Stressed Parents—Voila, Stressed Kids

Intensive parenting leads to exhausted parents and stressed out kids.

Posted Feb 15, 2019

In a recent article, journalist Claire C. Miller cites the toll of the "relentlessness of modern parenting." Formerly, known as 'helicopter' parents to the Millennial generation, Gen Z has spawned "intensive parenting," with parental increases in time, supervision, and money spent on extracurriculars. This accepted parenting style has spread from the upper middle class to become the norm across class divides. Why? Sociologist, Philip Cohen, cites economic anxiety. This isn't new. 

Historian Steven Mintz reassures us that parenting seesaws between eras in which parents promote childhood autonomy in juxtaposition with those dominated by parental control and childhood dependence. We’ve been in the latter epoch for about four decades. While autonomy promotion occurs in times of either cultural necessity or economic stability, parental control emerges in periods of economic or global instability. Our recent experiment in parenting has occurred with a civic sense of narrowing opportunities and fear, accompanied by a scarcity of governmental support for childcare.  

Parental anxiety, exhaustion, and stress are transmitted in children’s heightened expectations of themselves and their abject fear of failure. Not good for parents, not good for kids. The goal of a good parent is to be attuned to a child and provide them with options to meet their needs and interests. As a psychologist and parent, the question I often asked myself was: Whose needs am I meeting? Mine or my kids? My children were my best teachers. Early on, I learned that though I encouraged their learning a foreign language (accent-free), it didn’t translate to their interests. C’est la vie. Later and more concerning, I learned that the brand name college I promoted was not the best match for them. I learned to trust their choices and their dreams, not those I had imagined for them. Accepting that reality, I became less stressed, and they were freer to take chances.

We can change the culture; our children deserve better.  It starts by evaluating your own parenting intensity.

References

Cohen, P. (2018) Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible. Univ. of California Press. 

Miller, C.C. (2018), The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting. New York Times, December 25, 2018.

Mintz, Steven. (2004). Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood. Harvard College, Cambridge, MA.