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Home Family Parenting Advice Resolve to be Satisfied—Good Parenting

Resolve to be Satisfied—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’m exhausted. My children are 8 months-old and three-years-old plus I have occasional part-time work – mostly from home. My husband is pretty good with the kids and housework, but he also has a 9 to 5 job that drains him by Wednesday.

By around noon on Saturday I can expect him to join me in a conversation about what we should do with (what’s left of) the weekend. Often we just take turns grabbing a nap.

Am I Expecting Too Much?


From him? From the children? From yourself?

According to generations of wisdom on the subject of parenting as well as new research, yes, you may be expecting too much.

Dr. Spock Says
The timeless counsel of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, first published in 1945, has an updated and revised 10th edition (2018, by Robert Needlman, M.D.). The preface in the new edition notes that the post-war optimism felt by parents at the time of the book’s first printing, at the start of the Baby Boom, has been replaced by widespread anxiety among contemporary parents. Added to the original information, advice, and resources are common realities of family life today. Included are: foreign adoptions, step-families, religious differences between parents, the threat of terrorism, and a wide variety of more recently discovered childhood disorders and syndromes.

The rising trend in parenting anxiety was noted by Donald Winnicott, British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, when he coined “Good Enough Mother”  as a goal for modern moms in 1953. He was concerned about the parents who worried themselves into a state of anxiety over their imperfections. Actually it is impossible and misguided to meet a child’s every need beyond infancy. Instead, there can be parental shortcomings – I can’t read to you until after I change the baby’s diaper – that teach the older child he can manage on his own for a bit. Rest assured that such daily tests of resilience are very different from chronic neglect.

Parent Burnout
Moïra Mikolajczak, James Gross, and Isabelle Roskam  recently reported on their findings from 1,740 families studied through a series of 3 online surveys conducted over a year. Some parents’ candid answers revealed characteristics of a state of intense exhaustion related to the parenting role. This is Parent Burnout. Actually, Joseph Procaccini  used this term back in 1983, co-authoring a book with this title. Procaccini described Parent Burnout as “a downward drift toward physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion” from and for parenting. It develops over time from prolonged high stress accompanied by a perceived lack of control over the causes of the stress.

Mikolajczak and her team concur that parenting can be “one of the most taxing jobs one undertakes.” In their study, some parents’ responses indicated an emotional distancing from their children and a sense of parental ineffectiveness. The team conservatively estimates that about 5% of all parents in the United States – 3.5 million mothers and fathers – feel this way. Young children, teens, and children with special needs compound the causes of Parent Burnout. But behaviors of the parents seem to contribute. “Parents who have difficulty initiating and maintaining positive affective relations with their child(ren), identifying and responding to their child(ren)’s needs, or providing their child(ren) with a structured and coherent environment are more likely to experience parental burnout syndrome.” They also have a hard time asking for help.

(These) “parents feel so drained by parenting that merely thinking about their role as parents makes them feel they have reached the end of their tether. As a result, parents become emotionally distant from their children. They become less and less involved in the relationship with them, and interactions are limited to functional/instrumental aspects at the expense of emotional aspects. Accordingly, they do not feel they are good parents anymore and lose the pleasure of being with their children.”

Acceptable Standards
To prevent burnout, create acceptable standards in which your family can function.

Procaccini observed and recommended having consistent household routines and rules, both as a characteristic of parents who felt in control as well as a goal of good parenting. Roskam further explains, “In positive parenting, the parent has a consistent role, and the child knows what the limits are across various contexts.” Otherwise the child learns to escalate his unanswered requests to whining and to constantly push against the rules to get attention.

Are there predictable routines and rules for your little ones? If Daddy has more energy on Monday and Tuesday, these could be his evenings to conduct the bedtime stories while you get some work done. Regular weekday outings help you and the children organize your time – perhaps with preschool for the three-year-old and parent meet-ups for you and the baby. As a weekend outing, a family-friendly restaurant meal could be calendared for getting together with friends with children, sparing you the stress of cooking and cleaning at home. Time your times out to get home before it’s too hard for everyone to be on their best behavior any longer.

You and Daddy should review the do’s and don’ts expected for your three-year-old, ideally based on age appropriate expectations. (Children’s Mom Docs has a pretty good list of techniques.) Parents who feel effective tend to see child guidance as an opportunity to teach a child how to be a valued and contributing member of the family and society – a very satisfying goal for all.

Real Limits
Adjust expectations of yourself so you don’t disappoint yourself and others. Your most tired days might mean you stay in your pj’s and have pbj’s for breakfast, lunch, and snack. Fill in with quick and easy nutrition at dinnertime, such as frozen veggies, when Daddy is around to help with food or children.

Being patient with and available to your children is more important than a pristine house, so keep an achievable routine for housework. Toy clean-up should be kept simple enough for the children to help – a few plastic tubs on a low shelf. Set a realistic shared schedule with Daddy for other jobs that need to be done daily, weekly, monthly. Agree on which tasks can be comfortably ignored this year and maybe next year, too. Good enough is good enough, and it all gets easier when the children are a few years older.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.


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