Worries about Being a Perfect Mom Can Interfere with Parenting

New research suggests the quest to be a perfect parent may actually harm a mother’s parenting.

Additionally, the popularity of social media has likely exacerbated this phenomenon because parents can look at what other parents are doing — even in ostensibly private moments — and judge themselves in comparison.

Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a Professor of Human Sciences and Psychology at Ohio State University, and a parent, studied new parents and found that mothers showed less confidence in their parenting abilities when they were more worried about what other people thought about their parenting.

And, sites like Facebook have not helped.

In fact, recent research has linked greater Facebook use to feelings of depression due to the way individuals tend to compare themselves to others.

Schoppe-Sullivan and her team asked new parents about their Facebook use and found that mothers who were more frequent visitors to the site, and who managed their accounts more frequently, reported higher levels of parenting stress.

The irony is that in seeking perfection in parenting, parents are less likely to actually parent effectively. Worrying about what others think of their parenting saps mothers’ confidence, leading them to experience parenting as less enjoyable and more stressful.

When faced with inevitable parenting challenges, mothers with lower confidence and more parenting stress give up more quickly.

So what does a “good” parent look like?

There may be disagreement among child development experts about issues such as screen time or sleep routines, but there is striking agreement about the key elements of “good” parenting — even if consensus is less likely to make headlines than the latest parenting controversy, explain the researchers.

Good parenting has a lot more to do with the “how” than the “what.”

Good parents are those who are sensitive to their children’s needs, and “in tune” with their children such that they are able to adjust their parenting as children develop and desire greater independence, explain the researchers.

Children thrive when their parents are consistent, warm, hold high expectations for children’s behavior, explain the reasons behind their rules, and negotiate when appropriate.

Schoppe-Sullivan found that greater stress about parenting further depletes parents’ psychological resources. This, in turn, may affect their ability to adapt to the changing needs of their children and regulate their own emotions and behavior when parenting their children.

In other words, when you lack confidence and feel chronically stressed about parenting, it is hard to be sensitive, warm, and consistent. You are more likely to yell when you intended to explain calmly to your toddler to stop banging her plate on the table for the millionth time.

The stress can result in a mental “check out” so that when your baby looks at you and gurgles or when your tween wants to tell you all about the latest Disney channel sitcom you may give in to a preschooler’s endless demands for more Pokemon cards.

Schoppe-Sullivan advises to downplay the small stuff and to remember that the big picture is what is important.

She explains that a parent should be aware that what other mothers post on Facebook may not represent the reality of their parenting experiences. View the latest sensational headline about parenting with a skeptical eye.

Schoppe-Sullivan believes the best gift a parent can give themselves and their children is the permission to be imperfect.

Source: Ohio State University