Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Happy not-mother's days

Setting aside a day for moms doesn't much help on the other 364

  • Print

Mother's Day is a day when moms get a break from their typical parenting responsibilities and are pampered. A mother may be served breakfast in bed, get a pedicure and find the chores get done without her. We hope that all mothers reading this are enjoying such luxuries today.

However, we also want to take this opportunity to reflect on the other 364 days of the year and how to make them less of a contrast to the peace and joy of today. One way to decrease the stress associated with parenting is to think of parenting as something best done in moderation.

People often think that when something is good, then more of that thing is inherently better. However, many things in life healthy in small to moderate amounts become harmful in excess. Eating is necessary for survival, but overeating is currently leading to a national public-health epidemic. The body also requires adequate rest, but too much rest becomes laziness. Even exercise, in excess, can lead to physical injury. We would like to argue that the same is true about parenting. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Research has clearly established it is beneficial for children when their parents are involved in their education and activities. Many studies have pointed to the benefits of parents talking to, reading to, playing with and providing their children with activities that help them develop and learn. In fact, early-intervention specialists teach these very behaviours to parents of at-risk children because children with more involved parents tend to perform better academically, have more friends and exhibit fewer behavioural problems.

It is important to note, however, that the benefits of parental involvement are found when researchers compare parents who are generally uninvolved with those who already play an active role in their children's lives. When going from low involvement to moderate involvement, the benefits are numerous.

But, just because some involvement is good does not mean more and more involvement is better and better. We think the relationship of parental involvement to child outcomes is an inverted U-shaped curve. Too little involvement is associated with less-than-optimal child outcomes. As parental involvement increases, child outcomes improve; but at some point, the benefits of involvement reach their peak. Parental involvement in excess of this point may actually have a negative impact on children.

Some research we have done has pointed to the potential negative effects of over-involved parenting. We asked college students about parental involvement in aspects of their daily lives such as selecting classes, settling disputes with roommates and intervening with faculty members over grades. We found that when students perceived their parents as engaging in this type of "helicopter parenting" behaviour, they reported feeling less autonomous and competent. In turn, these feelings were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms and decreased life satisfaction.

As parents, we understand the motivations for high levels of involvement, especially in these times of economic uncertainty. Parents want their children to be happy and successful and act to give their children the advantages they need to compete for limited available resources. It exacerbates the situation when a parent hears stories about what others are doing. When some children's first-grade dioramas were clearly built with the assistance of a structural engineer, a mother may look at her child's tape-and-markers creation and fear her child will fall behind.

When parents solve their children's problems for them, however, they can undermine their children's sense of personal competence. First, the way people develop new skills is by practising them. By not allowing children to try, and, yes, also to fail, they may never develop the skills necessary to succeed in the future. Second, parents may be sending an unintentional message that they don't believe their children are capable of solving their own problems. As a result, children may doubt their ability to solve a problem in addition to not having developed the necessary skills to do so, creating a cycle of dependence on their parents.

This high level of involvement in their children's lives may have negative consequences for parents as well as children. Recently, we conducted a study that looked at how mothers' beliefs about parenting related to their well-being. We found certain beliefs associated with a very intensive style of parenting were related to negative mental-health outcomes for mothers.

Specifically, mothers who believed they should arrange their lives around their children's activities as well as those who thought being a mother was the hardest job in the world reported decreased satisfaction with life. Even after controlling for the amount of social support they received, women who believed mothering was the hardest job in the world also reported more stress and depression.

But why would being a mother be viewed as the hardest job in the world? Because intensive, over-involved mothering is extremely demanding. Parents are constantly transporting their children to and from activities, monitoring (doing?) their homework, and explaining every decision in detail. Making sure every moment of every day is stimulating, educating and entertaining is exhausting. Even when children are physically away from their parents, technology connects them through texting, Facetime, Facebook, etc. Therefore, parents may never get a break.

Mothers, in particular, are affected because of the societal expectation that it is the mother who is primarily responsible for making sure it all gets done. In our study, we found even when women believed that they were better-equipped to parent than their husbands, they did not feel empowered by having a superior skill set. In contrast, they felt more stressed and less satisfied with life.

So, our Mother's Day gift to you is to give you permission to parent in moderation. We are definitely not recommending you neglect your child. Our guess is if you are reading this column, you are probably already talking to, reading with, and providing your children with stimulating activities. In other words, you are doing enough. In fact, if you are feeling as though mothering is the hardest job in the world, you may be doing more than you need to.

Remember, children benefit from solving minor problems on their own, learning to persevere in the face of small failures and having to entertain themselves. Instead of scheduling another activity for your child, you may be better off scheduling some time to relax, see friends, or do something just for fun. If you take better care of yourself, you are likely to be happier. Numerous studies have indicated happier mothers have happier children, so taking some time for yourself is really benefiting both of you.

Happy Mother's Day!

Holly H. Schiffrin and Miriam Liss are psychology professors at the University of Mary Washington. They collaborate on parenting research and are working on a book about parenting and work-family balance.

-- McClatchy Tribune Services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2013 J13

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Weekend springtime weather with Doug Speirs - Apr 19

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100615 - Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 The Mane Attraction - Lions are back at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Xerxes a 3-year-old male African Lion rests in the shade of a tree in his new enclosure at the old Giant Panda building.  MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google