By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
As a new parent, I can think about parenting and my new mom life a lot. Like all day long… Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the first year of parenting and contemplating why I am like this. Why I can spend all day considering exactly what toothbrush and toothpaste would be best for Luca now that he needs to be brushing his teeth. Why I can spend so long considering recipes and what he should eat, let alone how much and when he should eat!
I’ve come to the conclusion that this is clearly insanity. Motherhood induced insanity perhaps. I would say it’s sleep deprivation related but we are one of the lucky families who has a baby who sleeps and sleeps pretty well. So this leaves me considering why I am clearly insane… Here’s what I came up with. I think that our parenting culture gives parents the sense that they are somehow entirely responsible for everything about their child. (And yes, part of that is obviously true for those of you thinking, yes, Erica, that is clearly obvious.)
What I mean is that parents think that everything they do matters SO much in the long run that it becomes hard to know what to do. There are thousands and thousands of parenting books, resources, and blogs online that there are just so many opinions out there about how to be the best possible parent for your child. It becomes really overwhelming to figure out what is truly best for you because there are so many opinions out there. Add in the fact that most of these theories and strategies give you the sense that you can almost curate qualities in your child that you want, and it is a dangerous combination of parents feeling completely in control of their child not just in the present but for everything in their life. Enter parenting guilt and anxiety anyone?
Interestingly as a therapist, I LOVE working with parents. So much so that working with parents is a big part of my practice. Most of the parents I work with are absolutely amazing people and amazing parents. However, most of them think that their child is struggling because of things they (the parents) did. What I tell them is that there is no way of knowing this for sure and that while our choices as parents obviously matter, there are going to be things completely out of our control. As a parent, this idea is totally anxiety provoking. Partially because none of us want to watch our kids struggle and also because we get this message from current American parenting culture that we are totally in control of what happens for them and in their lives and development. The thought is: if you parent this way, your kid will be like this. This makes me think that perhaps our culture and current approaches towards parenting breed anxious parents.
I have to say that I am much more anxious than usual as a parent. If you didn’t know that my overthinking I was talking about is definitely a sign of anxiety (and perfectionism), that’s what that is! That is me obsessing and trying to control the world for Luca.
The most interesting experience for me as a parent has been the comingling of my work and my home life. I can’t say my opinions have changed about parenting but I do definitely think that my personal experiences really help me understand what the parents I work with are going through. I can’t help but think that if I, as a psychologist who specializes in children, teens, families, and parenting, feel this entirely lost at times and unsure of myself, what does everyone else feel? Anxious, worried, stressed, overwhelmed, sad, lost? I think many of us feel all of these things regularly. And then we, like the good students we are and the parents trying desperately to do a good job, research and read and listen to podcasts and exhaust ourselves trying to make the “right” decision. And then these books and parenting theories tell us that yes, there is a “right” decision and not just that, but there is a “wrong” one that leads to terrible outcomes.
Here are some of the truths about parenting I try to keep in mind while I am anxious about how things are going:
I try to also remember that my biggest goals for parents that I work with at Thrive is to help them understand and communicate their love to their children in more effective ways. We talk about how they communicate and how they repair things when they mess up. And we hold space for the fact that none of us are perfect and that this is okay.
I imagine that if we all had some faith that things were going to be okay for us and for our kids, we would be much less anxious as a culture and group. I’m working on it myself and would love to support any of you in working on it too! First, let’s all take a deep breathe and for goodness sake, put down Facebook and Google searches!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
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"Watch your thoughts,
They become words.
Watch your words,
They become actions.
Watch your actions,
They become habits.
Watch your habits,
They become character;
It becomes your destiny."