No doubt, one of the hardest jobs I ever had was parenting. Of course, once you have kids, you are always a mom or a dad.
But during the first 18 years of life (at a minimum) parents have a huge responsibility — not just to provide for their children, but to help them become independent, decent adults.
When children do become independent, we can sit back and relax a little. But it takes a long time to reach that moment.
As both a grandparent and a child psychologist, I can see how today’s parents feel particularly stressed. Two full-time working parents have become the norm, mostly out of financial necessity.
Upward mobility was always a fact of 20th-century life — children were likely to do better than their parents. But in the 21st century, that is not a given. Indeed, most kids won’t be better off than their parents. There is even the possibility that they will do worse.
This new economic reality pushes parents to enrich their children’s lives with all kinds of extra activities — music lessons, dance, art, sports and tutoring. Parents are spending more time helping their children with their homework, too. This new reality has been called “intensive parenting.”
For many working parents, it’s plain exhausting.
At the end of the day, there is little evidence that this intensive parenting results in more capable, successful adults. But it has become the norm in America. It may be that this emphasis on enrichment contributes to greater anxiety in children — they pick up that hanging around and digging in the dirt is not enough: They need to be always learning, practicing or getting better at something.
Surveys in the last 10 years show the incidence of anxiety in children is rising.
The internet and social media has added to the parental burden by making it possible to read a voluminous amount of information about everything related to child rearing. And blog and social media posts give everyone the opportunity to share their pearls of wisdom about the latest and greatest trend in super-parenting.
Perhaps there is just too much information to sift through. It’s time for parents to step back and spend more time enjoying their children.
Here’s how to be a more relaxed parent in 2019:
At the end of the day, trust yourself. Sure, there is a lot of useful information out there. But you know your kids better than anyone else. Trust your own intuition, knowledge of your child and your own common sense.
Be realistic. Too much is too much. If you see that both you and your kids are exhausted at the end of the week, take a step back. You can’t be everything to everybody.
Take care of yourself, too. Try to get enough sleep. So what if your house and your yard won’t be perfect. If you don’t take care of yourself, you are going to be a grumpy, irritable parent. You won’t like yourself and neither will your kids.
Limit screen time. I know, I sound like a broken record. But too much time on email, computer screens, television, smartphones and video games sucks your time up like a vacuum cleaner. It doesn’t really add quality to children’s lives. I don’t think it makes parents’ lives better either.
Savor your child’s childhood. Turn off your cellphone, step back from your “have to’s” and “shoulds” and simply enjoy your children! These are precious, fleeting moments. Savor them, drink them in. Engrave them in your memory. Be 100 percent present and in the moment. You won’t regret it.
Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.
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