Great Expectations

PaintingWhen I was a kid, I used to think the future would be without pressure. I’d have a job, get home from work each day, and do whatever I wanted. No more homework, no more annoying parents, and enough money to buy any toy I liked.

Well, now I’m there, with my own job and house, a wife and a two-year-old daughter, and three cats. The pressure really hasn’t let up. On the contrary.

Informed decisions

I’m on the couch, my daughter on my lap. I’m cuddling her… well, technically, I’m restraining her. My wife moves in with the syringe as I desperately try to keep both my daughter’s arms pinned and her head back.

She’s trying to wrestle free, crying through clenched teeth because she knows what’s coming. The nozzle goes into her mouth and my wife pushes the plunger down, ejecting the foul-tasting white liquid into my daughter’s mouth. Some of it dribbles out, but most of it goes down.

I let go, and my daughter bawls as I sit on the couch, shaking. She needed the antibiotics, but I don’t know if she can ever forgive me.

A few minutes later she’s laughing and playing.

With the rise of the Internet, information is at our finger tips. All the time. Everywhere. The upswing is that we can make informed decisions at all times. The downside is that the pressure is enormous.

My daughter had the flu a few weeks ago. It passed, but then her fever returned. The Internet told me that this was a bad sign, so off to the doctor we went. No cause for concern, but she might have been developing a mild pneumonia.

An hour later I was at home with a prescription of antibiotics. As you can read above, actually administering those was a trial. And possibly traumatizing for her. The point of this is that on the one hand I could look up on the Internet that a returning fever is bad, but on the other, I could look up what stress can do to the developing brain of a child.

As a parent these days, you can second guess everything you do. Checking up on mental and physical illnesses that your child might be developing is super easy. The Internet is also a giant repository of The Right Way™️ of raising children.

Pressure

I used to think after school I’d be done with pressure. Well, university came and it was more of the same. While there, I rolled into a job, where the pressure was on as well. At my first job, I thought ‘well, once I’m more experienced, things will ease up’. Unfortunately, with more experience comes more complex tasks. Now – fifteen years down the line – I’m a lead developer and I feel pressure because now my team is responsible for keeping an entire department aimed at lofty organizational goals.

Now I’m not trying to tell a sob story. I’m very happy with my life at the moment. I have a loving wife and a great daughter – even if I’d sometimes want to lock my daughter in a padded room and throw away the key (which I would of course never do for real). However, I am wondering about the broader problem we seem to have created in our society.

Stress has been on the rise for decades, leading to all kinds of health problems. Basically, life has gotten harder, not easier. We’ve created technological marvels like smart phones and self-driving cars, and we’ve created a world where the sky is supposedly the limit for everyone. Supposedly, because we can’t all save the world. We can’t all be famous. Because of the fleetingness of our new world, being famous is in fact a grueling exercise in overwork.

Millennials

Depending on the definition, I’m a millennial, or maybe a gen X-er, or even a Xennial. It doesn’t really matter, because grouping everybody in a generation is a bit of a non-starter for me.

However, there does seem to be a kind of general attitude about the times one lives in. After World War II, the world started rebuilding and making a better world, then in the seventies a whole generation was living the dream of equality. The eighties and nineties saw the decline of this equality in favor of a more business-like approach. Then the naughties turned into the biggest economic crisis in decades and a whole generation of people suddenly learned that the glorious future that was offered to them was a pipe dream.

People these days need to have it all: a great job, a great house, a spouse you spend quality time with – preferably traveling the world, and a gaggle of children that are doing well in school. Oh, and you need an Apple Watch, three tablets, while saving the environment with your free hand.

Let it go

I had a discussion with friends last week about how we’re all putting too much pressure on ourselves. In the end, there’s a lot of things we really don’t need to do. So you’re not changing the world; who cares? I love my job, but I’m never going to be a CEO. Does that matter? I wrote three books but I don’t know if they’ll be published. And maybe that all doesn’t matter Jack.

Instead of unrealistic expectations, we should be working on realistic goals. Happiness is accepting and loving what you have, not what you don’t.

Bringing that back to my parenting skills, my wife and I have found that worrying really doesn’t make for better parenting. Yeah, we try to do our best, and that will just have to be enough. The Right Way™️ of parenting is more like a whip to flog ourselves with than a helpful tool.  And when you look behind the blogs and the parenting advice, you’ll find people who are just as bad at it as we all are, just in different areas.

You need to find what works and what makes you happy. There’s no prize for leading the best life. Life is the prize, so you better enjoy it while you can.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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