We Need to Lighten Up

I'm excited to share with you my new "Parenting Guru" column. Each Tuesday I'll bring you interviews with top parenting experts. I'll share tips and advice to help make your Mom job a little easier, more meaningful and fun. This week, psychologist and author, Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., gives the scoop on how to be a perfectly good enough parent. I look forward to our "Parenting Guru" Tuesdays and reading your comments. – Julie Weingarden Dubin

Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting (Health Communications, Inc.) offers guidance on getting through modern motherhood with less stress.

Are parents more relaxed today?

Ann Dunnewold: While I think the trend is moving toward a more relaxed style of parenting, the majority of parents that I encounter are still caught up in the cultural pressures to overprotect and "overperfect." Awareness is the first step, and I see signs of growing awareness that overparenting is not healthy for children and parents. But underlying the push to overparent is anxiety like, "Will my child succeed? Will my kid be able to survive the dangers of childhood?"

How can moms learn to not be so hard on themselves?

"You have to find your own "perfectly good mother" inside of you.

Ann Dunnewold: You have to find your own "perfectly good mother" inside of you. What are your skills and strengths? What gifts do you bring to this role? Being a perfectly good mom -- not a perfect mom -- means embracing your strengths. It also means seeing your child as an individual, and matching the way that child's life is organized to fit that child's strengths, foibles and interests. Not every child can be an Olympic gold medalist. Not every woman can be a Zen earth mother. It's finding the right balance of "this works for us" that matters. Because there isn't any single "right way" to parent.

How can we let go of the guilt about the things we didn't do, meant to do, will never do?

Ann Dunnewold: Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to the negative. We need to develop radar for the positive in our lives. A very simple strategy is creating a "Did Do" list. At the end of each day, tally up what went well that day. How many hugs did you dispense? Noses wiped? Meals fed and diapers changed? We tend to look at the small moments where we raised our voices or snapped at our kids, rather than the big picture of all the love and care we did dispense. It's this total picture that counts.

How can moms connect with other moms and not compete with each other?

Ann Dunnewold: Connection starts with honesty. We all have to take the leap, drop the June Cleaver mask, and speak up truthfully about ways in which our lives are hard. The next step is to have compassion for others, and realize we never know what goes on in someone else's life, brain, or household. Don't judge because we just can't know what it's like for another. And it's not a game of "win as much as you can." Even if there are limited spots on the select soccer team or parts in the play, there's enough rich experience to fill all of our lives. And the successes of other parents or kids say nothing about us, and take little from our lives.

What should parents always remember?

Ann Dunnewold: The big picture: 168 hours in a week, 52 weeks in a year, over the course of a child's life is what counts. It's pretty hard to wreck a life by a single scolding, meltdown or missed activity. It's also helpful to ask yourself, "How will this matter when my child is 25?" Making choices about what matters in the long run is a good way to resist the daily pressures.

Read more on relaxed parenting

How to stop hyper parenting and just relax with your kids
5 reasons inner strength is a must for raising children
The dirty truth about competitive parenting

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Comments on "Parenting Guru: Are you a perfectly good mom?"

DM Matheson February 10, 2012 | 2:32 PM

I'm a college teacher. I've seen first-hand the negative effects that overparenting has had on children by the time they reach post-secondary school. We call it "entitlementia." These students are rude, lack manners of all kinds, and they believe that the world revolves around them. I think I may have been guilty, to a certain degree, of parenting this way in the past; however, things have definitely changed at our house, lest one of these creatures turns out to be my own child. Children need to know that "it's not about them" and we have to stop cushioning every blow so that their feelings don't get hurt. Students today have a false sense of importance and ability, and it's appalling to educators who have to deal with these young people. I would be mortified if one of my children was "out in the world" behaving in this manner. We owe it to our kids to tell them that the world owes them nothing, and that they are going to have to work for what they get. In short, It might mean that we no longer give trophies to the losing teams. :)

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