people across class divides now consider it the best way to raise children, even if they don’t have the resources to enact it.”
They also note that “[m]others who juggle jobs outside the home spend just as much time tending their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s,” explaining further:
The time parents spend in the presence of their children has not changed much, but parents today spend more of it doing hands-on child care. Time spent on activities like reading to children; doing crafts; taking them to lessons; attending recitals and games; and helping with homework has increased the most.
Today, mothers spend nearly five hours a week on that, compared with 1 hour 45 minutes in 1975 — and they worry it’s not enough. Parents’ leisure time, like exercising or socializing, is much more likely to be spent with their children than it used to be. While fathers have recently increased their time spent with children, mothers still spend significantly more.
Or here’s a fabulous, fabulous quote from one of the moms interviewed: “There’s this sense that something is wrong with you if you aren’t with your children every second when you’re not at work.” Oooof. YES.
I am grateful to have a husband who wants to be very, very involved with the kids and loves to play with them — but as an introvert I find the expectation to “constantly entertain” my kids to be completely overwhelming. I feel guilty if, on weekend days, we only do one craft project, board game, or other super-focused time. (In other words, when I put my phone down for a solid 15 minutes.) I don’t think this is “working mom guilt” — I think this is just mom-mom guilt.
I feel guilty when I know we have 10,000 arts and craft supplies and tools on hand and I can’t find them in the 5-minute window in which my youngest expresses interest in watercolors or a craft project — which makes me feel guilty that I haven’t spent time when the kids aren’t there (like during my working hours!) to research or set up crafts or art projects. I feel guilty when my idea of “mommy time” is trying to sweet-talk one of the kids into running errands with me.
During working hours, I already research local classes the kids could do, and during the summer I have to use Excel charts to keep track of everyone’s camp schedules. It’s only recently that I’ve started not feeling overwhelming guilt if I go for a run during the middle of a weekend day.
I sound like a little crazy to myself. In fact, if a friend were talking like this I would give her a hug and tell her to schedule some self-care. But I’ll bet I’m not alone.
I don’t know what the answer is — I’ve written before (but cannot find it now!) about how I’m strangely, defiantly anti-Martha Stewart in many ways — no Elf on the Shelf for me! I throw away my kids’ artwork (after I lovingly photograph it to include in a family photo album that I, of course, will make, that no one but me will look at)!
My kids wore PJs the entire first year! — but that kind of defiance just feeds right into the Mommy Wars, doesn’t it? After all, it’s one thing for me to choose not to do Elf on the Shelf — but another to roll my eyes at the moms who do, ultimately because I worry that that they make me look bad. (I know, I know — just keep repeating Amy Poehler’s famous quote to yourself: Good for you, not for me!”)
What are your thoughts, ladies? Do you feel like there’s a relentlessness to modern parenting — and how do you deal with it as a working mom? (Side question — I know my husband feels the stress — how do your partners feel about this?)
Stock photo via Shutterstock / Oksana Kuzmina.
i built a crazy resume in high school and went to an ivy. but i spent most of my younger childhood playing by myself/ bored. my ideal for my kids would be to leave school early and play at home and to have weeks at home in the summer to go to the park and be a little bored. but we dont do that (yet) because it would involve hiring a private babysitter/nanny which is much more expensive than daycare/camps. i think that this article completely missed the point that activities are often considerably cheaper than downtime for working parents.
Same as above. Ivy undergrad/ Top 5 MBA program. Zero activities as a child. Watched tv, played with my neighbor, siblings, read. Prefer my kids in daycare/camps now.
That’s a good point. Our kindergartner is in after-care at her elementary school, and while I don’t love it, it’s much more affordable than the $200+ / week that an after-school sitter would cost in our area. And although I almost choked when reading the per week cost of summer camps, again, they’re more cost-effective than a summer nanny. Maybe when our youngest is in elementary school we’ll go the “summer nanny, laze around all day” route (which I love in theory), but for now it doesn’t make sense to pay that for the older kid plus the cost of full time daycare for the younger one.
