These days it seems that the more things change in parenting, the more they keep right on changing. For example:
Today's parents are trying to have wonderful relationships with their children. Our foremothers and forefathers were not. They realized that a child required leadership first and that while the parent/child relationship should by no means be "bad," a parent could not provide proper leadership if the parent's energies were focused primarily on having a "wonderful" relationship with the child. Some things just had to wait.
Today's moms orbit around their children, dedicated to trying to make them happy. Yesterday's moms were at the center of their children's attention, dedicated to teaching them to stand on their own two feet.
Today's moms are trying to do as much for their children as they possibly can. Yesterday's moms were consciously trying to do as little for their children as possible, in addition to insisting that their children both do for themselves and do for the family (in the form of chores).
Today's moms function as servants to their children for the term of their dependency, which is lengthening (duh!). Yesterday's moms functioned as authority figures, as dispensers of responsibility.
Today's mom works for her child in perpetuity, believing that the best mom serves best. Yesterday's mom had her child working for her by the time he was 3, believing that the best mom is the mom who prepares her child for a life of his own.
Which brings us to today's dads. The new ideal in American fatherhood is that of being the child's best buddy. Yesterday's dad was an authority figure, a mentor. He taught his child magic tricks, how to ride a bike, use a hammer, train a dog and the like.
He and his child had fun together, but he was not his child's friend. He knew that parenting came before friendship, and that one could not be a good friend when the time came -- after the child's emancipation -- if parenting issues were still begging for resolution.
Yesterday's parents were married to one another. They knew, intuitively, that their relationship had to be stronger than either of their relationships with their children. In today's all-too-typical family, the parent-child relationship is stronger than the husband-wife relationship, which is clue to why so many marriages dissolve after the emancipation of the last child.
Yesterday's parents were attuned to the voice of common sense, which is why they did not complain that raising children was the hardest thing they'd ever done. For today's parents, the voice of common sense has been drowned out by a deluge of psychobabble, which is why so many parents tell me that raising even one child leaves them emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of many a day.
Yesterday's parents took child rearing -- but not their children -- seriously.
Today's parents -- the ones who are likely to read this column, at least -- take both child rearing and their children seriously. The former is essential; the latter is a form of self-oppression that drains all humor from the enterprise and turns it into drudgery.
Why are today's parents having so many more behavior and school-performance problems with their children than did parents just two generations ago? It's simple really: You cannot approach child rearing in two entirely different ways and arrive at the same outcome.
XJohn Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th Street, Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 and at his Web site: http://www.rosemond.com/.