If there is one word to describe the state of parenting over the last decade, that word would be “anxious“. Over the last 10 years, parents have become increasingly anxious — about what peers think of their parenting; about what their kid’s economic future will look like; about whether their kids will be shot in school. While the decade wasn’t completely dire, it was certainly difficult and these were the people and events who defined parenting in the last 10 years.
1. Parent Shaming Gets a New, Robust Platform
Instagram Launched, October 6, 2010
The decade began with the launch of Instagram. And as the photo-sharing app grew in popularity, parents inevitably joined to share images of their kids. Some of those parents included high-profile celebrities like Beyonce Knowles who announced her 2017 pregnancy with a wild, ethereal photoshoot. Also, pop star Pink documented her parenting adventures with husband Carey Hart, and Neil Patrick Harris offered diverse insight while co-parenting with husband David Burtka.
But Instagram also ushered in a new era of parent shaming that became a regular fixture in the 2010s. Stars like Chrissy Teigan and Pink have become the poster-moms for the terrible trend. Pink was shamed for a “dangerous” picture of her cooking with her children and Teigan has been blasted for going to dinner with her husband when her baby was 1-week-old. But among the famous are many more regular folks who have been shamed for breastfeeding in public, not breastfeeding at all, posting images of kids in swimming suits, or any number of parent “sins”, like wearing a bikini.
More than mom-shaming, Instagram has also literally put children in harms way by normalizing unsafe sleep practices. Consider the cozy-nursery pic that shows cribs kitted out in fluffy blankets, bumpers and stuffed animals, all of which are associated with injury and increased SIDS risk. Instagram has also popularized images of fathers who have fallen asleep with babies on the chests. Far from being a sweet picture of fatherly devotion, these images could turn tragic. Fathers falling asleep with babies on their chests can sometimes lead to infant entrapment deaths.
It’s true that Instagram has allowed parents to share their lives with friends around the world, but it’s affect on how we parent and how we feel as parents has been mixed, at best.
2. Parenting Styles Find Teeth
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Published January 11, 2011
Amy Chau’s memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was released early in the decade and immediately drew controversy. Most of that controversy was sparked by a Wall Street Journal article. Their reporting admittedly cherry-picked excerpts from Chau’s book in which she reveals harsh parenting tactics like threatening to throw away a beloved toy if her daughter didn’t improve her violin performance.
The controversy of Tiger Mother centered around a so-called “Asian” style of parenting, wherein performance, merit, and parental respect is praised above all else. But here at the end of the decade, Chau’s book feels prescient.
As much as we could say her choice in parenting styles was driven by cultural norms, we now understand that there was more at work in the way she raised her children. Chau herself admits that the drive for her children to excel was based on the anxiety that they would not succeed. Over the decade, the anxiety that Chau explores has only grown more concentrated among America’s parents, largely because higher education and high-earning jobs have grown far more competitive. Nearly ten years after the publication of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, we can now recognize Tiger Mothering for what it is, an intensive, anxiety-driven mode of raising children that feels 100-percent American.
3. Gun Violence Sets Sites on Youngest
Sandy Hook, December 14, 2012
Seven short years ago, 20 children under 8-years-old were killed by a gunman in the halls and classrooms of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. While the murder of the Sandy Hook children was acutely felt across the United States, parents were particularly distressed seeing the anguish of those who’d lost son and daughters.
In many ways, the events of Sandy Hook were critical in getting parents focused on the issue of gun violence. Suddenly, it was incredibly clear that even our youngest children were not safe from the worst-case scenarios of American anger and gun fetishism.
Over the decade parents have been constantly reminded of that insecurity as children practice lockdown drills and come home fearful of bad men shooting guns in the hallways. But there has also been some hope in the intervening years. Some surviving parents of the tragedy created the school-safety advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise, pushing for common-sense gun laws and establishing an anonymous reporting line for suspected school shooters. Moreover, with parents in the fight, many communities and states have taken action to tighten gun laws around high capacity magazines and background checks.
Importantly, the terror of Sandy Hook has not ended for some parents as they continue to face harassment from conspiracy theorists who suggest Sandy Hook was a hoax. One such harassment case recently came to a head in 2019 when InfoWars’ Alex Jones was successfully sued for damages related to defamation of Sandy Hook parents.
For parents across the U.S. the events of December 14, 2012, continue to stir worry. We can only hope it will someday lead to gun legislation in Congress.
4. The Inevitable Consequences of the Anti-Vaxx Movement
Measles Outbreak, California, January 1, 2014
Until 2014, incidents of measles had seen a nearly 20 year period of historic lows, thanks in part to high childhood vaccination rates. But in 2014 measles outbreaks spiked, starting with a cluster of 58 cases in California. While several of those cases were imported from Asian countries, the managed to spread to unvaccinated communities, with well over half the cases occurring in individuals who had not received the MMR vaccine.
While that outbreak was concerning, it became just a small part of the 667 cases that made 2014 the worst measles year since the disease was designated as eradicated in 2000. Again, most of the cases of measles occurred in unvaccinated communities. And those communities have only continued to grow over the decade.