I don’t know; articles like this annoy me. They feel judge-y, but I don’t see what the alternative for heavily-scheduled kids is, for two full time working parent households in a world where we can get arrested for leaving kids unattended.
Agree that they’ve sort of missed the mark with this article. I’m in a HCOL area, where a child getting to come straight home after school, not be in a camp in the summer, etc. is a PRIVILEGE, because it means you can either afford a nanny or just have one working adult in your household.
I agree with you on this point, but the article’s statement that parenting has become more intense and individualistic as the stakes have risen and opportunities seem more scarce really resonated with me.
As the teen years loom, I feel tremendous pressure to give my child every possible advantage. I come from a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” background and put myself through a top-notch public university with no parental support or guidance. I fell into my first career through sheer luck; I had no way of knowing that you were supposed to apply for jobs in September of your senior year, not January, or that over the summers I should have been doing prestigious internships instead of working, or which majors would have made me most employable. When I went to law school/grad school, I thought that I would be fine accepting a scholarship to a school of middling rank and graduating at the top of my class; I had no idea that I would have had far more opportunities had I gone to one of the top-tier schools to which I didn’t even apply because they were expensive and inconveniently located. It wasn’t until halfway through law/grad school that I began to understand that the elites of society truly do exist on an entirely different plane defined largely by social networks, and that you can’t get ahead just by being smart and doing good work. As a result, I’m determined to make sure that my daughter understands the system and knows how to play the game so she has access to all the opportunities she might desire. I made her go to cotillion, I send her to the “best” camps (not always the fanciest), I am involved in her course selection at school, I encourage her to seek out opportunities and pursue her interests at a high level instead of just goofing around.
I also know from personal experience as well as observation of the way the world is changing that choices a kid makes as early as middle school can open up or cut off opportunities for the rest of her life. I don’t like it, but it’s true. So I encourage my daughter to do her best at everything and to stay far, far away from any potential trouble, not because I am a tiger mom but because I want her to have the freedom and ability to choose any path she wants in college and adulthood.
Well, yeah, I guess that’s why!
This is what hit home for me: “Friends are constantly texting support, but no one has time,” she said. “It’s that we’re all doing this at the same time.” To me it demonstrates the cultural shift that’s taken place since I was growing up. I constantly feel alone and disconnected. I thought it was just my particular circumstances but it looks like a much more widespread issue. (That’s why I like this site, because it makes me feel more connected to other moms who are going through it.)
I also agree with avocado above that the paradigm that worked when we were growing up won’t work now. I’m scared as hell of dealing with all of these decisions as my daughter grows up (she’s only 2 and we want to give her a sibling). My husband and I both went through similar situations as avocado, and while we’re doing very well now (he’s a law partner and I’m in-house counsel) I’m having anxiety thinking about how to ensure future opportunities for my daughter. Even though I’m sure she’ll do well in school, I just don’t think it’s enough anymore.
it’s not. i work in higher ed. and it is scary that it’s not. but it isn’t just who you know, but that there are so many college students who are did cancer research and founded non profits as kids, that by the time they get to college they already have a well established resume. it is crazy! i wish kids could just be kids. i don’t care if my kids are partners of law firms or ceos of companies, but life has gotten so expensive that i’m just nervous about them getting jobs that pay them enough to afford life, while also not working 24/7
I’m curious what institution you’re at. I work at a respectable state school, and it would be really rare to have a bunch of students like the ones you describe. And yet our graduates manage to get decent jobs and have good lives (myself included), so …? I sometimes think this board has a really skewed version of what success looks like. You can opt out of the hyper-competitive race and still have a good life.
Anonymous for this says
Oh man, do I agree with you on this. I married up in class and am now much more aware of the things that the wealthy do – and my family had no idea. Do I like the idea of cotillion? Not at all. Do I think I’m going to make my daughter do it? Yes, I do, because I want her to be in that environment and exist in that sphere.
