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Monday, April 26, 2010

Stressed-Out Parenting

By Guest Blogger, Heather Bjork

As parents, we all want the best for our children. We strive to make decisions that will keep our children’s options open and not limit the choices available to them. This way we hope that they will have the opportunity to choose their own path and future. To that end, we place a ridiculous amount of pressure on ourselves, as parents, to make the BEST decisions at all times, fearing that if we don’t, our child’s future will be negatively impacted.

So begins the feeling of being in a pressure cooker as we strive to figure out which preschool our child should attend, what enrichment activities to sign our child up for, what elementary school is rated the highest, what friends to encourage our children to spend time with ... the list goes on. I am not arguing that wanting to do the best for your child is wrong. Where it becomes unhealthy or stops being a “good thing” is when we assign too much importance to every parenting decision we make, as if one small misstep will have a huge negative impact on our child’s well-being and future.

I was talking with one of my best friends recently who is facing one of the big decisions of parenting – which school to enroll her son, who will be entering kindergarten in the fall. We spent an hour going over the different schools she and her husband had identified after several hours of talking, researching the schools and touring the schools. I helped her with a framework to create a weighted average to choose between the final three schools as she was having a really hard time shortening the list.

A week later we spoke again and I could hear the fatigue and stress in her voice as she didn’t know which school was the BEST. I then played the role of devil’s advocate and asked her to be 100% honest and share what would happen if she didn’t make the BEST choice between the two schools. We began talking through what that might look like and how it might impact her son. Then I said, “I know that you have done an amazing job shortening this list to the top two schools based on what you and your husband value. Isn’t it possible that either school is right and your son could thrive in either environment, even though the environments are different?” This stopped her in her tracks and she let out a huge exhale and said, “I have become so focused on making the BEST choice that it didn’t even dawn on me that there could be two right choices."

Some of my best lessons in life have come from “imperfect situations”. We live in an imperfect world with lots of variables and moving pieces. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as a new parent was to “remember that children are resilient." It is just a simple reminder that children aren’t fragile and won’t be scarred for each misstep we might make while being a parent. Sometimes life’s best lessons come from mistakes.

So next time you begin feeling as if the weight of the world & your child’s future rests on making the BEST choice, step back and broaden your perspective that there are many good choices. Additionally you don’t want to model an unhealthy style of parenting to your children. Cut yourself some slack and work hard to keep things in perspective by asking yourself, “What if I don’t make the BEST decision? What is most likely to occur?” Realistically, the consequences are much smaller and less impactful than you might believe.

Submitted by Heather Bjork, imperfect parent to two wonderful children – Kieran & Kendra (and someone who doesn’t always make the BEST decision).

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Anonymous said...

Heather -- great article! Thanks so much for putting this into words. I have long felt (and learned the hard way) that we parents obsess over the silliest things. Of course your child can do well in more than one school! And then there is the fact that sometimes one can do everything right and things can still go wrong; or one can do everything wrong and things can turn out just fine. It's a daily lesson to learn to enjoy our role as parents and stop freaking out over every decision. We really have so little control - and that is okay!

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. I also feel like if you pressure yourself to be a perfect parent, you are subtly putting pressure on your child to be a perfect child. Who wants that?! So yeah, sometimes we don't eat a vegetable, and sometimes we stay up too late, and sometimes we wear the brown checked shorts with the green striped shirt. And I try to be quick to point out my own mistakes to my children with an "Oops, sorry!" Hopefully, it will make them less afraid to make mistakes of their own.

Lisa Witherspoon said...

I agree with both of the other comments. We put way too much pressure on ourselves and our kids to be perfect. We miss out on so many of the little things in life because we obsess so much over what we perceive to be the big stuff. Thanks for the post!

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