Perfect Parenting

Dr. Corinne Masur

After I mentioned in a recent post that it is OK for parents to allow themselves and their children to eat pizza four nights in a row, one mother responded by saying, “We are in a never ending battle with being too hard on ourselves” and she admitted to letting her children eat french fries for their dinner while sitting on the couch.

Why do moms in particular feel the need to be perfect as parents?

Why do we put THAT much pressure on ourselves??

Just today a mom was telling me how guilty she felt for getting more babysitting help.  And this was not because she wanted more time for herself – it was because she needed to work more and thus needed more coverage at home.  But she still wondered, “Is it OK?” And she still worried that her children would miss her too much and that these missing feelings would damage them in some way.

At some point in evolution, mothers started to feel like they had to be perfect in order to bring up decent children.  

Moms started to feel like they HAD to make ALL their baby’s baby food; they HAD to do one on one play on the floor with their babies and children multiple times a day; they felt like they HAD to be really present in the moment with their children; they felt like they HAD to read to their babies every day starting at birth; they felt like they HAD to give their children healthy food at all times, organic if possible, farm fresh whenever available, often gluten free and no sugar EVER. And, more recently they have felt like they HAD to provide interesting projects for their children and COVID safe play dates and virtual music lessons and outdoor tennis lessons and online language lessons and some kind of religious education and and and and…..

But – – – -what if we do allow our children to get bored? Or eat some cookies? Or pizza? Or heaven forbid, french fries on the couch? 

We have to feel guilty.

But now I have something to say.  I have said it before and I am sure I will say it again: It’s too much.  In normal times it’s too much.  And right how? It’s a pandemic.  Parents are being asked to make decisions about their children’s health and safety every minute of every day.  Parents are being asked to be their children’s distance learning aids.  They are being asked to keep track of work sheets and pass codes and log in codes.  They are having to figure out how to get a 3-year-old to wear a mask and how to get a 15-year-old off their video games. And when I say parents, I mean mothers.  It is mostly mothers who carry the guilt of not being perfect.

AND IT IS TOO MUCH. 

In 1953 the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the term, “the good enough mother”. And this is what he meant: mothers do not have to be perfect to raise their children well. They just have to be good enough.  

Winnicott took care of thousands of babies during his career and what he observed is this: it does not benefit babies or children if their mothers are perfect – if their mothers are always there and if they always fulfil every need, this is actually not optimal for the child’s development. Newborns of course require immediate care and feeding.  But as the infant gets older, they can tolerate a little delay of gratification, they can wait a few minutes for a feeding.  And as they turn into toddlers and then children, Winnicott observed that it was actually helpful to them to have their mothers fail them in small ways at times. This built up their frustration tolerance and their ability to delay gratification.  It prepared them for the inevitable disappointments they would experience in the real world.

So, mothers – stop putting so much pressure on yourselves!  If you say you will do something for your child and then you cannot, if you promise something for dessert and then you find you’re all out, if you say you’ll be there in a minute and it takes you 10, if you can’t find the log in code or today’s work sheet, if you fail to be on time for a class your child attends – online or in the real world – your child will survive.

These experiences of small failures on your part and small disappointments for your child are opportunities for repair.  You apologize to your child and your child learns that you are not perfect but that you still love him or her. 

You do not need to be perfect, moms.  Your child does not need you to be perfect.  In fact, putting this much pressure on yourself just isn’t helpful. It is likely to make you LESS happy as a mom, less playful and less able to cope with the multitude of pressures we cannot change in this crazy pandemic time!

So, take a few minutes to take this in. Give yourself a break psychologically…and go ahead, face it, there will be days when you need to let your children eat some french fries on the couch…and you may even need to join them. 

COVID and the School Decision: One Mother’s Struggle

Dr. Corinne Masur


In late August and early September when schools finally decided about how they were going to open, many of them then passed the decision making on to parents: in school, out of school, or hybrid?

How were parents supposed to decide?

There were so many factors: what is possible for our family given our work and child care situations? What is safest for our family? What do our children want? What do we want for our children?

Parents had to weigh one important aspect of their children’s wellbeing against another.  These were impossible choices. What was more important, caution in the face of COVID, the children’s social needs, or the financial needs of the family?  In some cases, parents had to choose between their own jobs and becoming distance learning aids. In other cases, parents had no choice: they had to work so their children just had to go back to school.

One mother called me for advice. She had two sons, one in first grade and one in fourth.  She was very worried about the children being exposed to COVID for two reasons. One son had a respiratory vulnerability and secondly, the children’s grandfather had recently had cancer and was immunocompromised following a transplant. What if they went to school, were exposed to COVID and then exposed him either directly or indirectly?

On the other hand, she wanted her children to be able to build relationships with their new teachers and classmates.

As a person who likes to make her decisions carefully and in an informed way, she felt overwhelmed both by too much information and too little.

By late summer, we knew a great deal more about the transmission of COVID than we had in March at the beginning of the pandemic.  This mother understood how COVID is transmitted and as a result, what the school would need to do to keep children and staff safe. They would have to provide good ventilation and air exchange inside the building and they would also need to provide the possibility for having as many classes outdoors as possible.  But her particular school was not giving parents information about their HVAC system and they did not have a plan in place for outdoor learning.  When this mom went over to look at the school, they only had one small tent standing – which of course would be totally insufficient for the hundreds of children attending school in the fall.

What were they planning for outdoor learning, anyway?  And what would they do on rainy days? She could not get answers.  And through a friend she heard that the school had told one parent that if they had so many questions, they should just do the at home option – as if these questions were not the school’s responsibility to answer!

