I see a lot of parents these days labelling themselves “anxious parents”. While I believe that admitting you have a problem is certainly the first step in solving said problem, it makes me sad to see people taking on the trait of anxiety to define themselves.
There is a theory in sociology called Labelling Theory in which people assume the behaviour of whatever label they are given. This can also lead to Self-fulfilling Prophecy, in which people begin to act in accordance with their own beliefs about themselves, regardless of whether those beliefs were originally true or not.
If you’ve spent much time on my blog, you’ve probably noticed that one of the biggest issues I’m trying to combat in modern parenting is anxiety. We have this bizarre idea that worrying about our kids makes us better parents. It’s totally normal to start baby-proofing and safeguarding every possible danger before the child is even born.
But does this really lead us to be fulfilled? Is this what parenting is all about? Protecting our children so that they can go on to become anxious adults (yes, there is a clear link between anxious parents and anxious children)?
I don’t think so. I hope that upon further consideration you don’t think so either.
I’ve written about several ways to reduce anxiety in parenting, but what creates an anxious parent? Why are so many moms and dads leaning towards overprotective, worrisome tendencies?
Here are 9 toxic ingredients that combine to form an anxious parent.
“Crime rates are skyrocketing!” “Stranger danger!” “Antibiotics cure everything!”
Just a few examples of everyday misinformation that the average parent takes to heart.
In other parts of the world, people believe that breastfeeding is bad for the baby. We may look at that and think “how silly!”, but we do the same thing: Allow a misconception to negatively impact our parenting.
The age of media is upon us. We’re all aware of that, but we’re not always aware of the effects it has on our everyday lives. We have this idea that we must be living in the most dangerous time in history, because we constantly hear about the horrors and atrocities reported on the news.
The news is meant to be provoking. It intends to incite fear and strong emotion because that’s what sells. When we allow their sales technique to colour our parenting decisions, we give them way more power than they ought to wield over our lives.
Lack of Perspective
This ties right in with the previous two points. It’s important to keep everything we learn in perspective. Yes, it may be scary that a child was kidnapped by a random stranger on their way to school, but what is the overall rate of stranger kidnappings that occur? (it’s very low, by the way)
Sure, Ebola is a dangerous and deadly disease, but how many cases have we had in the United States?
When we fail to keep things in perspective, we allow anxieties in our parenting that have no place there.
Lack of Exposure
Ah, fear of the unknown. People are innately afraid of what they haven’t tried, and for parents, this fear often extends to their children as well.
Parents worry about their children being friends with certain other kids at school. They worry about their children participating in activities that they don’t deem “safe”. They worry about their children traveling places they’ve never been to.
Like with misinformation and exaggeration, the cure to a lack of exposure is knowledge. Learn about the things your child is interested in. Meet the people they want to hang out with. Read about new cultures and places. It’s always best to differentiate between a real threat and fear that is merely born out of ignorance.
It’s sad that this has to be put on here, but one of the most common ingredients in the creation of an anxious parent is anxious peers. Those of you who are parents know that as soon as you announce your pregnancy, everyone and their mother has to throw in their two cents on how to raise your child.
Unfortunately, a lot of their advice tends to also be born out of misconceptions and exaggeration. They’re always wanting to talk about the latest “danger” and what you MUST do to prevent it (even if it happened on the other side of the world to people who have nothing in common with you).
And you will be judged if you choose to parent out of wisdom and love instead of fear. This is a fact.
Which leads me to my next point…
The parenting norm of the day is anxiety. It’s not okay to NOT worry about your children constantly.
What do parents get bombarded with?
- “How to create a baby genius”
- “Safety is our number one priority”
- “10 things in your house you forgot to childproof”
- “Don’t leave your kids in the car”
- “5 choking hazards you aren’t aware of”
The list goes on. Parents are literally flooded with ways they are failing to keep their child safe, new health trends they are neglecting to follow, and how to get their kid a head start in school.
That’s a lot to focus on at once. It’s overwhelming. And generally unnecessary. Do you know that childproofing is only a thing in the United States? Yeah, most countries don’t buy the little soft corners for coffee tables and the childproof locks for kitchen cabinets.
But here, we’re considered bad parents if we don’t strive to ensure a complete safety zone for our children from the get go.
Hence we have an entire country full of anxious parents, driven by the media and by each other to impossible standards of parenting that don’t actually end up benefiting the children at all. In fact, coddling them leads to more harmful effects than good ones.
But, you argue, I failed to put up the baby gate and my infant fell down the stairs! This proves that I need a baby gate!
It’s easy to let our negative experiences shape the way that we parent. They validate the need for safety.
And of course it’s silly not to learn from our experiences. That is what they’re there for after all. But keep everything in perspective.
- How bad were the results?
- Was is a bizarre fluke, or something that’s likely to happen again?
- Can your child be taught to avoid that negative experience without you having to intervene?
- Are the benefits worth the effort?
Ask yourself all of these questions before making any extreme changes. Consider also that your child is watching the way that you react to every situation, and taking their cues from you. If you overreact every time you suspect danger, they will learn to see danger lurking in every shadow.
Hyper Focus on Safety
“Safety first.” This is touted as the ultimate parenting mantra.
Is safety really the end all be all of life? Is there NOTHING more important?
It’s easier to look at our own lives and see where the benefits outweigh the risks. Yeah, people get in car accidents every day, but I have to get to work. Sure, I could get mugged walking downtown but I really want to see this great concert. True, I could get food poisoning, but these oysters are delicious!
We recognize that there are basic risks we take all the time but the benefits outweigh them every time. Many of us take it a step further. We put ourselves in danger every time we get on a plane, take a cruise, go to a bar.
When we live our lives in fear and refuse to experience new places and activities simply because there’s a chance something bad may happen, we miss out on the joys of life. Don’t deprive your children of their experiences and adventures simply because something bad MIGHT happen.
Consider whether or not there is a real risk, and act accordingly. Maybe they need adult supervision. Maybe they need to wait a year or two until they’re more coordinated. But consider that safety is not (or should not be) the ultimate goal of parenting. It’s more important to raise joyful, self-sufficient, children who thrive no matter the circumstances or their environment.
Failure to discipline
Yeah, you didn’t think this one would be on here, did you?
Let me explain. Discipline is what helps children regulate their OWN safety. When you constantly do it for them, they learn fear, but not self regulation.
It’s easier to simply childproof a house than it is to train a toddler where he or she can and can’t explore. It’s easier to keep the children in the house than teach them to stay in the backyard.
It’s easier to shoo children out of the kitchen than it is to show them how to cook.
Often, we like to take the easy route. Because it’s faster. And in the short term, It’s more effective.
That toddler is going to test the boundaries, and they may end up grabbing the toilet cleaner. The kids might venture out of your line of sight and require a punishment for not playing within the boundaries you set. It’s hard work teaching children how use kitchen equipment properly and safely. They might burn their hand on the stove. They might mess up the salad.
Teaching children discipline and self-suffiency isn’t always “safe”. But think about the future rather than the present. Long term, you will have less to worry about when you KNOW your children can do things for themselves.
Consider: Is it safer to try and keep all knives away from your children, or to teach them the correct circumstances and method to use a knife?
What happens if the ignorant child finds himself with a knife one day?
Proper discipline removes the need for anxiety because you can rest easy in the knowledge that your child is capable of protecting himself.