Why is it so important to you that your daughter be “elite”?
I grew up in a solidly middle-class household (not upper middle class – really, really middle class). I was smart and worked hard, but I went to a mediocre high school. I went to an OK undergrad. I studied my butt off and got into an elite law school, and now work with many people who are considered “elite.” I could have probably gotten further ahead or further ahead faster if I had grown up doing all the “right” things. But I’m doing just fine as is (and I graduated college during the recession, btw). My husband and I still socialize with a middle-class group, because they’re more fun and we don’t have to deal with the Keeping Up With The Joneses mentality. I don’t need to be in the top .00001% to be happy and successful.
I am not aware of an epidemic of smart, hardworking kids with stable and well-resourced families not getting good jobs because they didn’t go to Cotillion. I AM aware of an epidemic of smart, hardworking kids with stable and well-resourced families developing depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal tendencies because of the pressure their parents and peers put on them to be THE BEST. I am aware of those same kids being totally lost after college because their parents aren’t hovering over their shoulder anymore telling them what to do.
I do understand where you’re coming from with this, but I urge you to reconsider your methods and your desired outcomes.
This is kind of where I land, too. I grew up middle class, or maybe upper middle class for my hometown, but that was a midwestern suburb of a second-tier city. Dad was a professional, mom quit her professional job to be a SAHM. I went to a good public school and did well academically, and my sibs and I took music lessons, played sports, and were involved in school clubs, but my parents weren’t climbers. Sister and I went to east coast private schools for college, and I felt incredibly socioeconomically out of my depth to the point that I left the school because I was uncomfortable.
My husband grew up in a major, status-conscious city has a much more upwardly mobile mentality. We’re upper middle class in a HCOL area, and DH wants our kids to go to private school for middle/high school to “meet the right people and have the right network to succeed.” I am pro-public schools all the way; I want my kids to be kids and have a childhood similar to mine, and have fun and try different things without to much pressure or an agenda. We don’t have a vacation home in Maine or vacation in Europe every year, and although we have a handful of friends who are in that world, I don’t want my kids to end up there. Maybe that’s selfish of me.
I really relate to the relentlessness of parenting idea, but more in the sense of wanting to be a hands-on, involved mom supporting a brutal amount of extracurricular activities the way my SAHM did, but trying to shoehorn that in with a full-time job outside the home.
+1 sort of? I think it’s totally fine to want your kid to be elite, if that is what you truly want and you’re careful not to turn your kid into a neurotic mess in the process. I also grew up in a middle class household (I would say lower-middle class) and through hard work, careful planning and a lot of luck, DH and I are in a comfortable position now that we’re in our 30s. We’re not rich, but we are definitely better off than our parents were at our age. I have absolutely zero desire for my kids to attend an ivy league school or participate in Cotillion (FWIW the one woman I know who did Cotillion chews with her mouth open). I’m not saying those are bad goals; they are just not important to me. Also, as the oldest, I felt a fair amount of pressure to perform, and I’ve been in therapy for it. My mom would be shocked if she knew this. My parents never put explicit pressure on me; there was just this implicit message from a young age that I was a high performer and it developed into a negative feedback loop for me. Furthermore, the people I’ve seen pushing their kids really hard seem miserable – making your 5th grader do a different club or sport every night and forcing him to run for student council seems like a recipe for parent burnout and kid rebellion. Again, wanting these things for your kid doesn’t make you a bad person; I would just caution you to think long and hard about the kind of person you’re developing. End of rant. You all seem very thoughtful about your parenting so I don’t want you to think this is judgey – it just hits close to home and good intentions can have unintended consequences.
I don’t want my child to be “elite” in the economic or country club sense, but I want her to have access to academic and career opportunities that bring her joy and enable her to earn a comfortable, stable living. This is just the basic middle-class American dream, but as inequality increases it seems less possible to achieve without “elite” knowledge and networks. I guess I am really talking about the intellectual elite rather than the social and economic elite. My field is adjacent to academia, so I observe the importance of academic pedigree and network in creating professional opportunities on a daily basis. I am definitely not trying to raise a social climber or a Wall Street trader.
