Being a mom has brought me the most joy I’ve ever experienced, but also the most stress. From struggling with breastfeeding and sleep; to worrying about screen time, discipline, and nutrition; to stressing about money and childcare…it never stops. I want to be the best mom I can, but sometimes it feels like our culture is making it extra hard.
I often come to my own mom with these worries, and she tries her best to understand them. But the world that she became a parent in looks very different than the one we’re in now. I know raising kids wasn’t a piece of cake for her, but when I hear her talk about it I find myself wishing that my version of motherhood had some of the simplicity she describes.
Some things are easier now, of course—who wants to go back to a time before Amazon Prime?—but here are ten of the reasons why I think parenting is more stressful in today’s world.
It was easier to find a “village.”
My parents knew everyone in our urban neighborhood, and my mom could always walk up the street and find another mom to chat with, while we kids wandered into the backyard to play. Our street may have been exceptional, but I still think there was a lot more mingling and neighbor interaction back then. People didn’t hole up in their houses like they do today, scrolling through their phones. My mom said she never felt isolated, because she never had to travel far to socialize or get support.
There was less information overload.
When I was trying to get my son to sleep, I read three sleep training books, had a 45-minute consultation with my pediatrician, read dozens of articles online, scoured Facebook groups and message boards, and group texted with my mom friends. My mom’s information sources were “a couple books” and her pediatrician. (She was also a pediatric nurse, so she had a leg up.) That sounds much less stressful than trying to wade through all the theories, opinions, guidelines, and advice that we’re exposed to today. It’s easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong when there are so many sources out there, each with a different perspective on the “right” way to parent.
Childcare was cheaper.
The current cost of childcare is a national crisis: wages have stayed the same, but the cost keeps rising, and it’s unaffordable for most families. I was surprised when my mom told me about the free options she had: she was in a babysitting co-op, nearly every tennis club had a free nursery, and even her bowling alley where she played once a week had a free nursery. When she was working part-time, she had friends with in-home daycares that were very affordable. She was able to do a lot of the things she wanted and needed to do without worrying so much about finding and paying for childcare.
Obviously my mom’s needs weren’t the same as a home with two parents working full-time, but that doesn’t change the fact that childcare used to be cheaper, and today it’s one of the biggest stressors for parents because it’s so darn expensive.
And so was everything else.
Because it’s harder to find a community now, I’ve explored various “Mommy and Me” classes and activities where I can meet other moms. But the majority of them are prohibitively expensive. There are some free opportunities out there, but not many that involve an organized group of the same families that meets regularly. It would be nice to have something like my mom had, which were community education classes in dance, gymnastics, and music that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
I also don’t think my mom ever felt bad that she couldn’t afford a $1,300 bassinet or a $1,000 stroller. Maybe comparable products existed, but even if they did she probably didn’t know about them because she wasn’t constantly bombarded by Instagram and Facebook ads. Today it’s easy to get sucked into thinking you have to get all the “best” products for our kids, but most of us would go broke if we did that.
The internet and social media weren’t a thing yet.
I think we’ve covered how the Internet contributes to information overload and makes us think we need to buy stuff. But with social media also comes the ability to compare ourselves to millions of other moms, some of whom appear online to have “perfect” lives. And research shows that causes stress and feelings of inadequacy.
There’s also all the scary stuff about the internet, like cyberbullying, sexual predators, and general concern about kids’ screen time and online activities. I also worry a lot about how to make sure my son grows up to value in-person interactions and screen-free time, things that probably never crossed my mom’s mind.
And neither was Pinterest.
At least in my mom’s circle, no one ever spent hours and hours cooking and decorating for a butterfly garden-themed birthday party. (She never even went to a birthday party for another kid, actually. She always dropped us off and picked us up.) As much as I love Pinterest, sometimes I wish it didn’t exist so I wouldn’t feel guilty about all the creative activities I’m not doing with my son, and all the vegetables I’m not cutting up into adorable animals.
Preschool wasn’t such a big deal.
The preschool process is more taxing than it should be. The research, the tours, the waitlists, the waitlist fees…not to mention the actual cost of tuition. And some people make it seem like where your child goes to preschool is going to make or break their chances of future success.
My mom asked neighbors for preschool recommendations and we got in easily, no waitlist. There wasn’t as much concern about preschool preparing kids for kindergarten academically, because kindergarten was still mostly about play and socialization. And it still should be, in my opinion.
Safety concerns weren’t as prevalent.
Crime rates have actually declined in the past 25 years, but in many ways it feels like the world is less safe today. School shootings have increased: More people have died or been injured in mass school shootings in the US in the past 18 years than in the entire 20th century. We hear all the time about tragic injuries and product recalls and new safety guidelines.
Parents used to leave kids in the car for a few minutes while they ran a quick errand, or let them wander around the neighborhood or play at the park by themselves. Now if you do that, even if it’s legal in your state, someone could call the police on you, leading to serious consequences. Whether or not it’s justified, there is a culture of fear in our country that adds another level of stress to parenting.
Kids had fewer activities.
With all the after-school activities and sports kids are involved with, parents today spend so much of their precious free time serving as chauffeur, cheerleader, coach, trainer, etc. When I was young we did sports and clubs, but they were less numerous and the commitment less intense. My parents still had time to do their hobbies, and we kids had time to run around and be kids.
And more freedom and time for unsupervised, unstructured play.
Over-supervision starts when kids are really young—I feel the need to entertain or play with my 2-year-old every minute, because isn’t that what good moms do? Older kids often have such packed schedules that leave little time for unstructured play. And even if they do, play is usually supervised.
My mom would send us down to the basement to play by ourselves, or out to the backyard while she watched from the kitchen window. We ran around the neighborhood alone at an early age, and my sister even walked part of the way home from kindergarten by herself (with older kids around).