(An aside on the title: we’re totally kidding.)
This month’s BRIKA door quote is “I’m not saying I’m Wonder Woman. I’m just saying no one has seen me and her in the same room together.” Applying this quote to parenting plays on the idea of “having it all,” or embodying the notion of perfection. But is this realistic, or healthy even? We asked our resident parenting and family expert Liz Berholz to weigh in.
Founder of Liz B. Parenting, a parenting consulting practice, Liz Berholz is an educator, speaker and Adler Institute-trained Life and Professional Coach. Liz works with parents of toddlers, tweens and teens by giving families the tools they need to create homes and lives filled with mutual respect, cooperation, connection, responsibility and fun.
* * *
I’ve noticed, through my work with families, that we sometimes have a tendency to “over-perfect” parenting and exhaust ourselves in the process. When things feel off in terms of family dynamics, we tend to want to overcompensate for the drop in perfection, so we try harder and harder, which often just makes things worse.
What if you were told that the most effective thing you can do as a parent is relax? You heard it here first: permission to chill out. Stop scrolling through Instagram past midnight, looking at the bento box lunch your neighbor made in the shape of the Death Star. If that’s your creative escape, then great! But it’s also okay if it’s not – their kid isn’t any happier than yours. They just have a Death Star made of bread, tofu-turkey and cheese.
If you’re stressed out because you had to work a double shift and will be home late, or you didn’t have time to make your child the fondant-covered birthday cake they asked for (or spend $200 on doing so), you’re really not doing them any favors. Stop stressing, and let it go. Your kids are none the wiser (or happier). Why? According to research, here’s what really matters:
A large-scale longitudinal study was published in the Journal of Marriage & Family in 2015 that looked at whether quantity of time with our kids was a factor in positive emotional, behavioral and academic outcomes later in life. Co-authored by sociologists Kei Nomaguchi from Bowling Green State University, Melissa Milkie from the University of Toronto and Kathleen Denny from the University of Maryland, the study suggests that there is no clear relationship between the sheer amount of time mothers spend with their kids, and positive outcomes when kids grow up. Zippo, in Milkie’s words.
I find two things fascinating about this research. Firstly, of course it’s vital we spend time with our children, but it’s time when we are engaged – not stressed – with them that is more important than just being physically present. A Washington Post article cites one of the study’s authors, who sums up: “Especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly.”
Secondly, the report shows greater emotional, behavioral and academic benefits for adolescents when parents spend more hours per week of “engaged time” with them. This relationship is less clear from ages 3-11, which is sometimes the stage we assume is most crucial to be involved in our kids’ lives. Social factors and educational level was much more clearly linked to future positive outcomes in this study than sheer time together.
So, here are a few ways to rethink the time we are spending with our little (or not so little) ones…
1. It’s less about how much you do with your child and more about who you are being when you’re doing it with them.
Most of us are very busy and struggle to get one-on-one time in with our kids. But it’s really about the quality of that time that counts. Our positive mood has an impact when we are together as a family. The cliché is true: positivity is contagious. That being said, you don’t always need to exude energy and happiness. Be yourself, but be aware of who you are being when you are with your kids. It can have a real impact. If you don’t like the answer to the question, “Who am I when I’m with my kids?” ask yourself the next question: “Who do I want to be?”
2. Find your happy place and find a way to share it with your child.
You don’t have to do things you hate just because there is a 5-step DIY craft everyone else is liking on Pinterest. (As I’ve heard so wisely said about social media, “Take care not to compare your inside to somebody else’s outside.”) Where do you find your mojo? Running? Reading? Drawing? Gardening? Invite your kids to come along or share the activity with you. Even if they decline the invitation, you are still modeling self-care and recharging your battery in the process.
3. Related to the previous point: Let go of doing the things you don’t enjoy just because you think it makes you a better parent.
I love to cook, but I’m not a great baker because I’ve never enjoyed it. So, after years of thinking there was something wrong with me, I let it go. And the most wonderful thing happened. When I dropped the baking ball, my daughter, sensing there were fewer yummy desserts around, picked it up, and is now quite creative in the kitchen now. I learned a valuable lesson about what my kids gain from what I let go of.
4. Drop the toilet cleaning brush.
Yes, there is never enough time to get everything done, but you may be taking on more than you need to. Home responsibilities are a team challenge and getting them checked off should be approached as a team. What are you doing that someone else could do?
I challenge you to hand over one thing to your child or partner that they are perfectly capable of doing and that would make your life easier. Write a list of all of the things you take care of at home. Sometimes actually seeing the crazy number of things you do to keep the family fires burning is enough. Starting to give your kids home responsibilities at a young age is also going to give them essential training in independence and resourcefulness.
Imagine the energy you will have with even a few extra minutes in your day. And when we aren’t running around feeling rushed and resentful, we are more present for our kids, which is exactly the way to be a more perfect parent.
An aside: Embodying the idea of perfection is detrimental to your kids’ health – it creates way too much pressure, and not enough room to experiment, explore, make mistakes and learn. And it stresses you out because it’s an impossible standard to maintain. Less stress = better parenting. Let’s accept that imperfection is a beautiful thing, and that the most important thing we can do to be great parents is more about letting go than holding on too tightly.
What topics would you like our next Parenting Pointers column to explore? Let us know in the comments below!