In fact, 2014 would not remain the worst measles year the United States has seen since 2000. That record was shattered this year with over 1,200 cases reported. And sadly, it looks like measles will continue to be a concern for parents in the coming years, with the likelihood of the United States losing it’s eradicated measles status. That very bad new, particularly for parents with small babies who cannot be vaccinated and those who have children with compromised immune systems.
5. The Helicopter Parent Backlash Finds a Name
Meitivs, Silver Spring Maryland Free-Range Parenting, December 20, 2014
The Meitiv children were taken into custody in 2014 when their parents allowed their 6-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son go to the park on their own. They were taken into custody again in 2015 when allowed to go to the park again on their own. The incidents prompted an investigation of the Meitiv parents by Maryland child-protection services and launched a conversation into so-called free-range parenting.
That debate about how much freedom young children should have outside of the home eventually led to legislation on both the federal and state levels. On the federal level, in 2015 Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee created and manage to pass into law a free-range kids amendment that legally allowed kids to walk to school on their own. Three years later, Lee’s home state of Utah passed a law that explicitly protected a parents right to allow their kids to roam free.
Notably, the Meitivs do not consider themselves free-range parents. During the time of her run in with child protection service, mom Danielle Meitiv explained to the media, “It’s just parenting, period.”
6. The Definition of “Family” Officially, Legally Expands
Obergefell v. Hodges, June 26, 2015
In a five to four vote, the United States supreme court held that the Fourteenth Amendment protected same-sex marriage as a right in all states. Suddenly, all same-sex couples that wanted to be legally bound to one another could be. While not all of those marriages were followed by a baby in the baby carriage, the Obergefell decision offered federal legitimacy to same-sex parents can now feel on the same footing as heterosexual peers.
Now, five years later, it’s clear that all the hand-wringing over marriage equality destroying the American family was all for naught. The American family, whether anchored by gay or straight parents remains as strong, messy and complicated as it ever was. It’s just that now, a pair of dads with a child feels more ubiquitous than it does shocking.
7. America’s Emotional Laborers Seek Equality
Gemma Hartley’s “Women Aren’t Nags — We’re Just Fed Up” Published in Harper’s Bazaar September 27, 2017
Over the course of the last ten years, fathers have been coming to terms with the lingering inequality of labor inside the home. But while dads are doing more dishes, laundry and child care, author Gemma Hartley shined a bright light on an unseen form of labor: emotional labor (also known as mental load or invisible work)Her essay sparked a conversation about gender inequality and how much is still left to be done.
What Hartley shined a light on specifically wasn’t so much the burden of a mother’s “emotional” work, but rather all of the hidden home management tasks that lead to mental exhaustion. She noted that she, like many mothers, was in charge of all of the scheduling, budgeting, arranging, and planning as well as housework. Moreover, husbands and fathers asking what they could do to fix it were simply asking for more of the same labor.
Hartley’s powerful piece placed the spotlight on the unpaid management of a home in the spotlight. She revealed the painful truth that though we’ve come far in family fairness, fathers still had a lot more work to do … literally.
8. Parental Leave Gets Its Due
Derek Rotando Sues JP Morgan Chase, June 14th, 2017
The 2010s were the decade when the United States finally began to accept that parental leave policies were far from inadequate. While the number of states that offered mandated paid leave expanded over the last ten years, private citizens took the battle to court too.
In 2017 Derek Rotondo took the paid leave fight to JP Morgan Chase. While the massive financial company did offer leave, the 16 full weeks were only offered to the primary caregiver. When Rotondo applied for the 16-weeks of leave his request was rejected because considering his wife would be home with the baby we could not be considered the primary caregiver.
The ACLU shepherded the complaint through the courts on behalf of Rotondo and JP Morgan Chase settled the case in 2019 for $5 Million. Rotondo’s case and others like it have illustrated the push for a comprehensive parental leave policy in the United States. And considering that political operatives as diverse as Elizabeth Warren and Ivanka Trump are talking about such a policy, we may finally see some movement in the coming years.
The Class Wars Come to College Admissions
Operation Varsity Blues, March 12, 2019
Where Chau’s Tiger Mother, started the anxious decade, the sweeping arrests of affluent parents in Operation Varsity Blues brought that anxiety into sharp focus. Parents like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin faced federal fraud charges for bribing school officials or falsifying their children’s academic record and sports prowess to gain admission into competitive colleges like Stanford. But as shameful as their will to cheat to get ahead was, the frightening thing for middle-class parents was the acknowledgment that the game was rigged in favor of the wealthy.
The shocking truth was that even the very rich were so concerned about their children’s outcomes that they would do whatever it takes to cement their career path with an esteemed university education. The problem is that pretty much all modern parents feel pressure to get their children a head start. The realization that getting that head start isn’t easily accomplished unless you have thousands to pay out in bribes, only makes parenting more anxiety-ridden.
That’s the story of parenting in the last decade. It has only become harder, more time consuming and more expensive. And if things fail to change in the coming years, it’s likely only to get worse.