We live in an amazing time. We have never had a world so small, or access to as much of it as we do in this generation. Unlike our great-grandparents, our children have equal opportunities and a chance to be children for longer. Unlike our grandparents, we will be blessed with countless photos and videos of our children for posterity and reminiscing. Unlike our parents, we have access to a wealth of information and support from around the globe.
But what is this doing to family values?
Fifty years ago, our parents and grandparents had questions about raising their newborn or toddler. Of course they did, we all do. For all parents, there are parts of parenthood which are like foreign countries, needing to be navigated cautiously and with plenty of advice. Generations before us had one simple line of enquiry; their own parents. Who better to ask about raising a child, than the people who raised you? As long as you didn’t have any huge culture or life-choice differences, they were bound to have an easy answer to your query. This helped mothers and daughters bond, helped grandparents feel like they were being included with their grandchildren, and made for a happy family dynamic.
But now, we have been given the super-tool which is the World Wide Web. And suddenly our own parents cant compete with the hundreds of online doctors, the thousands of baby forums, the millions of other mothers with their own two cents to throw in the pot. And to make things worse, for most of us, our parents arent anywhere near as adept at using this technological encyclopedia.
I know this doesnt count for everyone, but for a large part of the older generation, we are lucky if they can send a few emails here and there, or look up the odd opening time of a favourite shopping centre. Research and socialising are pretty far from our parents minds a lot of the time.
So while we know that cot death has halved since parents started putting babies to sleep on their backs, we still have to listen to great aunt Sophie maintaining loudly that all seventeen of her offspring slept on their tummies for 18 years and it never did them any harm. Although we are listening to medical studies which suggest we offer certain foods later than others to avoid allergies, it’s not so easy to ignore the grandparent who offers peanut m&ms as a ‘treat.’
There is a divide. And in a way which the world hasnt ever really faced before. We know with certainty that our parents are wrong, or badly informed, and yet there isnt really a polite or easy way to say so. To make things even weirder, our generation is really the only one which will be faced with this problem. When my son goes online in 2032 and tells me that the latest word from the doctors is that babies should be hanging upside down by their ankles, I will say “Ooh how interesting”, google it, and probably share it on whatever social media platform I’m using. Not that he wont have other advances which I am not adept with, (Like what on earth is foursquare?) but information will still be as accessible to me as it is now.
I know that I am being somewhat unfair to people over 50 who are computer-whizzes and have usernames for every chatroom in a appropriate time-zone, so let me be clearer. It isnt that our parents cant understand the idea of finding out facts and answers on the internet. It’s that nowadays, especially when faced with the realities of being a stay at home or part time working mother, the internet is more than just information. It’s a community, and for many- a lifeline. The friends that mums make online, the readers of their blogs, the people they share advice with from across the globe; they become family. And not that they can take the place of our parents, because of course they cant, but they are family who are going through the exact thing that we are, at the same time, and who we can interact with in a matter of seconds. The generation before us cant really understand that, because they were never young parents going through it themselves.
And so I see time and time again, questions in chatrooms which start with “My mum thinks I should….” and end with “what should I tell her?” and I think it’s pretty sad. To some extent, there isn tthat much we can do about it. But like most things, it can definitely be helped by communication. All your parents want is to be helpful and involved. If they are a reasonable person, print out an article or two and let them know you found it interesting and it had a lot of info you didn’t know, so perhaps they didn’t either. Agree with them on a few points that don’t really matter long term. If all else fails, smile and nod and then do whatever you wanted to do in the first place.
Of course, if they are not a reasonable person, you pretty much have to live with it. I tell you what, add me on Twitter (@LiterallyAdvice) and we can have a chat about it.