How to Be a B+ Parent
Striving for A+ parenting seems like a no-brainer, but it can actually cause problems for both you and your child. Psychologist Hannah Cassedy recommends relaxing expectations and aiming for a B+. Here’s how…
In my practice, I see a lot of new parents who feel immense pressure to be an A+ mom or dad. Some had fantastic parents themselves, and they want to make sure their kids have as good a childhood as they had. Others had parents who were not exactly stellar, and they want to make up for what they missed as children. Still others are influenced by societal pressures to be the perfect parent. Sometimes it just takes one well-curated social media feed to make you feel subpar. You know, that perfectly-styled, put-together family on Instagram, in their clutter-free house, with the organic dinner spreads? I guarantee that what you see is only a piece of the story. But it can nonetheless make some parents feel subpar.
I’m here to tell you not to be an A+ parent. Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself or your spouse is a recipe for anxious kids, feelings of resentment, and parental burnout. While in the workplace being an overachiever can result in promotion, I’ll let you in on a little secret about home life: there is no medal for parenthood. Striving for good enough actually makes for healthier, better-adjusted children, and it creates space for self-care and a happier marriage. Read on to see how to become a B+ parent. Warning: #5 might make you cry.
- Roll with it. Can’t manage to wrangle the baby into the bath while also cooking a balanced meal, feeding the dog, and making it to pilates class at 8? Order takeout once in a while. Hire a babysitter so you can get out of the house with your partner, or to hit the gym solo. Also, no one ever tells you this, but: it’s okay to skip bath time now and then! Yes, routines are important for children, but not at the expense of a parent’s sanity. Happy parents make for happy children. If you feel like you have to move heaven and earth every night to get the routine just right, something’s got to give. Try lessening your expectations selectively and see what happens. You might find that your family can roll with the unexpected better if you’re not completely stressed out of your mind.
- Expect change. There’s no point getting stuck in your ways with children because – spoiler alert – children grow and change… like, all the time. When you finally figure out the perfect way to swaddle baby or how to get Junior to do his homework without a fight, it’ll be time to drop everything you’ve learned so you can adapt to your changing child’s needs… again! Just remember that as your child develops, it’s important to remain open to their new stage of development, even if it may feel uncomfortable to you at first. It’s hard work to adapt to all of these changes, and some parents find themselves insisting on routines or expectations that worked for their child three months ago because it’s what they (the parents) know and understand. It’s important to keep in mind that the only reliable part of a child’s development is that their needs will change over time. So, buckle in for the ride and roll with it!
- Honor boundaries. It’s your job as the adult to calmly state what’s acceptable and what isn’t for your child. This actually makes the world feel less overwhelming to a child. Think of boundaries like the safety rails at the edge of a cliff: kids will only feel secure enough to play if they know that the safety rails are there. Always make sure you’re on the same page with your spouse about these boundaries, and make sure to communicate them to other caregivers too. Kids will often test the limits of your boundaries – that’s their job! – but it’s your job to remain calm and clear with the line you’ve drawn. If you set boundaries and don’t follow through, or if you make a promise and don’t deliver, your kids won’t know to trust you.
- Work as a team. I sometimes see couples get in trouble when one of them is the master parent, whether as the expert diaper changer, the nap-time toddler whisperer, or the playground connoisseur. Although it is often helpful to divvy up tasks and to know each parent’s strengths and weaknesses, it can also cause big trouble in a partnership when one parent takes over as the boss of the other. Reality check: in most cases, parents are just figuring it out as they go along. Part of B+ parenting involves taking a load off with your spouse and laughing at the tough parenting moments together.
- Be okay with saying goodbye. It’s not easy, but parents have to begin saying goodbye to their children as soon as they learn to walk. Hear me out. One of the main tasks of a child’s development is to create a unique personality, mind, and heart that is informed by, but not defined by, her parents. A child grows into her own, wonderful person by sometimes venturing away from her parents, and at other times coming back to check in. Parents have a choice when she ventures away: they can protest and insist that she stay near, or they can celebrate and marvel at the glorious human that she is becoming. I recommend the latter. But in order to do that successfully, you may need to read #6, below.
- Deal with your stuff. Ideally, we’d all take care of our emotional baggage before becoming parents, but the transition to parenthood can be soul shaking in and of itself! It is essential that you take care of your emotional wellbeing so that you don’t accidently dump your baggage on your spouse or your kids. Dumping can take many different forms. For instance, ‘helicopter’ parenting may be a way for you to control your own anxiety, or insisting on a rigid routine to feel in control. Seeing your child venture away from you – whether that be physically, emotionally, or ideologically – is a really tough task for many parents, even though it’s an essential part of a child’s development. Some parents react to this by becoming highly involved in their child’s school performance, extracurriculars, or friendships, so that they (the parents) don’t feel left out or overlooked. Other parents insist on structure and order so that they always know, in theory, what to expect of themselves and of their child. Although well-intentioned, both of these approaches limit the child’s ability to develop her own independence, and they also both prioritize the parents’ emotional needs over the child’s. Children should never, ever be tasked with taking care of an adult’s emotional needs. So look out for how your own emotional baggage might be affecting your parenting approach, and deal with your stuff with the help of a trusted adult or professional.
Dr. Hannah Cassedy is a clinical psychologist who specializing in treating new parents and other people dealing with relationship issues, anxiety, or depression.