In this busy, highly-stressed world, parents are feeling under increasing pressure and are anxious they’re not getting things right.
In fact, new research suggests the average mum and dad worries at least 20 times per month, or 260 times a year, about whether they’re doing a good job.
And compounding their anxiety are parenting issues like the stress of limiting gadget and technology time, comparing and competing with other families, trying to entertain the kids during school holidays, and even wanting to be seen as a ‘cool’ mum or dad.
The research, commissioned by Thomson Cruises, found 65% of parents thought of themselves as competitive, with a fifth admitting they regularly compare their family achievements with other parents. Over half (51%) admitted that chatter at the school gates can bring out their competitive side, and this is reflected in social media, with mums and dads uploading boastful posts a staggering 416 times a year.
Commenting on the research, psychologist Emma Kenny says: “Parents worry about keeping up with other parents 260 times a year – they’re obsessed with what everyone else is doing, it’s a real competitive parent streak. Parents feel other children might be doing better than their kids, and that places a lot of pressure on them to make sure their children are getting the best out of their education and social activities.
“That pressure can take away the pleasure – less pressure equals more pleasure.”
A third of parents feel pressure to have a varied family holiday seeing different and exotic destinations each year. But if such exotic travel isn’t possible, Kenny stresses that valuable family experiences can be achieved through just a walk in the park or a day out in the countryside.
“Such experiences are free and good quality, taking the emphasis off academia and competition and placing it instead on family experiences, shared exploring and the things that make us happy,” she says.
Parents clearly appreciate that shared family time is the key to happiness, as the majority (85%) value the process of making memories over providing children with material possessions.
However, they also know making memories through shared family time isn’t as easy as it might sound – and Kenny, who has two boys aged 13 and 11, acknowledges that some children may baulk at spending time with their family when they’d rather be on their X-box or tablet.
“Gaming is a big part of my boys’ lives,” she says, “but it’s my job as a parent to know what’s best for them so we’re not all living together on separate screens in the same house.
“I don’t think children should be on screens for more than an hour a day, and I think it’s a misconception that older children don’t want to hang out with their parents. Most of them love to do it, it’s just that as they get older they forget to do it as much.”
The research found that parents worry about entertaining the kids during the school holidays, and often screen time is seen as the easiest and safest option.
But Kenny points out: “Screen time is the source of the most unregulated advertising and the most opportunities for children to have negative experiences like cyberbullying, or more sinister encounters on the computer.
“You think your kid’s safe because it’s easy for them to be ‘cyber-sat’, but actually you’re putting them at risk of lots of things if you’re not controlling it.”
She suggests that because parents are so busy and children using technology a lot is the easy option, parents should try to stick to strict schedules that make it clear what activities/excursions will occur on any given day.
“If you plan lots of activities and stick to it, kids will just follow what their parents set and do it.
“It’s when we don’t create activities that children will find their own space, and often that’s in their room on a screen.”
The research also found that parents feel pressure to be ‘cool’, and Kenny suggests this is simply because they want to be engaged in their children’s lives.
“It’s actually a lovely trait – parents want to be with their kids, know them and be friends with their friends to a degree so they can feel involved in their wider world experience. That’s more of a testament to great parenting than it is to embarrassing parents.”
Overall, Kenny says much of the pressure parents feel is unnecessary, and she points out: “They’re spending time worrying about things that don’t need to be worried about. Why don’t we just enjoy our kids and look internally at what we have together, as opposed to externally about what everyone else has?”
Entertaining the kids during the holidays instead of them watching TV/playing computer games.
Being able to answer/help with homework.
Limiting kids’ gadgets and technology time.
Being seen as a ‘cool’ mum or dad.
Pressure to spend more time with the children during school holidays.
Pressure from kids to have popular items of clothing and/or footwear.
Being seen to be sporty and active.
Going on impressive holidays.
Being friends with other mums and dads on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Making the family look perfect on social media
Q: “My five-year-old son is very bright. How can I nurture his intelligence without hothousing him?”
A: Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller, author of Unlocking Your Child’s Genius, says: “Experience plus reflection equals learning. When your son was younger, it’s likely you did this by providing a type of sports commentary as you did things together. For example, ‘First we’re going to the shops, then we’ll pick up the car.’ Doing this helped him reflect on his experiences and learn from them.
“It’s the same now even though the experiences may be a bit more complex. Between five and 11, you want to provide him with a range of experiences, some catering to his interests, some not. The conversations you have after these are what will store the learning in his brain. Ask questions like, ‘What did you like most? How are these things similar or different?’
“Teach him that his brain is a muscle that can get stronger and smarter as he uses it. Read to him and with him. Teach him to tell the time, count, draw circles and counter-clockwise circles (important for writing). Sing the alphabet and times tables. Collect, sort and categorise things.
“Have creativity corners in your home and expect them to get dirty. Play is the factory where imagination and creativity are made. Make sure he does some things that are simply mucking about and exploring. Tell him mistakes are good because they help us learn how to do things better.
“Lastly, enjoy him and have fun. There’s nothing like the love and laughter a five-year-old can give to spark the inner genius.”