I’m sitting here, reflecting on the piece that Claire Cain Miller prepared for The Washington Post, entitled, “The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting” (Miller, 2018). Claire, you couldn’t be more on, and I don’t mean that strictly from a psychological/parenting perspective, but also from a personal perspective. I have written several blogs on parenting and how our parenting style is extremely different than our parents’ which is resulting in a generation of children with a whole lot less resilience and a great deal more anxiety. We have a generation of young adults deemed “failure to launch” because they don’t have the skills to fly out of the nest, or better yet, launch out into adulthood.
Even though we have the best of intentions in giving our children attention, listening to their thoughts and opinions, and validating their experiences – all things that our parents did little of for us – the pendulum of parenting has swung in the opposite extreme. Unfortunately, this parenting approach has contributed to a generation of children who have a strong sense of entitlement, a low sense of motivation or internal drive, a high sense of anxiety, and a low sense of self efficacy.
Our modern-day parenting styles have become less focused on the adults being the center of the family to now, our children and their needs are the center of our universe. Miller (1995) further points out that despite the great shift in mothers working full-time jobs since the 1970s, at present, we are spending just as much time, or more, with our children as our equivalent 1970s stay at home moms!
What does that mean? It means that we, as parents, have fewer hours in the day available to us because of our investment of time into our careers and commuting, sometimes out of a desire to have a professional identity and sometimes out of necessity for two incomes, but yet we are still spending the same amount of time tending to our children’s extra-curricular activities, homework, and social life. Better yet, we are going above and beyond to find activities and enrichment for our children even though we may not have the resources to fund them.
Don't use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
Miller (2018) calls it “free range parenting, child-centered, emotionally absorbing, labor intensive and financially expensive.” You’re going to be blown away by this statistic – at present, mothers spend about 5 hours per week in comparison to our 1975 moms who spent 1 hour and 45 minutes per week – and they didn’t hold a full-time job! That translates to less self-care, less time spent with your spouse or partner, and less time socializing with other adults. Wow – and we wonder why we are hanging on the edge all.the.time?
Amy Morin (2017) in her book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, points out that as parents, we parent out of guilt. In doing that, we have given our children too much power in our homes. In essence, our family dynamics have changed where our children are empowered, and have a great deal of say in our family decisions. Developmentally, our children are not prepared for this level of power and control, but it is very desirable, to our children, at the same time.
I have worked with adolescents and young adults who have shared with me that they don’t understand why their parents didn’t set more boundaries or tell them ‘no.’ When I pointed out that they fought their parents’ rules so much and so hard, their response was, “They’re the parents, they should have fought back harder.” When I share this insight with parents, they are surprised and ultimately empowered to take back their position of authority. I encourage parents to use their “firm parenting voice” and to own their role in the family as the adult, the rule maker, the protector, the authority figure.
So, how can we begin to create a parenting style that is more balanced and a generation of children that are not as distressed, over-scheduled, intense, and dependent? I have a few ideas to share.
It’s Okay For Your Child to Be ‘Bored’
Do you remember what our mothers said to us when we were bored? They told us to go outside and play. They told us to find something to do or play with. That was the time when we dipped into our world of imagination, we stared out the window or at the sky, we found board games to play, or we made up our own games. This helped us build our creative thinking, brainstorming and problem-solving skills.
Believe me, I know that it is all too easy for our kids to turn to their IPads, computers, tablets, IPODS, video games or whatever other electronic device that is within our children’s reach. And it’s okay for them to have some time to use them, but when the time is up (and there should be a 30 minute, 1 hour or 2 hour time limit), it’s okay for your children to not requireSource: pixels
you to engage them, find a game to play with them, or entertain them.
"You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going." - P. J. O’Rourke
Whenever my own children share with me how incredibly bored they are, my response is always, “Nobody has ever died of boredom. Find something to do.” Once they’re disconnected from their devices, they have a hard time shifting their brains from being passively entertained to finding something to do more actively. However, I’ve watched this amazing thing happen where they talk to each other, they come up with games, or they find games. Even better is when (the weather is in their favor), they decide to go outside and do something, anything.
In my effort to understand why I feel the need to entertain my kids, I’ve been reflecting a great deal on which thoughts and feelings are instigated when my children utter the words, “I’m bored.” I’ve found that I feel like I’m not doing enough, or that I’m failing them by not giving them enough awesome or enriching experiences. That, if they are bored, then I didn’t plan ahead enough. Truth is, I’ve let myself off the hook because I know that if I just let them be, they will be better for it… and their IQ score won’t drop at all!