Swim diapers? says
Can anyone explain how swim diapers work for babies (specifically, 9 month old)? I went to order online and it seems a lot more confusing than I was expecting! Thanks!
They keep solids from getting in the pool. that is their only function. We bought a reusable one and put it on her immediately before she gets in the pool, and take it off when she gets out.
Just order the one that corresponds to their weight. You do not put it on over a diaper; they wear it like underwear just to keep poo from getting into the water and because they do not expand or gel up when they get wet. I mixed between disposables and reusables. It can be gross to clean the reuseables ….
Our pool (and others we’ve been to) require double-diapering – disposable swim diaper under the reusable cloth ones. We’ve used both huggies and pampers disposable, and we like the iplay reusable swim diapers.
CPA Lady says
I’m probably going to get flamed for saying this, or come across as a selfish monster, but I don’t care about all the blah blah blah about giving my child the best possible opportunities. I actually almost didn’t have a kid at all because I couldn’t face the reality of modern American parenting expectations. The whole system is deranged. The fact that I have to think about the “ramifications” of letting my child quit ballet at age 4 is absurd. I also care about my own life and my own happiness. And I am okay being called selfish if it means I get to spend time with my friends and doing hobbies I want to do. I just want to still know who I am as a person when I have an empty nest. I don’t want to feel complete devastation at my now totally empty life that was only filled by obsessing over my child 24/7 for the previous 18 years.
That said, I don’t need The Best for myself or my child. I’m okay with my kid going to non fancy state school in my podunk southern state. I graduated from a fancy and extremely expensive highly ranked private college and it did jack squat for me compared to the connections I made at the non-flagship state school I went to to get my extra accounting and business hours to sit for the CPA exam. My husband also graduated from the fancy private college and it did jack squat for him compared to the connections he made AT COMMUNITY COLLEGE (I’m not even joking). He’s now making six figures and has a half a million dollar stock portfolio thanks to the job he was immediately funneled into after completing his two year tech degree.
There are other avenues to success beyond absolutely killing yourself and your children. I’m okay with us all being average. Some people aren’t… it’s scary and we’re all doing the best we can. I’m also fully aware that I may eat every single one of my words in about 10 years.
+1000 to everything you said. I’m not trying to give up my personal identity so my kid can grow up to be The Wolf of Wall Street…or one of those Trustafarians who busks on Bourbon Street (and best of luck to them). I’m surprised how many of us feel this way. My friends all come from a higher socioeconomic status than me – where elite schools and a billion activities are the norm, so I sometimes feel like I’m doing my kid a disservice. Can we start a club?
Anon here from above asking the poster why she wanted her daughter to be elite – I completely agree and will join that club!
ok but I have to point out — the “Wolf of Wall Street” Jordan Belfort (who was a crook) was raised far far far from any aspects of life considered “elite.”
But you know how to network and it has benefited you! I didn’t even know that networking was a thing. That is my point. I was raised to believe that the only thing that mattered in life was working hard and getting good grades. My parents did not even teach me how to shake hands or make small talk, and they certainly didn’t encourage me to think about the future and plan for college and a career. No one at my high school did either. As I discovered, these things were all very important two decades ago when I was a teen, and they will be much more important by the time my daughter gets to college.
CPA Lady says
I actually didn’t learn how to network until much later too.
Neither my husband nor I came from elite white collar families where the concept of networking and career guidance was a thing. We were told to go to college, and that was the extent of it. If we had come from an elite background, I’m actually guessing the expensive private college would have done us both a lot more good, because the kids from the fancy families would have been our friends and we could have gotten internships at Liam’s dad’s bank rather than having low paying non professional summer jobs.The state school I went to was much more helpful since I guess they’re used to dealing with folks who are not assumed to have come from an elite background. There was a lot more in class guidance by professors, many of whom actually work in the industries where they teach. My finance professor, who worked in the finance department of a large regional business repeatedly told the class how important internships were and made sure we all knew what internships were available at his company. My accounting honors club set up on campus interviews for people. There was a lot more guidance and actual useful help at state school. My accounting professor introduced me to the recruiter who got me my first job.
