Written by our child and family expert, psychologist Dr. Gabriella Johr
Every parent worries about his or her child. It is natural and normal to want to protect your child from potential harm and prepare him or her for the best future possible. Most likely, in no other area of your life could you become as consumed by the doings of another human being as you can with your child or teen.
While parenting is incredibly rewarding, the deep responsibility parents carry everyday to care for their children can be challenging and emotionally draining. Paradoxically, the more you worry about your ability to parent, the more you may waiver in that role as anxiety takes hold and negatively influences your behavior. If you’re feeling parenting pressure, you may want to assess if your worry is appropriate, or, if it is excessive and turning into overwhelming anxiety that unwittingly interferes with your parenting.
How do you respond to parenting pressure?
As with most things, parental anxiety operates along a continuum; the emotions inherent in parenting aren’t black and white and most parents experience low to moderate levels of anxiety that are not only expected, but important to your child’s wellbeing. However, extreme levels of anxiety- which can manifest as either over-investment or disengagement- can be counterproductive to your child’s health and can disrupt harmony within your household.
Signs you may be a preoccupied parent:
According to evolutionary psychology, in the face of danger, humans have a “fight or flight” physiological response. When parental anxiety becomes overwhelming, you fight rather than take flight. You are constantly concerned about what your child is doing, how other people view this behavior and your handling of it. The critical lens you see both yourself and your child through may be apparent to your child and he or she might appear to “walk on eggshells” around you. Your unease may also be obvious to those around you; coworkers may notice that you’re distracted at work. Your friends may comment that conversations frequently revolve around your kids. Your partner may express feelings of being ignored and/or tension may escalate between you as you blame each other for your child’s difficulties.
Signs you may be a passive parent:
When parental anxiety becomes overwhelming you take flight, rather than fight. You feel high levels of uncertainty or self doubt when it comes to making decisions about your children and as a result, withdraw from action. Rather than approaching parenting challenges head on, you often pass the responsibility to your partner or other caretakers and because of this, resentment may begin to brew as they have to request more help from you. An “ignorance is bliss” attitude may protect you from feeling uncomfortable but your child may suffer as he or she feels that you aren’t paying close attention to his or her experiences.
Don’t let parenting pressure explode: 7 tips to strike better balance.
- Release some parenting pressure . Realize that having a perfect child and being a perfect parent is a wish (that all of us have) and not reality. There is no manual and there is not one “right way” of parenting because all families are different. Avoid comparing yourself to others and thinking that other families have it easy- all families struggle with something!! Embrace your struggle as par for the course.
- Be compassionate toward yourself and hopeful about your child. While there may be things you need to improve upon, you are trying your best. Parenting is a process that allows for a learning curve- you will be given endless opportunities to intervene in different ways until you find what works best for your family. Your child’s strengths will become more apparent with an attitude of compassion and appreciation for the parenting process.
- Be flexible and open minded. Learn how to listen to everyone’s point of view and brainstorm together about solutions to problems. Insist that your child and partner give opinions. Together, generate compromises that validate a portion of everyone’s concerns.
- Find Support. All parents need support from other parents as well as cheerleading from their partner. Parents who are disengaged need to feel empowered to ask for and accept support without feeling judged. All parents need to be told that they are doing a good job with some aspect of parenting, because they are!! Look for those opportunities.
- Get information. If there is a particular concern, gathering information from reliable sources (i.e., pediatrician, religious leaders, teachers, other parents) can generate important questions and help your family get answers. Finding solutions to a problem is a process and patience with each other is essential.
- Have fun and use humor. Take yourself less seriously; have fun, laugh often, and be silly with your kids. This lightens the stress and makes you more approachable.
- Have the courage to take a step back or take a step forward. If you find you are on the extreme end zones, recognize this within yourself. Find the courage to be hopeful that most things will work out and stepping back won’t be catastrophic. Conversely, for the welfare of our family, they will need you to take a step forward and become more engaged.
Please note: If your child is struggling, whether academically, socially or behaviorally, it is certainly understandable and expected for parents to worry. Low to moderate anxiety can be very helpful for parents to spring into action. Ideally, this concern drives your motivation to get information, find resources, talk to your child and seek parental support. Parents would never want to eliminate their worrying and involvement, as they are indeed their children’s best advocates.