Parenting In The Past Vs Modern Parenting: Who Has It Easier?

September 1st, 2017


My friend used to constantly lament about her ongoing brush-offs with her mother-in-law during her early days of parenthood, and no, this is not your wonted mother-in-law from hell versus headstrong wife power wrangle story; said mother-in-law was more than willing to take a backseat and play a more advisory role. Rather, their friction stems from differences and disagreements in their individual parenting styles and their own beliefs in the best way to raise a child.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but when all the villagers are not on the same page with different schools of thoughts, it can easily become a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. In a society where busy parents outsource parts of the child-raising process to grandparents, sometimes to the point of them becoming a second set of parents, the chasms in parenting between traditional and modern has never been more apparent. Modern parenting versus parenting in the past – who is really having the better deal?

Of Drill Sergeants And Helicopters

It is every parent’s intention to raise a good child of sound moral ethics and upright values, but often, different parents employ different methods to get there. Parenthood has seen a paradigm shift over the years, evolving along with the changing needs of time.

Old school or traditional parenting focuses on bringing up a child that grows into a functional adult who is ready to contribute to the family and eventually, society. Pragmatism is the rule, and parents become drill sergeants who holler slogans like “If you don’t study hard, you won’t have a good future”. A philosophy used in traditional parenting is that as long as your child’s needs are covered, like food, shelter, and quality education, he is well-placed for success, hence sayings like “What are you complaining about when you have a roof over your head?”.

Modern parenting, on the other hand, emphasises on the child being “special”, with the need to be nurtured to feel confident about their abilities. Think of kids today as Sims, with eager parents stopping at nothing to equip them with skills and material needs to stand them in good stead for the competitive world out there. It is perhaps telling that the age of millennials coincided with the rise of helicopter parenting, where parents hover over their increasingly self-entitled kids and swoop in to their rescue at the first sign of trouble.

Psychiatrist Dr Lim Boon Leng calls it a ‘maladaptive type of parenting’. “It’s a problem [that arises from] affluence, and is likely to be present in many societies,” he says. “But the problem may be worse in Singapore, as many parents are kiasu and afraid their children will get left behind if they do not interfere.”

Same-Old, Brand-New Problem

In a survey by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture in the United States, parents who participated agreed by a margin of six-to-one that parenting is more difficult today as compared to parenting in the past. Sceptics would pour scorn on this and dismiss it as the usual “everyone thinks their problems are bigger” mentality. After all, which parent would pick scrubbing soiled diaper cloths over Huggies disposables? Parents who subscribe to the traditional school of thought would be too busy trying to put food on the table to fret over which milk formula contains more DHA.

The truth is, while certain aspects of the parenting process have become easier, it has also gotten more stressful. While babies still need what babies need, there are growing opportunities outside of the domestic sphere; a proliferation of demands that make parenthood seem like another commitment or “job”. Most people won’t find that having to work is a choice, but in recent decades, having kids has become optional. The rat race of the modern age has forced people to either put off starting a family in order to advance their careers, or attempt to juggle both parenting and job, resulting in the former being seen as burdensome or even distracting.

Proponents of old school parenting may also point out that the wealth of information available to modern parents should make it easier for them – and rightly so. The benefits of research and knowledge at our fingertips should not be discounted. Yet, freedom is not always liberating, and this explosion of parenting philosophies, preschool options, and medical advice can sometimes create a dizzying bombardment of conflicting guidelines, causing parents to become overwhelmed and obsess over every aspect of their child’s life.

To Each Their Own

There was a time when the best way to be a parent was simply to do (or avoid doing) the things your own parents did. The parenting rulebook then was just about continuing traditions “like how our families have always been doing it”, reducing their need to agonise over the multiplicity of choices and decisions. “Our parents had the certainty of having no choice but to keep things simple and use their judgement…not a bad thing,” says mother-of-three Kylie. Fast forward to today, where information-savvy parents, despite being high-strung and wear too many hats, are at least free to break from tradition and raise their kids their way.

Ultimately, children learn more from what you are than what you teach. Every uniquely created child requires unique parenting. So whether your parenting style is good or bad cop, tiger mom or cheerleader, what matters most is that you are trying to do what’s best for your kids, and realise that there is no right or wrong way to navigate the parenting waters.


What’s one wish you have for your child’s future? Read what some of our interviewed parents say in the latest Sept/Oct issue of Parents World magazine.

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