Author John Marsden says we’re living through an epidemic of ‘toxic parenting’ - but what’s the truth?
Author John Marsden says we’re living through an epidemic of ‘toxic parenting’ - but what’s the truth?

Today’s parents deserve more credit than they’re getting

WE are living through an epidemic of "toxic parenting", says young adult novelist and educator John Marsden.

Marsden - or just simply "John" to the students at his progressive Candlebark School - has written a book that suggests things are getting "powerfully worse" for kids. And the reason? Parents. Yep, us godawful millennial parents who peel our kids' mandarins for them, advocate for them, love them way too much apparently, and obsess about keeping them safe.

Author John Marsden speaks with students on the Gold Coast. Photo: Supplied
Author John Marsden speaks with students on the Gold Coast. Photo: Supplied

 

We're the problematic mums and dads of Australia who have neglected the kind of survivalist skills that will doomsday prep them for the climate disaster ahead: canoeing, mountaineering, firewood chopping, skiing, orienteering, crocheting, circular sawing, fencing, and chess.

In John's book, good parents are the ones that "function as an adult in a relationship". While toxic parents view their kids as their heroes or best m8s. They fuss over them, let them play Roblox for two hours while they eat sous vide eggs in cafes, and write long emails to teachers saying how "beautifully kind and sympathetic" they are the literal day after they exposed themselves in the playground. The last one is a real example in Marsden's 4000th book, The Art Of Growing Up, which chronicles the extremely bad parenting he's witnessed as an educator and conscious observer of kids in wealthy private schools. You know, the kinds filled with average Aussies who drive Maseratis and have "AWESOME" kids called Brendan who are just perfect in every way.

The 6-O'Clock swill didn’t exactly go hand-in-hand with good parenting.
The 6-O'Clock swill didn’t exactly go hand-in-hand with good parenting.

 

I have no doubt Marsden has seen his fair share of terrible parenting in his 40-year career as an educator - as I have in my eight years as a parent - but are we really the most toxic generation to ever parent?

Are we worse than the generations before us, who didn't see the harm in a good old-fashioned belting, smoked ciggies at the dinner table, let kids roam the streets unsupervised while they swapped keys at house parties, and just generally believed kids should be seen and not heard?

Dads still have a long way to go, but there's no doubt men are taking a more active role in the lives of their children. We're not out getting sloshed en masse at the 6pm swill while our long-suffering partners put our dinners back in the warmer and tuck our 2.4 kids into bed. Modern dads are dancing to Frozen in princess dresses, helping their kids with their homework, and just generally taking the idea of parenting a bit more seriously than showing up to soccer practice once a week.

A 2015 study said 58 per cent of millennial dads place family before work, while there are more stay-at-home dads now than ever.

 

Kevin Kline and Joan Allen in the infamous “key party” scene from the film The Ice Storm.
Kevin Kline and Joan Allen in the infamous “key party” scene from the film The Ice Storm.

 

John has refused to be sucked into these generational comparisons in interviews promoting the book's release, but you can't just dish out a potshot like, "Most toxic parents evah!", and then back off when someone dares question it.

"We're failing them in different ways," he told The Guardian, dismissively.

So what's the source of this pandemic of emotional carnage? In Marsden's view it's the way we impart our middle-class anxieties onto our kids. And for once I actually agree with him.

Parents really are more anxious than ever. We're bombarded daily with conflicting messages about the ways we should be parenting. We're called concierge or lawnmower parents if we care a bit too much and overstep the mark. And we face a whole raft of new challenges Marsden's generation so lovingly created for us - from the climate crisis to being priced out of the housing market.

Every day we have to filter out the noise and parent like nobody's watching. But ultimately there's always someone watching, ready to pounce and put our worst moments on Instagram.

So, yes, there is a pandemic. But it's a pandemic of parental scrutiny, and it's about time millennial parents got cut a bit of slack.

 

Darren Levin is a RendezView columnist.



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