"I wonder why so many smart people can be stupid parents."

I often wonder why so many smart people can be stupid parents sometimes. I include myself in that category. I love my kids, I try hard, I fail sometimes, but so often I find myself with nagging feeling in my gut telling me this doesn’t feel right. Yet I persevere or I let it go.

The access to technology, the scheduled lives, the volume of cultural messages and global information they receive even in one hour, the food, the consumption, the pace, the checklist.

I try to look at it all rationally and say it’s normal. This is modern life for everyone we know. This is the Western World and we are part of that. But then there is this feeling I have about the “rightness” of my children’s world.

How can a toddler in a restaurant watching Finding Nemo for an hour while his parents chat be right? How can piano lessons at seven followed by ballet before homework tutoring be right? How can little girls walking around better dressed than their mothers be right? How can older girls posting ‘sultry, sexy” pics of themselves on Instagram from their make-up scattered bathrooms be right? How can stressed parents carting around stressed kids be right? How can 42 types of rice cracker flavours and plane travel and baby knee-pads to stop knees from hurting be right?

How can lives filled to the brim not be right?

Listen to Jackie talk about this story on This Glorious Mess, Mamamia’s podcast about family life this week. (Post continues after audio.) 

This week Tracy Gillett in The Huffington Post talked about the “burden of too much” on your children and how former educator, researcher and counsellor, Kim John Payne, conducted a study where he simplified the lives of children with ADD and within four months 68% of those children went from being clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional.

In his best selling book Simplicity Parenting Payne also found affluent children exhibited many of the same behavioural tendencies that he saw in children from refugee camps. Both groups were “jumpy, nervous and hyper-vigilant”. But, he asked, what did the kids who lived with security and abundance have to be worried about?

According to Payne, too many choices, too much speed, too much stuff and too much information are weighing children down, not lifting them up.

Have you ever felt like a terrible mother? Watch our team confess when they have below, post continues after video.


Gillett asks in her article: “Naturally as parents we want to provide our kids with the best start in life. If a little is good, we think more is better, or is it?”

And that’s where I think smart people may be deluding themselves. More isn’t always better. What is all this moreness giving us?
A landmark study conducted by youth mental health initiative Headspace last year found that the number of children seeking help for mental health problems has doubled since 1998.

The study also found:

One in seven children had experienced a mental health disorder in the past year, the equivalent of 560,000 youth.

One in 10 teenagers aged 12 to 17 indicated they had engaged in some form of self-harming behaviour, with three-quarters of those doing so in the 12 months leading up to the survey.

One in five teenaged girls aged 16 to 17 were found to meet the clinical criteria for depression based on their own report.

One in 13 12 to 17 year olds had seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months leading up to the survey.

I work with a bunch of, predominantly, 20 somethings. I told them that when I was a kid my parents didn’t have a clue where I was during the day, the deal was get home by the time the street-lights come on. That was especially fabulous in summer when they didn’t come on for what I believed must have been close to midnight. They went silent.

There were four TV stations. One newspaper. Your parents controlled the car radio. Dinner every night around a table. My mum looked fabulous and I looked like a kid with a bad haircut, not a mini adult.

olsens twins it take two
‘The deal was get home by the time the street-lights come on.’ Image: It Takes Two/Warner Bros.

I remember worrying once for a day or two at school about Russia starting a nuclear war. I remember there was a famine in Africa that I became a bit obsessed with.


“How could this be happening?” I would ask my parents at the dinner table.

I remember my grandma sending my brother and me off with five dollars and telling us not to come back for the whole day. Five dollars seemed like a fortune. The world – or Aspley in Brisbane – was our oyster. We walked, we talked. We climbed trees, we bought lollies. We ran through stranger’s back yards. It was one of the best days of my life.

I remember going home after school and being in my own, safe, bubble, not connected to anyone bar the Schneiderwin girls next door if I wanted to walk across my drive way and see them.

flipped movie tree
‘We climbed trees, we bought lollies. We ran through stranger’s back yards.’ Image: Flipped/Warner Bros.

I also told the office how I was glad my children were born before the dominance of the iPhone. They weren’t in prams clutching these modern miracles. Who knows what my stance would have been on them. It was never a choice I had to make, which I am grateful for.

With two teens and a tween, I’ve had a while to try hard at this parenting game. And I have tried hard. I’ve thought about my choices and I love them all hard. But the more I think about what it is I want for them, what it is that will make them happy and fulfilled, what it is that will serve them best in adulthood, the more the answer I come up with is one that doesn’t sound right, but feels right.

I want less for them.

That’s a hard one to reconcile when you are a parent.