We are in the midst of a hyper intensive parenting movement.
In my work with moms, I see a lot of anxiety emerging around parenting. These moms love their kids, are passionate about giving their children what they might have been lacking in their childhood, and are consumed with doing it “right.” This drive and desire comes from a beautiful place in their hearts – a place of love. But it is crippling them as many take to Google and Instagram to get up to date information about what is the best, researched-backed way to parent. Sometimes the information is helpful, sometimes it is not.
They start to feel ungrounded and question their own internal compass for parenting and try to adopt the style of the most convincing influencer online. They micro-analyze their every parenting intervention and re-play them over and over, wondering what went wrong and how they might have “damaged” their children when things didn’t go as planned.
I think we need a collective breath. A pause. So we can dial down the frenzy of hyper intensive parenting, driven by social media influencers who are building a brand and a following.
Most of us don’t set out to parent this way. It can be a slow, slippery slope that is lined with good intentions. I love helping clients feel more confident in their own parenting style and it often starts with self awareness of the allure of hyper-parenting and what it promises but cannot deliver: peace and confidence. That comes from a different source altogether.
Read to the end if you are a follower of Jesus for the hope that we can have in Christ amidst uncertainty in our journey as parents.
Let’s start by getting our bearings. Here are some signs you might be in “hyper-parenting mode”:
Signs of hyper-parenting
1) You second guess most parenting decisions you make
You may feel a deep-seated sense uncertainty that hovers around the edges of your choices. You are never quite confident in your ability to do it right and have a nagging sense that you are doing it wrong. This creates a desire for validation or correction and often results in negative self-talk that simply imprints a further sense of incompetence. This can lead to sign #2…
2) You spend a lot of time gathering info
You are constantly wondering if what you are doing is supported by science. You may spend a lot of time Googling a parenting question or scrolling through your parenting accounts on Instagram. But no matter how much you learn or how long you scroll, it never feels like enough. There is always more to learn so you never feel any sense of mastery or competence.
3) You become frozen in parenting moments
This is not always a sign of hyper-parenting. It can be a sign of trauma too, but if the freeze is coming from a place of indecision rather than a nervous system’s response to threat, it might be due to hyper-parenting. You may simply have overloaded your brain with information and in times of high stress, our brains are not very efficient at teasing out salient information for the circumstance. So all the information you have curated and collected has become more of a hindrance than a help.
4) You focus on your kids exclusively
Your children have become the focus of every part of your day – their activities, their transportation, their needs…these trump all else. You never give a second thought to your own self-care and focus all your energy on your children. Your free time is spent in thinking of ways to be a better parent or help your child overcome some challenge. Your relationship with your partner may have taken a backseat. You know that there is something missing from your own life and your adult relationships, but you can’t find the energy to work any of that out.
If a few or more of these signs above resonate with you, it’s likely you are living in a hyper-parenting mode. If you found it to be true about yourself, simply take a moment and take a breath. This is not about a judgment – it’s about increasing your awareness and getting in touch with what is at the very foundation of why you ended up here: you love you kids to the end of the earth. And there is nothing wrong with that.
So what are the steps back from intensive hyper-parenting? What are some concrete things you can do to increase your sense of competence and create more balance in your life? Here are some ideas:
What to do about hyper-parenting
1) Notice your thoughts and feelings
When you start to have an urge to do a deep dive into Google or social media, pause and ask yourself some questions like:
What am I feeling right now? (If you struggle with feelings identification, I highly recommend the app, How We Feel.)
What am I thinking? (Notice any negative thoughts and their content. Are you hearing judgments, condemnation or criticism?)
Are these thoughts and feelings driving my decision to collect more information? Can I notice the anxiety and negative thoughts and delay my research for 20 minutes? (Studies have found that if you delay acting on an urge, the urge dissipates in about 20 minutes.)
While you wait for that time to pass, engage in some life-enriching activity. Don’t let anxiety become the driver of your decisions.
2) Adopt a family-centric mindset
Child-centric parenting is at the core of hyper-parenting. The kids’ needs and interests come first. If we can make the shift from child-centric thinking to family-centric, we can affect real change. How do we do this? With some good questions like:
Is the family being served by all of us being out every night of the week in different places or is this serving the individuals?
Is the family being well-served if mom and dad have no time to connect or talk during the week?
Is the family being served by allowing the children to determine their bedtime when it means that mom and dad are tired in the morning and less present and engaged?
Will this device/toy/activity lead to greater connection in the family or greater individualism?
These are tough but important questions to ask. It can be counter cultural to even think this way because our culture is primarily kid-centric. This is a change you can make slowly as you adjust your priorities and your calendar to reflect your real focus and values.
3) Uncover your parenting wisdom
Many moms I work with have no road map for parenting because of their own family of origin’s dysfunction. This can create a great deal of anxiety and fear of getting it wrong because they feel like they are flying blind. But as believers, we don’t have to fret because we DO have a roadmap. It’s the Lord and how He parented His own people throughout Scripture and how He continues to parent us. You don’t need a theology degree to figure it out. All you need is your bible and an open and willing heart. The Bible is a powerful tool that can equip and guide us when we feel lost.
Let the Bible be your guide
Spending time in the word on a regular basis is a sure way to improve your parenting. How do I know this? Because I have seen it happen. We can trust in the truth of Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to apply it to our daily lives.
We may long for a technique or a chart, but the Bible has something better: the heart of Christ. If we can learn more about the heart of God, His loving ways toward his people, the grace He extends to all and the premium value he places on family, we will have all the information we need to parent our children well.
How can you do this? Start by reading a piece of Scripture – avoid the temptation to cherry pick, it’s always best to read a chapter or a book as a whole to get the overall picture.
As you read, look for God’s heart towards his people. Write down what you notice: gracious, kind, forgiving, etc. Ask Him to give you those same attributes towards your children. Pick one and focus on that for a day and see what He shows you.
You can also start to journal with God. Read a passage and ask Him to share with you what He wants you to take from it. Listen to Him. It may not be an audible voice; it may simply be an inclination to underline a particular verse. Pay attention. That is the Holy Spirit, guiding and directing you.
If you take nothing else away from this article, I hope you have an increased sense of confidence – you CAN do this. Make time with the Lord a priority. Keep your eyes on your family as a whole. Keep your eyes on the wisdom He offers in His word. Notice the thoughts you have in your head about your parenting. Hang on to the ones that build you up and let all the rest float by…And if you feel the need to Google or scroll, do it mindfully with intention and limits (noticing if it is bring value to your life or taking it away).
Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”