In a nation of supermoms and tiger moms, experts hope a new study may cause some to take notice as researchers have found that an “intensive parenting” style may damage a mother’s mental health.
Katherine Rizzo, Ph.D., and her research team from the University of Mary Washington found that intensive parenting can lead to increased levels of stress and depression.
Intensive parenting is something like the “helicopter parent,” hovering and monitoring a child’s every move; it is heavily reliant on expert advice and assumes that the mother is the essential parent; and often does not stop but continues into college years.
Parenting can be quite challenging and requires wide-ranging skills and expertise – a big task. Furthermore, many women idealize parenthood as one of the most fulfilling experiences in life. But some women report that taking care of their children is more stressful than being at work.
So even though people often report wanting to have children because they think it will make them happier, much research suggests that parenting is associated with decreased well-being, according to Rizzo. Other studies have found that parenting is related to increased life satisfaction.
The study was aimed at exploring this parenthood paradox.
In the current study, Rizzo and team looked at whether intensive parenting in particular, rather than parenting per se, was linked to increased levels of stress, depression and lower life satisfaction among 181 mothers of children under 5 years old.
An online questionnaire measured to what extent mothers endorsed intensive parenting beliefs. These beliefs include: mothers are the most necessary and capable parent; parents’ happiness is derived primarily from their children; parents should always provide their children with stimulating activities that aid in their development; parenting is more difficult than working; a parent should always sacrifice their needs for the needs of the child.
Researchers discovered that while women were generally satisfied with their lives, they presented moderate levels of stress and depression.
Twenty-three percent of the mothers had symptoms of depression. Negative mental health outcomes were accounted for by women’s endorsement of intensive parenting attitudes.
When the level of family support was taken into account, those mothers who believed that women are the essential parent were less satisfied with their lives; those who believed that parenting is challenging were more stressed and depressed.
A central question remains: “If intensive mothering is related to so many negative mental health outcomes, why do women do it?”
Study authors surmise that mothers may think that an aggressive and domineering style makes them better mothers, so they are willing to sacrifice their own mental health to enhance their children’s cognitive, social and emotional outcomes.
“In reality, intensive parenting may have the opposite effect on children from what parents intend,” the authors said.
The work is published online in Springer’s Journal of Child and Family Studies.