It’s Okay for Your Child To Have Experiences Without You
Remember when we used to go outside after breakfast and stay outside all day long? Remember when we returned home to eat lunch and then off we went again? Do you remember the time when we had that freedom to be with other kids, older or younger, in our neighborhood?
Miller (2018) pointed out that the reason helicopter parents evolved was because of an increase in children being kidnapped or other horrible things that I would rather not think or write about. We became frightened, as parents, and we pulled our children into our homes. An entire world of indoor activities, or guided and supervised outdoor activities/camps/businesses emerged out of the idea that children could no longer play outside, unsupervised.
I’m not saying that danger for our children doesn’t exist, but did we take it one step too far? Think about how much we learned when we were playing with other kids in our neighborhood or kids who walked or biked over from another neighborhood. We learned how to negotiate, compromise, win, lose, make friends, and resolve conflicts. Our modern-day idea of children playing together has become organized and scheduled and hence, the evolution of the “play date.”
What I am saying is that it’s okay for our children to play outside, to explore their surroundings, to have their familiar places to play football, baseball, soccer, volleyball, a route to ride a bike, a place to build a ‘secret hide out.’ We don’t have to be the ones to organize it, run it, or supervise it.
"You see much more of your children once they leave home." -Lucille Ball
It’s almost like we, as parents, have developed a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) with anything that our kids are doing. It’s okay if we don’t make it to every practice or game, it’s okay if we don’t witness all of our children’s life events. Again, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t participate in your child’s life, but I am saying that it’s okay if they tell us about their great goal, win, or loss at a later time. I promise, it won’t scar them, they won’t feel abandoned, and they won’t feel unloved. The premise of your relationship with your child is not just about physically being present, but rather the emotional attachment, connection and trust that exists between the two of you.
It’s Okay If Your Child Isn’t Over Scheduled
It’s totally okay if your child isn’t signed up for many activities and enrichment classes. I know we have gotten lost in the idea that without these activities and classes, our children will fall behind academically or socially. We have even taken it so far, thinking that if they don’t, it may negatively impact their future college acceptances and career.
I know that there is pressure, a great deal of it, when parents start to chat about their child’s schedule and how well they are progressing because of all of the sports, activities and classes they are taking. But, where did we get the idea that after a full day of school, that it was a good idea to now run to several activities each week, squeeze in homework, dinner in the car, run back home, take a shower or bath and jump into bed. How relaxed are you after reading that? I’m tense just thinking about the running around. Nobody is relaxed and these activities lose their enjoyment with all of the pressure being placed on time, getting homework done, and making sure there is time to see friends and maintain social status.
How about finishing homework and having time to decompress from the day? How about preparing or picking up dinner and sitting at the table to eat together? How about easing into bedtime without rushing to sleep?
We are so tense and rushed all of the time, and our kids are stressed because of it. Our children have their own sense of time and it’s much slower than ours. I know that when I rush my children, they look at me like I’m insane. It makes my 10-year-old daughter very anxious and she has had many meltdowns at my urges to “hurry!”
Since becoming a parent, I’ve adopted a personal and professional activity limit – one activity per child per season. That’s it. It’s okay if there are nights without an activity or place to run. It’s okay if there is a night of “nothing.” I promise your child’s future will not suffer. If anything, your child may be calmer, more resilient, and better able to understand personal limits. There is no prize for having your child enrolled in the most activities and classes each season.
If your child is truly interested in a sport, activity or subject, I absolutely encourage you to pursue it with your child. However, think about the “why” of enrolling your child. Is it because someone else is doing it? Is it because you want your child to have a particular experience? How will this affect your time and your family’s time? It’s important to take that into account as well – your well-being, your time, and finding balance between working, family time and time for enrichment and fun experiences. I personally find that planning an activity with our family alone or with other families is more beneficial for our children than enrolling them in a particular class that runs over 12 weeks that ultimately forces us to feel distressed, rushed, and to eat dinner on the go several nights each week.
Read books together every day. Get started when he's a newborn; babies love listening to the sound of their parents' voices. Cuddling up with your child and a book is a great bonding experience that will set him up for a lifetime of reading.
Although the pendulum of parenting has swung to the opposite extreme, it is up to us to change how we raise our children. When something isn’t working, it’s generally not a good idea to keep repeating your approach (I believe that’s the definition of insanity) but rather to assess and see how things can be done differently for your family so that there is more calm, stress, and more positive interactions overall.