What I’m saying is that you don’t have to go to an elite college to meet people who will end up being helpful to your career if you are okay with being a normal person having a normal job in not-NYC. And if you’re just trying to get into state u, you don’t have to cure cancer and have 27 leadership roles in extracurriculars while making a documentary about endangered Guatemalan pandas while lettering in three sports to get in. If my kid WANTS to do these things, that’s fine and I’ll support her, but I don’t want her to think they are mandatory for her to be able to have a good life.
I totally agree with your last sentence. Right now my kid says she wants to do these things, but she is 12 so what does she really know. :)
My experience with state U. v. elite private college was the opposite of yours. At state U I was just another number. I took a few courses in the postbac program of an elite private college to prepare for grad school, and the professors there took a real interest in individual students and provided a lot of constructive mentoring.
Triangle Pose says
My experience was also the opposite of yours. My Ivy undergrad’s on campus recruiting was not run by an honors accounting club. The university dedicated an entire department for setting up on campus interviews and prepping students for resumes interviews, internships.
Small Firm IP Litigator says
Thank you for posting this. My husband and I have been hesitant to have kids for this reason, in combination with finances. I don’t see how we can meet upper-middle class child rearing expectations and our fairly demanding work full-time jobs and maintain our personal interests, even if we’d shell out a ton for childcare. And on shelling out, without kids, we’re not going to be able to realistically retire until our mid-late 60s, and it would be substantially later with a child.
I very much want to raise a child, and try to do things differently than the norm because we’d have to to maintain sanity and not be broke, but I am afraid of disadvantaging the child. I grew up poor in the 80s/90s. I don’t remember my parents ever helping me with homework and I didn’t have tons of activities – i just played (free) sports through my (public) school that I found on my own. I don’t know what I did when I was little – I just remember playing outside with friends? I went to flagship state university, a top 10 law school, and generally turned out fine, but I worry the same path would not result in the same for a child today.
This subject really raises questions about whether upward mobility is becoming harder, or if “elite” jobs/education has always been reserved for the wealthy.
I’m not saying this in a mean or depressing way but I also worried about time, hobbies, and finances and I just don’t have hobbies anymore. My kids take all that time and it’s not as bad as it sounds. Also, we never eat out. Saves tons of money. I did a lot of IP litigation before kids and now do more prosecution, opinions and trademark so less travel and dealing with awful opposing counsel. I still do litigation and was lead for two trials, one while 6 months preggo with number two but just less than before. I genuinely think my life is better now with kids. Please don’t hold out just because of worries. You have a good job and have been successful in life. You will be able to make it work and provide plenty for your kids. Also, kids provided me with the courage to ask for more (better flexibility) at work. I ask for and do things I would have been afraid to do before because now I have a real need to make such demands.
After reading this article I picked up Forget Having It All: How America Messed Up Motherhood and How to Fix It. Highly recommended.
The concept that we are expected to work as though we were not mothers and mother as though we do not work hugely resonates with me. Personally, I think technology has made this worse. I find the idea that “flex time” is somehow a solution to working motherhood to be particularly insidious. Women should basically be working or mothering all the time in America.
No one wants to peep out their husbands, but at some point the fellas are going to need to step up their parenting/home management game. The system we have now is not working and it’s not sustainable.
I think part of why modern parenting is so hard is because we are so much busier. Now we get to be the homemakers and the workers. Yay. Except we don’t get more time to do it in! Plus, there is information overload with nonstop choices of programming at our fingertips where ever we are. We could always be doing more. We are always missing out and the busier you get the more you feel that way. Plus, so much our our security is slipping away. People used to work one job their whole lives and marry one time. Now, you can’t count on either of those like you used to.