External Pressures

9. Are you making time to parent?
So much to do, so little time. Probably the most common reason that kids don’t get enough support from the people who love them most is the stress of modern life. Many parents are simply doing too much. Long commutes, demanding work lives, home maintenance, and the competing demands of many important relationships (spouse, friends, extended family, kids) leave many adults in constant turmoil. Short on sleep, living a life that is scheduled to the nanosecond, they are stretched to the limit.

It’s not that they don’t love their kids. It’s not that they don’t want to do well as parents. They haven’t yet come to terms with the fact that giving kids enough attention requires more than a few minutes devoted to “quality time” at the end of the day. Giving them enough attention often requires shifting priorities and the conscious decision to put off other important personal goals.

Possible solutions:

  • Take a hard look at your time and your life. What will really matter 10 years from now?

10. Are you under too much financial pressure?
Economic pressures also are a major stress. There’s no getting around it; raising children is expensive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the annual costs of raising a child to age 18 starts (depending on family income) at $125,000, not including college expenses.

When paychecks don’t cover the bills; when parents can’t afford what they believe they should be able to provide; when one or more of the adults takes extra jobs in order to manage the basic bills, the resulting tensions can cloud the family atmosphere.

When parents are stretched to the limit, a kid’s simple request for field trip money or new sneakers can start a major fight. That’s not fair to anyone. Better to bite the bullet, figure out a budget, and deal with money issues directly. There’s no need to be angry if we let kids in on what we can and can’t do. Reducing expectations is better than reducing a kid to tears.

Possible solutions:

  • Take a hard look at your budget and your expectations for yourself. Get financial advice and help if you need it.

11. Do you have the resilience to manage when disaster strikes?
Some people manage hard times better than others. The most resilient among us manage tragedy, economic disasters, and natural calamities with grace. Parents who have an internal core of strength are able to continue tending to their children despite what fate hands them. Some even find ways to draw the family closer together when challenged by what my grandmother euphemistically called the “vagaries of life.”

Less resilient parents crumble. It’s all they can do to cope. They can’t also support the children who need them to do just that.

Fortunately, the skills of resilience can be learned. For a more detailed summary, see Survival of the Resilient .

Possible solutions:

  • Develop your resiliency.

12. Are you under unreasonable pressure from extended family?
This can be enormously discouraging. When an in-law undermines a parent’s judgment; when an older relative is constantly critical; when a spouse quietly or not so quietly countermands every decision the other parent makes; when the other parent in a divorced family insists on involving the children in complaints about the former partner, it corrodes some parents’ confidence to the point that they become ineffective. (See “When Mom and StepMom Disagree”)

Possible solutions:

  • They can only pressure you if you accept the pressure. Let go of your need for their approval and focus instead on whether you are meeting your own expectations.

13. Are you too isolated and alone in parenting?
There is nothing so lonely and scary as being new to parenting (or new to a new stage) and feeling totally overwhelmed and clueless about what to do. There is nothing so reassuring as talking with others who are in the same stage of life. Talking with other parents can normalize what at first seemed like an abnormal problem, can provide helpful tips for getting through a new stage, and can offer important validation and support.

Before you decide that a child is misbehaving, take an honest look at your role in what is going on. Often enough, there is more to the story than whatever the child is doing. Changing how you are managing your own internal issues or how you respond to external pressures may relieve the situation considerably. Change the circumstances, and the child will respond.

Possible solutions:

  • Join a parent support group. Get involved in the PTO or other organizations where parents gather.