Parenting is hard. I bet you’ve never heard of it.
Parenting can be incredibly hard, so hard that sometimes we just accept this as truth.
But it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Discover why it feels so hard and how to make it easy and stress-free.
Why parenting is hard
When my daughter was born, there were high expectations of our child, not only from us but from our friends and families as well.
Before my daughter turned one, I quit my job. I was determined to be the best mother I could be and raise my child based on perfectly-researched parenting practices.
I read parenting books after parenting books.
I bought educational toys for my toddler so that I could make the most of her early years to develop her cognitive abilities to the fullest extent.
Then reality struck me.
My child didn’t want anything to do with those toys. She also refused to learn any of the skills I taught her.
What? Not interested in learning?
The idea was incomprehensible to someone who spent decades learning things she never used (that is, me).
As I read, I came across a parenting book that changed everything for me.
The book wasn’t particularly good, but it was different.
Unlike the other popular parenting books I have read, this one didn’t rely on philosophies or nonexistent research. Instead, it quoted a real study.
Then my reading and research took a sharp turn.
I began reading peer-reviewed scientific studies on parenting and my approach to parenting completely changed.
Like most parents, I followed the examples set by previous generations.
But then I found out that parenting was hard, in part, because I made it harder than it should have been.
How to make parenting easier
Don’t blindly follow traditions in parenting
When my daughter started her terrible twos, I was determined to nip it in the bud. A tantrum-throwing, spoiled child would not be allowed in my care.
I tried every advice to parents, e.g. punishment, time out, taking things away from her, ignoring her, you name it.
Because tradition is not always right.
If it were right, there wouldn’t be so many actual parents looking for ways to make it work and so many parenting books, articles, coaches, and experts who help parents do so.
Traditional wisdom says that tantrums are manipulative behaviors that must be stopped at all costs.
But science tells us that tantrums are the result of a child’s inability to regulate overwhelming emotions1.
The conventional wisdom also says my child needs punishment to learn.
Rather than punishing my child, I connected with her and taught her how to self-regulate so that she could control her tantrums.
I made life so much harder for me and my child when I used traditional methods of discipline initially. But when I switched to using science-based principles to help her, parenting became so much easier.
I didn’t feel resentful or attacked when she lost control because I no longer considered her behavior malicious.
Since I had empathy for her, helping her through her tantrums didn’t feel torturous or embarrassing anymore. The child simply had not acquired certain skills, and my job was to help her learn, so there was nothing to feel embarrassed about.
Once I dropped the punitive mindset and negative view of my daughter, my attitude toward parenting improved dramatically.
Following traditions blindly can lead to a lot of assumptions.
When a child shows rude behavior, traditional wisdom tells us that we should have firm boundaries, clear consequences, and stern warnings. Our assumption is that they are disrespectful and attacking us.
Taking a fresh look at the bad behavior may reveal that the child talks rudely because he feels so much pain that he does not know how to properly control or express it.
As opposed to yelling back at them, we could acknowledge their emotions, express empathy, teach them how to control their negative feelings, and discuss how to disagree respectfully after they have calmed down.
The benefits of parenting without getting angry are that it is easier on our emotions. It also allows us to develop a strong connection with our children and be their allies instead of enemies.
Learn about child development
In the beginning, my lack of understanding of child development led me to focus on the wrong thing. I thought learning letters, shapes, colors, and numbers would be important for her development, but it wasn’t.
Secure attachment is the most important characteristic that I should help her develop2,3.
I should have focused on being warm and responsive as well as taking her lead in our interactions instead of forcing her to play with the educational toys the way I wanted.
The challenges of parenting became simpler once I switched my emphasis from my need for her to learn to her need to connect and form a secure attachment.
Set the right priority
Many of us want our children to grow up healthy, happy, kind, and successful, but how many of us work on this every day?
It might seem like we’re trying to help our kids succeed when we make them do their homework, but will punishing them really make them happy, kind, or healthy?
