It is quite common among the people I know to believe that bringing up children was easier during our parents’ time than now. I think this belief is also reinforced by our parents telling us how they brought up so many kids single-handedly. Very often, we do feel somewhat inadequate compared to our parents when it comes to taking care of babies.
However, I think it is not entirely true that our parents were really able to bring up all their children ‘single-handedly’, that they were more ‘capable’ than we are. Of course, there were very capable women last time who really did take care of easily 7 or 8 or even 10 kids. Nevertheless, there are also women our generation who are equally capable, just that these days, nobody has so many kids anymore.
Actually, I think our parents’ did have some form of help with their children. The following are some that I can think of:
1. Extended Family
It is common for couples to live with their parents, or an entire extended family last time. Hence, they did have help, not just from their parents, but from other relatives staying with them as well. Even if they stayed on their own, families then were more closely knitted and help was freely sought and rendered. Things are certainly very much different now.
2. Kampong (‘village’)
Apart from the extended family, there was also the ‘kampong’. People stayed within a community and neighbours often provided society as well as help to each other. Since the kids of the neighbourhood would be playing together, parents watching over their kids would also be watching over the other kids as well. Nowadays, one can hardly find any ‘kampong spirit’ anymore.
3. Domestic Helpers
Contrary to popular belief, domestic helpers were not uncommon during our parents’ generation. In fact, due to lower educational level, especially among the women, a lot of women worked as domestic helpers, much like our foreign maids. Their wages were certainly not as exorbitant as our foreign maid levy cum wages. The richer families could even afford several ‘ah mahs’, each dedicated to taking care of one child in the family.
4. Older Children
Bringing up children actually has economies of scales if one has many children. This was the case in the previous generation. The older children would be taking care of the younger ones, sharing their mother’s burden.
Apart from the above, the following are some reasons why today’s parents feel that it is more difficult bringing up children now than before:
1. Working Parents
Most women now hold a full time job, besides being mothers, whereas during our parents’ days, there were were more housewives than career women. It is not easy being a full time housewife. It is certainly not a walk in the park to have to take care of a career AND children.
2. More knowledge
Nowadays, parents are more educated. They know more things, including knowledge pertaining to childcare. The down side is that the more you know, the more things you have to watch out for. Sometimes, it can be rather overwhelming. During our parents’ days, the mentality was more like ‘the kids will grow up naturally’. Sometimes, ignorance is indeed bliss.
3. Fewer kids
People now have fewer kids and hence, every kid is like a treasure – very precious. Parents want to give their kids the best of everything and this inevitably adds on to the stress of bringing up children.
4. Child’s demand for attention
Some people comment that children these days are harder to take care of than last time. Actually, it’s not that the children are different, but because the environment is different. A child will always need a certain level of attention. Previously, the attention could be jointly given by the extended family, the neighbours, other siblings, etc. These days, we live in small nuclear families, with few people at home with the child and few children (hence, the child has fewer siblings or playmates). Neighbours seldom socialise. We even have to pay money to send our children to playgroups because there aren’t any ‘natural’ playgroups in the neighbourhood. Hence, all the attention that the child needs has to come from 1 or 2 persons at home (the caregivers) all the time. This, naturally, will be very tiring and demanding for the caregivers, and in turn leads to the belief that children now are more demanding and more difficult to take care of.
5. Older parents
Last time, people marry young and have kids while they were still young. These days, having your first child at 30 is common and even considered young. Now, compare a 20 year-old mom with a 30 year-old mom. Who will have more energy to wake up 20 times a night, run after the kids, etc? The answer is obvious.
I hope I have brought up enough points to convince you that our parents were not exactly the ‘super parents’ they portray themselves to be, and that we aren’t so ‘useless’ as we thought ourselves to be. Hope this makes you feel better, gives you a tinge more confidence in yourself, and encourages you. We cannot and should not aim to be ‘super parents’. We can only do our best for our children within the context and constraints of the current environment. And above all that, give our little ones lots and lots of love.