Kids need love and attention, but they also need healthy, calm, balanced parents in order to thrive. Though modern parenting advice tends to advocate for intense parenting styles, like attachment parenting, it’s important to draw a line between caring for children and hyper-focusing on them. When parents hyper-focus on their children, they create unrealistic expectations for themselves and inadvertently teach their kids the wrong lessons. For most parents, who are already balancing demanding careers with a full schedule of extracurricular activities, trying to “hover” constantly over their children is also a surefire recipe for burnout.
Why Burnout is a Problem for Parents
While all forms of burnout are challenging, parenting burnout is particularly problematic because parents can’t just take a vacation whenever they need to regroup. Burnt-out parents become trapped with their escalating feelings of exhaustion and frustration, which makes them less patient, tolerant, and compassionate with their children. Ironically, parents who hyper-focus on their children often appear less loving because burnout erodes their ability to be fully “present” and engaged with their kids’ emotions. This parenting style can have a detrimental effect on kids’ self-esteem, too, because kids feel like they can’t live up to their parents’ high standards. (This is especially likely to be the case if parents are extremely preoccupied with their kids’ developmental or academic progress.)
In addition to negatively impacting the level of care parents can provide, obsessive parenting makes it harder for parents to give their kids the discipline they need to feel secure. Burnt-out parents can’t provide clear guidance or enforce consequences in a calm, consistent manner. As a result, their children may act out more frequently, both to establish solid boundaries and to manage their feelings of anxiety.
6 Signs that You’re Hyper-Focused on Your Children
Recognizing the signs that you’re over-parenting early on can help you avoid the issues described above and build a stronger, more resilient bond with your children. However, drawing the line between attentive parenting and obsessive parenting can be difficult, especially if your children are still small and need a lot of care. The following signs often indicate an unhealthy level of preoccupation with parenting, but only a mental health professional can clarify whether or not you need to alter your parenting style:
- You’re rarely able to make time to converse with your partner, unless your children are asleep.
- You only consume child-friendly media, to the point of missing your own favourite TV shows, podcasts, etc.
- Your entire schedule revolves around your children’s activities, even on weekends. You neglect your own need for hobbies and downtime to accommodate these activities.
- You’re constantly anxious about your kids (even when they seem content), and/or you think obsessively about their development and progress.
- You frequently go without things you need in order to spend more money on your children’s hobbies or activities.
- Parenting often makes you feel stressed out, resentful, or guilty.
How to Create a More Balanced Parenting Style
For family members to coexist happily, both adults and children must be given adequate time, attention, and consideration. The first step to becoming a more balanced parent should therefore be learning to see your children as important contributing members of your household, but not the sole focus of your entire household. Their preferences, interests, and desires should be valued and respected, but ultimately given the same priority as everyone else’s.
If your children are used to taking “centre stage” at home, try using the following parenting techniques to gently adjust their behaviour:
1. Teach your children how to take turns.
When you’re having a conversation with your partner and your child interrupts you, ask her to wait until you’re done speaking to share her thoughts, unless she urgently needs your attention. Likewise, you should teach your kids to share recreational resources (like the TV and computer) with other family members on a regular basis. To prevent arguments over whose turn it is to use which resource, you can create a weekly schedule that gives every family member (including you and your partner) time to enjoy their favourite media and activities.
Remember that part of your job as a parent is preparing your child to have healthy, balanced relationships in adulthood. If your child expects her needs and desires to automatically come before everyone else’s, she’ll be ill-prepared to handle the realities of friendship and marriage later in life. Making your child share and wait her turn, on the other hand, will show her how to balance her priorities with the priorities of others.
2. Make time to look after yourself.
Having regular “alone time” is essential to keeping any relationship healthy, including your relationship with your children. Parents need time to decompress and look after themselves; otherwise, they can’t stay emotionally, mentally, and physically fit enough to properly care for their children.
Occasionally being away from your children will also help you maintain a balanced perspective on their behaviour: Issues that seem overwhelming when you’re trying to manage a tantruming child often feel far less daunting after a “time out.” Having this perspective will help you remain calm, figure out what lessons your child needs to learn, and keep consequences fairly in proportion with her actions.
Kids also need parents who are capable of modelling effective self-care strategies. Taking time out for yourself will show your child the importance of making time to recharge and nurture her own interests, too. Learning this skill is especially important for kids today, because they face significantly greater academic and social pressures than the generations before them.
3. Remember to relax and have fun with your kids.
You don’t need to spend every waking moment monitoring your child’s progress; sometimes, the best educational tool is simply spending fun, relaxing time together as a family. Unstructured play and socialization is integral to the development of certain social and cognitive skills, including empathy and creativity.
Having fun with your child will also give her a positive impression of parenting, which will one day inform her own choice about whether or not to have a family. Kids whose parents are constantly stressed out, serious, and busy develop the impression that parenting is a burden, when it shouldn’t be.
Changing your attitude toward parenting, and the way you interact with your children, can be extremely challenging – especially if your kids are older and used to getting their own way. To make the transition to more balanced parenting as smooth as possible, start by discussing your concerns with your partner; he or she can help you create a plan for change and stay on track as you action it. Working with a family therapist can also minimize disruption as you adjust your parenting strategies, and therapy will help you cope with any feelings of guilt, resentment, or remorse you may have. With the right strategies and professional support, you can stop hyper-focusing on your kids and become a more whole, well-rounded parent.
Author: Joe Accardi
This is a guest post by Toronto psychotherapist Dr. Joe Accardi. Joe practices therapy for adolescents, adults, and couples in his private practice in downtown Toronto. Dr. Accardi is an expert in different treatment modalities incl. Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT), Psychodynamic Therapy, and Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT). You can visit his website at consultinghealth.com and follow him on Twitter at @JoeAccardi