We often think of the nuclear family as traditional or ideal. However, many parenting strategies are only about 100 years old, and many arose more recently than that. When we look at the past 200,000 years of human history, what was traditional and normal was a communal model of working together to take care of children.
Modern parents can try to do everything by themselves. They might think that asking for help is a sign of weakness or failure. However, young children are designed to be raised by a group of people, not just two. Modern mums and dads often do the work of several people. So of course, they feel worn down and exhausted. Try to include ‘alloparents’, or ‘other parents’, in your child’s upbringing, such as older siblings, grandparents, day-care providers, teachers, and psychologists. You might like to build an ‘aunty-uncle’ network – a few families you can share the load with.
Another characteristic of modern parenting is a high focus on both praise and punishment. Try not to overpraise your child – it can lead to attention seeking and entitlement. Instead, try giving gentler feedback, such as a smile or nod, when they do something right or well. When a child throws a tantrum, try to respond with calmness and composure rather than conflict. Kids don’t throw tantrums on purpose or to manipulate. They are kids, they don’t know how to manipulate. Children are illogical and irrational and haven’t matured enough to acquire understanding and reason. There’s no point arguing back. Kids are trying their best. If your child’s energy goes high, your energy should go low. Say something like “we don’t do that” and then redirect them to something calm or fun.
Modern parents often have a high need for control. In other words, they may feel like they need to be involved in every aspect of their child’s life. This can lead to constant vigilance, further entrenching parental burnout. The idea that parents are responsible for entertaining a child or “keeping them busy” was not present in the majority of cultures throughout human history. You don’t need to change your entire life to suit your children. You don’t need to redesign your house to suit children. You don’t need to do child-centric activities all weekend or evening. In fake, childlike worlds, children are separated from reality. They don’t learn how to behave as an adult. Instead, try including your children in your life and family. Do the activities you did before you had kids, but modify them slightly to include your kids.
Finally, children should help with division of labour in your household. Kids have an innate instinct to cooperate and work together with their families. Child-centred activities can kind of strip away their family “membership card” – the feeling that they’re a part of the family and working together as a team. Children are not the VIP of the family. You don’t have to serve them. Kids want to help us and be part of our lives, and child-centred activities deprive them of that opportunity. Ask them to help with chores – they want to help, even if they don’t know it yet.
For more, see Michaeleen Doucleff’s book, “Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans.”