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Parenting in the 21st Century: What’s it like being a parent now vs when we were kids

Baby hand holding mom's finger

What is it like to be a parent today, as compared to ten years ago? Well, I’ll remove the suspense for you. It is very different.

I am a mother of a wonderful child. At first I was not quite sure what to do in my role as a parent. It wasn’t until I got over the shock of having a new person in my house and got some practice changing diapers that is when my real lessons began.

Parents will worry

Being paranoid comes naturally to every parent from the moment they hold their first child. The fear of something bad happening to your child is like a constant nagging at the back of your head. You think it’ll subside as your baby grows older and learns to navigate the world. But, in reality, you just learn to live with it. 

I was surprised to learn the reason for this. Apparently, right after giving birth, the mother’s amygdala in the brain becomes active. It is responsible for your survival instincts making you overprotective of your child. And then it stays active your whole life**.

When your mom asks you to call when you get home safely even though you are a 40-year-old adult, she is genetically coded to worry, so give her a call maybe.

However, that fear and feeling of helplessness doesn’t just stop with your children. Any child in distress sends you into panic mode. Seeing pictures of children crying or even hearing about a child getting slapped by an otherwise loving parent makes you tense up. 

Parents worry for ALL children

My first experience of this feeling was when I heard of someone who had gone to visit an orphanage she was adopted from and saw all the crying babies with no one to comfort them. This was just the first month of being a mom. Every time I heard my own child cry, I thought of the countless others who were left to cry and console themselves. I hugged my child a little tighter.

I saw his face on every child fleeing Syria, sometimes ending up face down on a beach. I tried to imagine myself as a parent in that situation. What if I lived in a war-torn region? Was the safety of my child just geographical luck? But countries perceived ‘safe’ still had tiny coffins. The mass shootings in the US made me fear for the kids of my friends and family.

I couldn’t even bring myself to hear about the incident of a police officer shooting an innocent African-American man while his six-year-old daughter screamed at the back. Let’s not even start about the separation of babies from their parents and subsequent incarceration in baby-jails. I couldn’t sleep for weeks. Even while I was awake I would hear children crying at the back of my head while I went about my normal life.

My own country, India, is not bereft of blame. The alarming rate at which we hear about rape cases is frightening. From 6-month old babies to a 100-year-old grandmother have all been victims. People are being killed by lynch mobs at the mere suspicion of them eating beef. The perpetrators of these crimes, if they are from the majority population, are garlanded by political leaders and crowds protest against sending them to prison. Yes, you read it right. They feel that these monsters are victims of religious bias and shouldn’t be punished. 

The bubble we live in can easily burst

For a while, I lived in the delusion that being financially well-off and being part of the majority community would shield me and my family from any harm. Except, as history tells us, it is only a matter of time till they come for us. 

I tried cutting myself off from the news but it felt morally wrong to ignore the state of the world. If I couldn’t do anything else, then I will at least be a witness to this decline of humanity. Lives are bartered for power and money while I sit here in shock every time someone loses their life in a senseless act of violence, secretly glad that it wasn’t my child at the receiving end of it. This time at least. 

No parent would wish this tragedy on their worst enemy, but what else will it take for the people in power to realise that they need to do their jobs of protecting people…not just bump up security for their own families. 

The future seems bleak

Our kids have a huge pile of mess to deal with and new social scenarios to navigate that we cannot help them with because we don’t know how to deal with it. Social media pressure, loneliness caused by fewer face to face interactions, cyberbullying, the climate crisis, dwindling natural resources, the rise of the far-right and incel movements, just to name a few.

Our kids will ever have known a world that’s not at war. Sit with that for a moment.

There are enough reasons to think that you might have punished the child by bringing him into this hostile environment.

But then you see a random act of kindness. Passengers cleaning the Swastika symbols in a subway car; women standing up for themselves and each other; people from all walks of life coming together to march and protest against injustice. It gives you hope that the future might be brighter. Maybe the child you are raising will help make it so.

And so we carry on, doing the best we can and hoping that it’s enough.

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