Stressed Out Parenting

A friend recently recommended a book called, The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. It is so good! In this 4 minute video, one of the authors, Jonathan Haidt talks about over parenting, meaning the hovering and micro managing some of us do as parents. Some of his insights are very basic– parenting 101–but parenting has been evolving with our prosperity and technology, and he reminds us to go back to basics:

“Children aren’t playing outside independently anymore without adult supervision.’

“Parents have to take charge of devices and limit social media.’

“Children need to develop the skills of being independent adults.’

Basic.

The above authors referenced an article in The Atlantic magazine by Kate Julian. She said that psychologists have developed a program to help parents who are hovering called SPACE–Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. She said that as parents become more accommodating to not trigger their children, their children become more anxious and fearful.

Kate Julian said:

“Here are some things that, over the course of the SPACE training, I heard of parents doing to avoid setting off their anxious children:’

“Going upstairs to get a child’s backpack before school because the child is scared to be alone in any area of the house and the parent doesn’t have time to argue about it. Driving a child to school because the child is frightened of the bus, with the result that the mother is late to work every single day.’

“Tying and retying a child’s shoes until they feel just right.’

“Spending 30 minutes a day, on average, checking and rechecking a child’s homework.’

“Announcing one’s presence as one moves around the house, so that a child will at all times know where to find a parent (“I’m going to the kitchen, Oliver”). Accompanying a 9-year-old child to the toilet because he is afraid to be alone. Allowing a 9-year-old to accompany a parent to the toilet because he is afraid to be alone. Peeing in a bucket—a mother, not a child—because the basement playroom has no bathroom, and the child is afraid to be alone.”

“Allowing a child to sleep in the parents’ bed. Sitting or lying with a child while he falls asleep.’

“Always carrying a plastic bag because a child is afraid she’ll vomit.’

“Cutting a 13-year-old’s food because she’s afraid of knives.’

“Ceasing to have visitors because a child is intensely shy. Speaking for a child in restaurants. Asking a child’s teacher not to call on her in class.’

“Installing the Find My Friends app on a child’s phone so that the child can track the parents’ whereabouts.’

“Preparing different foods for a child because she won’t eat what everyone else eats.’

“Buying a new burglar alarm. Buying a new car. Seriously contemplating buying a new house.”

She said as result of the SPACE training, the program helps parents start figuring out how to start reducing their accommodations while expressing empathy for their child’s suffering and confidence in her abilities. She said it’s a virtuous cycle–as the parent behavior changes the kids will start coping for themselves, and the entire family’s well-being will improve.

Kate Julian finishes:

“When I had coffee with Johnson (a psychologist) the next day and later emailed with him, he told me that, since writing the book, he has concluded that parents’ overprotection of kids includes an under-recognized element of self-protection. When we shelter kids from difficulty or challenge, he says, we are not merely shielding them from distress; we are warding off the distress that their distress causes us. Moreover, when school and family systems both have a baseline level of stress—when adults are always on high alert—kids don’t get a chance to rebound, and so they resist taking on the sorts of natural and healthy risks that will help them grow. “Et voilà,” he said, “a generation of anxious kids, looking fearfully at the world around them, who become anxious adults.”

We as parents have to figure out what our “baseline level of stress” is in our life so we aren’t on “high alert” all the time. Then we won’t automatically accommodate our children’s fears and worries in an effort to be efficient, to get to work on time, or finish the email. We must hand the responsibilities of our children’s lives over to them. It’s their dog, their homework, their treat they can buy with their own money, or their dishes to clean up. We have to help them learn to cope with life’s challenges and stop cocooning them in their bedrooms with their devices. We have to be counter cultural–turn our back on materialism, and being too busy and stressed. Do less, buy less. Have more time and be calmer, so we can be intentional.

One way of being more available and present as a parent is becoming debt-free. I was visiting with a niece yesterday on her 40th birthday. Because I know her so well I asked how it feels to have her house paid off. She said, “Unbelievable!” I knew she had an old van in a neighborhood of brand new cars, among other things, and how hard they had focused to be debt-free. I asked her if she thought being debt-free affected her parenting. She said, “Absolutely! As we paid off debt, our focus became on wanting less, and just getting rid of that debt. Freedom from worrying about bills, freedom from wanting stuff, just feeling content. We are parenting in a relaxed state.”

It’s interesting that being distracted by working too much or or a desire to become wealthy can affect our parenting so much. Change our desires, and we can change how we affect our children. Please read the book and the article I have referenced, they are so informative and helpful!

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