Intensive parenting causes us to lose our sense of happiness and health. Has parenting got more and more intensive in the past few decades?
Barbara Schneider, a sociologist at Michigan State University got an impressive range of data on 500 families to prove it (The 500 Family Study 1998 – 2000). Schneider along with many others see how the challenges and rewards of raising children need to be the focus of growing research and global debate. Consistently, researchers find childless adults to be among the happiest, and some studies have even documented a drop in mental well-being among parents that does not lift until the kids leave the nest!
So to relax should we just back off and let the kids get on with it like our parents did? Let them run off to the beach and climb over the rocks and just be back before supper?
Or do we need to be ever vigilant, watchful and careful of these precious beings for who we hold responsibility. Do we need to accompany them to the rocks, watch over then in case they fall, bring the first aid kit (real or metaphorical) with us as we do : call this INTENSIVE PARENTING or parenting for peace.
My experience is that neither way will help you be a joyful parent. Because either route, letting them get on with it or being ever watchful comes with stressful thoughts.
It’s the stressful thinking about your kids that makes you a stressed out parent. It’s your thinking that makes you parent intensively.
So let’s take the scenario of letting them off to the beach on their own. This might be a simple and kind action and off they go. Or it could happen with thoughts such as “I need to get them out of my hair for a while”, “I should want my children around me (but I don’t)”, “I feel guilty for pushing them out”, “I don’t have time to go with them (but I should)”, “I’m not doing my job as a parent”. Or any number of crazy making parent-guilt inducing thought traps.
So with all those kinds of thoughts in your mind you decide instead to go with them to go to the rocks. You perhaps make up a story to justify the going. “They really need me to keep them safe.” And while that maybe true, watch how your life lives itself out when you believe your children need you to keep them safe. A free joyful parent in my experience is one who simply loves their children and does what comes naturally in each moment to do. An intensive parent is someone who is there to protect, to save, to watch over, to guard and to keep from harms way. See how intensive and stressful that latter way of being feels? It doesn’t help you parent for peace. It’s not kind to yourself nor your children if you believe the thought that “They really need me to keep them safe.”
My own personal experience is that keeping my children safe comes from a loving place that doesn’t need to be told “They really need me to keep them safe”. Keeping them safe just happens and that is parenting peacefully and not intensively.
I think why parents don’t rate higher than childless adults on the mental well-being chart until after their children have flown the nest is because they have similarly stressful thoughts all the time and it creates suffering for both the parent and child. All parenting is intensive in the sense of it’s a chance to look intensively at our thinking and free ourselves from what stops us from living a beautifully open, loving relationship to ourselves and our children. It doesn’t have to be intensely stressful.