Jacqui Felgate: ‘For parenting there’s no instruction manual’

Parenting is the toughest job we’ll ever do, writes The House of Wellness co-host Jacqui Felgate. Without a rule book, how can we deal with modern challenges?

In life, there are so many rules!

We need permission and a handbook for just about everything we do, whether it be getting a driver’s licence, withdrawing your own money over a certain amount from a bank (have you tried this lately?) or volunteering at kids’ sports.

But for the biggest job of all – parenting – there’s no instruction manual.

When new parents realise they have to parent

You give birth, spend a couple of overwhelming days in hospital and off you go.

I remember asking the nurse as we left the maternity ward, “Do I need to sign anything?”

She laughed and said, “No, you’re good to go”.

Well, I was far from good! Every parent will know that moment when you realise you’re now responsible for keeping this tiny, wriggly and quite terrifying human alive.

I remember our oldest daughter tucked up in her capsule and myself standing next to the car at the hospital, thinking: Well, what do I do now?

That first car ride home, I sat in the back as my husband drove about 20km/h just in case there was even the smallest bump in the road.

We didn’t know it then but there were, of course, plenty more bumps to come.

Different parenting stages, different challenges

Parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever do and every stage is a different challenge.

With two kids aged six and 11, now is the time I’d really like a handbook.

When my pre-teen – or tweenager – challenges us on what she can and can’t do, it’s hard.

Am I giving her enough space? Does she have too much freedom?

How do I let her make her own way in the world but still give her the right guidance?

Where is my rule book now?

And the worst thing? There really is no right or wrong answer.

Currently in our house it’s the fight over an iPhone.

Should I allow an 11-year-old to have a phone?

It’s easy to say, “Well, of course not – she’s only 11.”

But many of her friends already have phones and she feels, quite rightly, that she’s missing out.

She also has a mother who spends most of her day on the phone.

She sees me using it all the time; to be perfectly honest, it’s rarely out of my hand.

I don’t have a rule book for this one, but what I do have is a gut feeling.

The longer I can hold off buying her a phone, the better her mental health – and our family dynamic.

How tech gets in the way of parenting

Psychologists Jon Lasser and Mike Brooks wrote the book Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World and it lists some warning signs of tech overuse.

They include children complaining they’re bored or unhappy when they don’t have access to technology, tantrums or harsh resistance when you set screen time limits, and noticing that screen time is interfering with sleep, school and face-to-face communication.

I can relate to all of these!

In one study, almost half of parents reported technology interfering with interactions with their child three or more times on a typical day.

I absolutely get this. I am so guilty of it.

Your children are talking to you; they’re trying to get your attention and only when you hear the exasperated ‘Mum!’ do you look up from your phone.

I’ve heard of parents having a locked box or cupboard where they place all their kids’ tech at a certain time of day.

Playing sport could be key

But there’s one thing that’s really helped us lessen the overuse of tech and that’s sport.

We are pumping as much after-school sport into our children as we can possibly fit in, whether it be tennis, basketball, swimming or even walking the dog.

The more time we spend out of the house, the less time they’re at home, bored and on their tech.

But in terms of my daughter’s iPhone, I’m teetering.

The nagging, the guilt, the pester power is breaking me down.

For now, I’m holding firm, but I know it won’t be long before I cave in.

Let me know if you’ve got a rule book for that one!

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Written by Jacqui Felgate.