This mother had enjoyed a feeling of connectedness with her children’s school and now she felt isolated and alone.  As the deadline loomed for making her decision, she learned that very few parents in either of her son’s grades had chosen the at-home schooling option.  Why did so many parents feel it was safe to send their children to school when she did not? She wished she could ask them.

This is what went through this mother’s mind: if her children got COVID, she would be the one to take care of them as her husband simply would not be able to take time off from work; she would have to quit her job or take a leave.  If she got COVID, she had no idea who would take care of the children.  If the virus was transmitted to her mother either through her (this mom’s) infection or her children’s, she would be the one who would have to take care of her ill father – thus necessitating her quitting or taking a leave from her work. If her younger son got COVID he might be at risk for the more severe complications of the illness given his respiratory vulnerability.

She thought about the decision a great deal. She stayed up nights wondering what she should choose. She discussed this with her husband, with her friends, with her family.  She received all sorts of input – both conflicting and agreeing with her own thoughts. And in the end, she felt that her family was just too vulnerable.

The risks of illness were too great for this mother.  She decided on doing school from home.  She altered her work schedule and began being her children’s distance learning aid.  Her older son was okay some of the time but at other moments, he hated the arrangement. He screamed and cried and melted down. Her younger son was fine with online school.  And this mother? Well, she felt stressed, wondering every single day of the new school year if she had made the right decision.

The Importance of Failure

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Dr. Corinne Masur

Last week in The Sunday New York Times there was an article describing how college students need to to be TAUGHT that it’s okay to fail occasionally. Smith, a prestigious women’s college, offers a presentation called “Failing Well” during student orientation, which gives out a certificate saying, “You are hereby authorized to screw up, bomb or fail at one or more relationships, hookups, friendships, texts, exams or extracurriculars or any other choice associated with college…and still be a totally worthy, utterly excellent human.”

Evidently many 18 year olds are getting to college having suffered very few disappointments or failures of any kind. Or they get to college rarely having had to handle disappointment on their own. They are simply unprepared for this experience. Residence life offices are inundated with students who come in sobbing that they did not get their first choice of roommate, that they got less than an A- on an exam, or that they got rejected from a club.

How did we, as a society, or we as parents and educators and mental health professionals allow this to happen? We simply have to ask ourselves this question. Continue reading

How Was Your Day? Talking to Children After School

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Dr. Corinne Masur

It’s a time honored tradition for parents, grandparents, and other adults to ask children “how was you day at school?”

And, as any parent or any observant adult knows, these questions usually elicit very little in the way of information. In fact, all you are likely to get is a shrug of the shoulders!

What’s going on here?

Why do adults always ask these questions and why don’t children ever answer? Continue reading

Back to School!

 

backtoschool

Dr. Corinne Masur

No matter how well you plan, when it’s finally time to actually send your children to school in the fall (for the 1st time or the 10th time) it always comes as a shock! Vacation is over; the hubbub and the rushing around of the school year are upon you! And WHO is ready to start THAT all over again?

This week in our parent group, we heard a repeated refrain: the fall rush takes a toll on both parents and children. Continue reading

What Is Violence in the News Doing to Us As Parents?

social_media_strategy111Dr. Corinne Masur

In a recent New York Times article, a question was asked: What is this recent violent news cycle doing to us?  I will take the question one step further and ask, what is the violent news cycle doing to us as parents?

That article suggests that we’re all affected by exposure to violence in news that we receive from constant social media blasts, and the author cites a study that found that extroverts, “those described with outgoing personalities,” were found to be more vulnerable to the violent imagery than others. Moreover, the article states that the greater the exposure, the greater the effect.

So what can we parents do to protect ourselves, to protect our parenting abilities, and to protect our children from the powerful effects of overexposure to violence in the news? Continue reading

How To Talk About Tragedy With Children

Holding Hands

Dr. Corinne Masur

Following the terrible events in Orlando, parents all over the country are thinking about whether to talk with their children about what happened and, if so, what to say.

Moreover, families must think about whether to allow their kids to listen to radio news or watch TV coverage, and whether to talk about what happened in front of children. This event is particularly difficult as it involves not only horrible tragedy but so many other issues: terrorism, hate, homophobia, mental health, gun control– all issues which are difficult to know how to explain to children.

The following are ideas and suggestions. Your family may choose to follow some, to modify others, and to ignore the rest. Each family is different and each child is different, so do what feels right in your particular situation. Continue reading

Yelling at our Kids

Dandelion

Dr. Corinne Masur

Do you feel guilty when you yell at your children?

The other day, a dad in our parenting group spoke about feeling guilty for having yelled at his 6-year-old son.  His 3-year-old needed him, and while he was dealing with his younger child, his 6-year-old asked him to do something for him.  The dad said he was busy, and then the older child asked again.  The dad yelled at him to go to his room and then immediately felt that he had done the wrong thing.  He remembered his own father yelling all the time, and worried that he was becoming like his father.

So – did this dad do something wrong?  Is it wrong to yell at your child? Continue reading

Losing It: Those Lovely Family Moments

 

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The second in a series of Mindful Parenting posts by Bidi McSorley, MD, beloved Philadelphia pediatrician:

You know those moments – the ones where your child loses it, has a tantrum, and you react and lose “it” too. Afterwards, you seriously question why you wanted to be a parent. These are the times when it’s very difficult to stay present in the moment with your child. It is so hard to react not with anger, but with equanimity. These are the moments when it is difficult to catch yourself, take a breath, and stay calm.

A short explanation of neuroscience will help us understand what happens in these moments. Continue reading