Modern parents have it soft (or do they?)

By the time my first child was born, I assumed parenthood couldn’t hold too many surprises. Between caring for three younger siblings, monopolizing my neighborhood babysitting market, and coaching youth sports for the previous two decades, I had more experience with children at age 28 than some adults accumulate in a lifetime.

But I was still in for a shock when my daughter arrived.

I never anticipated the bone-deep, sapped-of-all-life weariness I would feel after a day of being home with her (and later her two sisters).

I never dreamed how mentally cruel motherhood could be: how my children would not only dominate my every waking thought, but seize my subconscious and induce crazy, irrational nightmares about them as I slept.

But what took me most by surprise about motherhood was the way the task of parenting itself had been transformed since I was a child. That was my first hint that bringing up children might be harder – even with half the number of kids – than it was for my mom.

Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I watched my mom sit and socialize with her neighbors in the back yard of our Norfolk home, and chat over the back fence with our neighbors in Alexandria while we played.

Silly me – I always assumed I would do the same.

But in the 30-odd years that intervened between my childhood and my children’s, full-time moms became a scarce commodity. So it was a
shock to move to suburban Pennsylvania during my first pregnancy, and find that not only were there no coffee klatches, there was no one even at home.

I eventually adjusted to living in a neighborhood that emptied out by day, and learned to form playgroups with moms I met at the Y and parenting classes. I came to lean hard on those get-togethers and classes, not only as an essential part of my social life, but as a chance to exchange ideas with other mothers. Sometimes we talked about practical issues, like teething remedies and sleep issues. But we spent more of our time discussing how to best help our children fulfill their potential and become compassionate, responsible, self-sufficient adults.

Ultimately, those meetings and play dates helped me develop the chid-raising philosophy that I now call The Counterculture Parent.

Although the times and culture had changed since my boomer childhood days, I was a strong believer in raising children the old-fashioned way.

At the same time, I did not want my girls to have a childhood like mine; I wanted to be a more involved, hands-on parent than the role models I’d had growing up. I also did not want my kids spoiled by the material wealth that surrounded us in our upper-income suburbs -- and that was exacerbated by the affluent ‘80s culture and an overindulgent grandmother. And finally, I did not want them to grow up addicted to television as their father and grandparents were.

Bucking the trends to become a counterculture parent was hard enough back then, when push-button home entertainment was limited to television. While curtailing TV time took effort, I only had to fight one electronic enemy to control my kids’ exposure to commercial messages and sleazy programming.

Now, fast forward 30 years from my at-home mom years, and the challenges of providing a wholesome, old-fashioned childhood have multiplied exponentially.

A parent today must navigate a bewildering landscape of cellphones, tablets, computers, and video games – not to mention TV’s in every restaurant, shopping mall, and waiting room – and a minefield of worries about new dangers, ranging from internet predators to distracted drivers.

Kids are bombarded with commercial messages and questionable pop-culture values on every side; just try and limit exposure to shop-and-buy messages in the face of grocery store aisles stacked floor to ceiling with pitches for junk food and sugary superhero cereals. Harder still, try to fight the temptation to sedate your kid with electronic gadgets when cars come with TVs, and cellphone games and toy tablets are promoted for infants. Meanwhile, our crazed consumer culture pushes the idea that your tot has to use and own technology at a younger and younger age to keep up with peers.

To be a counterculture parent today requires higher-caliber weapons than I had in my own arsenal of support – but thankfully, a wealth of good resources exists. Mothers’ groups, dads’ groups and playgroups abound for both at-home and working parents, and there are numerous parenting websites and online support groups.

Better yet, the experts at Commonwealth Parenting – who helped me immensely when I moved to Richmond in 1990 – stand ready to help advise and guide parents looking for a hand.

This month, in fact, Commonwealth Parenting marks its 30th anniversary with a series of forums exploring topics of interest to parents, from stress and technology to bullying and divorce. The Commonwealth Parenting website ( offers information on additional classes that address behavioral topics, grandparenting, and more, as well as a hotline (545-1928) to answer parent questions.

So whether you embrace our fast-paced, high-tech culture, or you prefer a slower, counterculture parenting style, the Forum – and other Commonwealth Parenting programs – are worth a good look.

With a tough job like parenting, there is no such thing as having too many tools in your tool belt.
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October 2017

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Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will celebrate Rose Fest from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Rose Garden. Walk through winding paths of 1,800 roses and enjoy live entertainment and other activities. The Latin Ballet of Virginia will perform at 12:15 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. Rose Fest is included with Garden admission which is $13 for adults, $11 for seniors 55+, $10 for military (with ID) and $8 for children 3-12. For details, visit Full text

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