24-Nov-2015 18 FEB
Families need practical support, not our angry cynicism
By Brendan Malone
Is it just me, or does anyone else get the sense that it has suddenly become extremely trendy for writers to bemoan just about every aspect of modern living - with parenting in particular coming in for the harshest criticisms of all?
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that, at times in previous eras, we once fell prey to a sort of idealised over-romanticisation of marriage and family life, and that this often left couples underprepared (sometimes woefully) for the true reality of what lay ahead of them.
However, it now feels like the pendulum has swung back far too far in the other direction, with idealised romanticism now having given way to smug cynicism and self-absorbed negativity.
Yes, raising a family can be hard, and it takes dedication and effort to be a good and loving mother or father.
But I think that we are kidding ourselves if we believe that a constant slew of public denunciations or airing of personal grievances about the difficulties of parenting is going to do anything truly productive to help people navigate the sometimes complex nature of family life.
Part of the problem here, I suspect, is the modern tendency towards cynicism - which is hardly surprising in a society where we are constantly bombarded with fearful messages about the state of world around us.
If you’ve been formed to believe that you must always be on your guard against something - from terrorism, to economic crashes, to global pandemics, to Internet scammers, to bacon - is it really that surprising to discover that this has given rise to a lack of trust and cynicism about life in general, even it’s more profound and important aspects, like marriage and family life?
And is it really surprising to see more and more people using cynicism as the lens through which they filter and dissect their life experiences in discussions with others, or with the general public in the articles and commentary that they are producing?
I think another factor here is the trap of unrealistic expectations that we generate for ourselves - not because someone has told us to have such expectations, but because we’re relying far too much on pop culture and slick marketing, rather than tried and true wisdom about relationships, marriage and parenting to shape our beliefs about relationships, marriage and family.
When you combine unrealistic expectations with a belief that achieving anything less than those elections makes you a failure as a husband, wife, father or mother, this problem becomes even more pronounced.
And of course there is the far too common problem that we have these days of making everything in our lives far too self-referential.
If you are conditioned to believe that self-gratification is the key to happiness and success, then life’s important and often difficult moments of self-giving (like marriage and family life) are going to seem like hostile threats, rather than opportunities to find deeper meaning and true fulfilment.
At the end of the day, parents need neither ungrounded romanticisation that creates false expectations, nor a barrage of commentary decrying the fact that parenting is harder than being childless and spending your days sipping margaritas by the pool at a holiday resort.
Yes, life is sometimes hard and marriage and family can demand a lot of us.
But it is precisely in these moments of struggle that character is grown, maturity develops, and prudence and wisdom are acquired.
And in order to thrive, married couples and parents need practical support, advice, and care - not another barrage of cynicism.