Why we really should ban the word ‘parenting’


Why we really should ban the word 'parenting' (Getty Images)
Why we really should ban the word ‘parenting’ (Getty Images)
Parents have been raising children since the beginning of the human race. But raising children is not the same as ‘parenting’. The word itself entered the dictionary only in the 1950s, and did not become a part of the popular vocabulary till the 1970s.

Initially, the word was used to refer to what parents did, but over the years, especially today, the word has become completely normative. “‘To parent’ is a goal-directed verb; it describes a job, a kind of work. The goal is to somehow turn your child into a better or happier or more successful adult,” writes Dr Alison Gopnik in The Wall Street Journal.

The idea that ‘parenting’ involves tips, tricks and techniques that enable people to become better fathers and mothers has become widespread, not just in the US, but around the world. The idea is so ubiquitous that the very idea of questioning it seems heretical. But the whole concept of ‘parenting’ is fundamentally misguided, says Gopnik.

For millenia, raising a child did not just involve the parents.There were grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, friends and neighbours. “For most of human histor , we lived in these extended family groups. This meant that we learned how to take care of children by practicing with our own little sisters and baby cousins and by watching many other people take care of children,” writes Gopnik. But these groups no longer exist in large parts of the world. They’ve been scattered, dislocated, and communicate via the internet. “Today, most middle-class parents spend years taking classes and pursuing careers before they have children. It’s not surprising, then, that going to school and working are modern parents’ models for taking care of children: You go to school and work with a goal in mind, and you can be taught to do better at school and work,” she writes.
Working to achieve a good outcome is a good idea for businessmen or writers, but making a child a ‘product’ or an ‘outcome’ does no justice to either the parent or the child, says Gopnik. In fact, there is no evidence to show that the small differences in ‘parenting’ techniques that many parents obsess over make any difference to the child’s adulthood. “The most important rewards of being a parent aren’t your children’s grades and trophies–or even their graduations and weddings. They come from the moment-by-moment physical and psychological joy of being with this particular child, and in that child’s moment-by-moment joy in being with you,” writes Gopnik.