Why Parenthood Is So Hard For Parents

Why Parenthood Is So Hard

Why Parenthood Is So Hard For Parents

New parents are often surprised by the challenges they face. Here's a run down of the 6 biggest ways in which new parents find parenthood challenging.

UK Parliament Buildings

In summary:

  • Society makes parenthood hard
  • It's very costly to have a child
  • Employers don't make it easy for working parents
  • There's less support for parents than in the past
  • The adjustment from a childfree life to being a parent is massive
  • Expectations of parenthood and parents are too high

Society makes parenthood hard

Society's support for families with two working parents hasn't moved on in decades. This is despite the increasing economic difficulties of having children on only one salary. And despite society supposedly enabling gender equality for decades.

Government policies on parental leave and pay are archaic and - contrary to popular assumption - do not make gender equality easy. So-called 'shared parental leave' requires mothers to give up their leave while fathers who take it are often pillaried as well as financially penalised.

And governments don't provide much in the way of financial support for having children. In the UK, statutory maternity pay is only 44% of the national minimum wage.

School holidays haven't reduced from 13 weeks every year, yet annual leave from work is typically 4-5 weeks a year. And even during term time, the school day typically runs from 8.45am-3pm, which makes working away from the home, or even working a full day at home, a massive logistical challenge for parents.

It's very costly to have a child

Most families need two incomes to survive financially.

But the childcare you need to support this is really expensive - in the UK a full-time pre-school childcare space is typically £15,000 after tax - so whether a family decides to work less and lose income, or work full-time and pay for the childcare, the financial squeeze is real.

What's more, house prices and home rental costs are much more expensive. To afford the family house that many parents aspire to, requires sky-high payments.

And the costs can rack up even before you become a parent. With more people postponing parenthood or starting a family as a same-sex couple, more parents require fertility treatment, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Housing costs are a barrier to parenthood

Employers don't make it easy for working parents

Employment practices haven't caught up with the practical need for both parents to work.

Maternity discrimination at work is surprisingly common. More than 1 in 10 pregnant workers loses their job, and mothers suffer disproportionately from discrimination in the workplace, which means they are promoted less, sidelined more, and many are frustrated at the sudden shut-down of opportunities when they become mothers, even if they work full-time.

Employers are still inflexible in how they expect employees to work. There are way fewer part-time roles than parents want there to be, and employers see part-time working as an opportunity to pay workers much less per hour. They take advantage of the fact that for many parents, their work options are limited.

There's less support for parents than in the past

The postponement of parenthood in this generation and (to a certain extent) in the previous generation, means that grandparents are older than ever when their grandchildren are born. This means they may have less energy to help with childcare. It also increases the chance that parents may find themselves in the 'sandwich generation', caring for their parents at the same time as caring for children.

Today's parents are also less likely to be living close to friends and family. Increasingly, our closest friends from university or school are scattered across the country and even across the world. With more of us going to university, this has also increased the likelihood that we're no longer living near our own parents, and can't rely on them for practical support.

Supportive hands

Party people

The adjustment from a childfree life to being a parent is massive

Because we are having children later in life, we spend longer in the 'footloose and fancy free' period of our lives - when we are earning money, have lots of social opportunities, and no responsibilities, which means we can travel, socialise, focus on our careers and also pursue our passions with freedom.

We get used to being free, independent and autonomous, and having control of our own timetable. If we want to quit our job, we can find another one.

We also get used to convenience and instant gratification. We live in the age of Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon. We only have to think of something and we can have it almost instantly.

We may not even have any children in our lives before we become parents.

So the adjustment to parenthood, which is quite the opposite of a life of freedom and instant gratification, can be a massive change. If parents are unprepared for it, parenthood can leave new parents feeling trapped, dependent, and missing their old life.

Expectations of parenthood and parents are high

Despite working more than ever, parents also spend more time with their children than ever - and feel they need to spend lots of time playing with their children. They are stretched in multiple directions, and parents' expectations of themselves have never been higher. They want to spend 'quality time' with their children, and shape the humans that they will become.

Social media piles on the pressure - showing us the pictures of the 'perfect' family moments others are having, and giving us tips about how to be the best possible parents. Parents often feel they need to get everything 'right'.

And parents' own expectations of parenthood are often way too high. Parents are often surprised that they're not feeling what they're 'supposed' to feel. They are dismayed that what they assumed was logistically possible as parents, isn't in fact possible with their child or children, or in their life.

This can lead to parents needing to make extremely difficult decisions that they never wanted to have to make - like sacrificing a beloved career or making really big changes in their lives like downsizing or moving to a cheaper location or nearer to relatives to make things work.

Perfect family

So, when people finally become parents, they find parenthood is...

🚩 more mentally affecting than they thought (post-natal depression affects 10-15% of women, and parents tend to be less happy than non-parents)

🚩 more financially challenging than they thought (for 1 in 3 parents their wage doesn’t cover their childcare bill or they just break even; 29% of UK children live in poverty)

🚩 harder to combine with work than they thought (3 years after the birth of their first child, 85% of women have left full-time work and 19% are stay at home mums even though only 2% wanted to be)

🚩 not as gender-equal as they hoped (women do 60% more of the unpaid childcare and labour than men; women end up with 40% less in their pension pot by retirement)

🚩 more logistically difficult and stressful than they thought (childcare availability is poor, school hours are difficult to manage, they have less time than before, and relationships come under stress)

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

If parenthood is so hard, what's the solution?

If you're still thinking about becoming a parent, one of the best things to do is some parenthood planning. This will prepare you better, set realistic expectations, and lead you to towards targeted actions to build yourself a better experience of parenthood.

NOW is the right time to learn about, and plan for parenthood, before you're in the middle of it.

When you are a parent, it's so hard to find space to think, or to have the time and energy to make changes to your life. You'll be in short-term planning mode, and 'doing' mode, without the time to reflect deeply on what you want parenthood to be like, or to take significant actions.

You're probably wondering exactly what parenthood planning involves. If so, find out more about it here.

The Parenthood Planning Journal

If you want to get started with your parenthood planning, start with The Parenthood Planning Journal. It includes 42 key questions to answer before you become a parent.

Side Note: Although parenthood is undoubtedly hard on parents, I absolutely don't intend to put you off parenthood! I am a parent and I'm glad I am. But a dose of realism is necessary to be prepared, and to prioritise your actions now. With planning and preparation, you can always improve your future experience of being a parent, and make it easier on yourself. 

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