Whenever I struggle to find a solution, I ask myself, “Which is more important in 20 years: my relationship with my child or homework?”.
When you get frustrated that they won’t practice math even after you beg, plead, and yell, think about what it’ll be like 20 years from now. Is knowing math more important to you than your adult child being happy and having a close connection to parents?
Whatever is more important to us, we should make it our priority today.
That doesn’t mean we will ignore other priorities. After all, being close to parents alone won’t put food on the table. Your child must learn new skills, find a job, and contribute to society, too.
Prioritizing one aspect of life doesn’t mean you will neglect other parts of their development.
When you have a close relationship with your child, everything else becomes much easier. Your child will be more likely to listen instead of arguing. The other priorities will be met more easily and in a more pleasant way4.
Don’t fall into the either-or parenting trap
When we put ourselves in the either-or parenting trap, we make parenting harder.
Here is an example.
We know that permissive parenting, which consists of warmth, low standards, and no boundaries, harms children. Some parents then, out of fear, go to the other extreme. They become cold and have strict standards.
People often think that either you’re cold and controlling toward your children, or you’re permissive, bad parents.
I call this “either-or parenting”.
In fear of landing in one extreme, we choose the other extreme.
This world is not black or white. There are many shades of gray as well.
Parental happiness is often about finding the right balance, not going to extremes.
All you need to avoid becoming a permissive parent is to have high standards, set clear rules, and enforce them. There is no need to be cold, harsh, or mean.
Parenting is difficult when you take extreme positions. Being extreme takes a lot of effort.
Finding a balance will make things a lot easier5.
For instance, if your difficult child refuses to do homework, let them suffer the natural consequences. Don’t chase them. Learning, practicing, and submitting homework are their responsibilities, not yours. They will learn this from their natural consequences, but they won’t learn it from arguing with you.
Don’t try to control everything
Trying to be in complete control of your children is one of the most unnecessary extremes that makes parenting unbearably stressful.
In many parents’ minds, having control gives them a sense of security.
We crave control, but our children also want control over their own lives.
Autonomy is one of the most powerful motivators in humans6. Every time we try to take it away, our children will fight for it, causing power struggles and conflicts.
Having absolute control is both frustrating to us and harmful to our children because it prevents them from learning to make their own decisions. Children of controlling parents may have lower self-esteem and a higher risk for depression as well as other mental health issues7.
Trying to control makes you miserable as a parent and harms your child’s mental health. It also damages the child-parent relationships. It has little to no benefit.
Changing our attitudes toward parenthood can have a profound effect on how we feel about how demanding parenting is.
The idea of finding joy in parenthood is not so farfetched. Allow yourself to enjoy parenting and a close relationship with your child by stopping your quest for absolute control. Parenthood can be a blissful experience if we allow it to be so.
- 1.Giesbrecht GF, Miller MR, Müller U. The anger-distress model of temper tantrums: associations with emotional reactivity and emotional competence. Inf Child Develop. Published online 2010:n/a-n/a. doi:10.1002/icd.677
- 2.Hazan C, Shaver PR. Love and work: An attachment-theoretical perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 1990:270-280. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1680
- 3.Sillick TJ, Schutte NS. Emotional intelligence and self-esteem mediate between perceived early parental love and adult happiness. E-Journal of Applied Psychology. 2006;2(2):38.
- 4.Ryan RM, Powelson CL. Autonomy and Relatedness as Fundamental to Motivation and Education. The Journal of Experimental Education. Published online September 1991:49-66. doi:10.1080/00220973.1991.10806579
- 5.Deater-Deckard K. Parenting stress and child adjustment: Some old hypotheses and new questions. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. Published online 1998:314-332. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2850.1998.tb00152.x
- 6.Deci EL, Ryan RM. Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne. Published online 2008:182-185. doi:10.1037/a0012801
- 7.Schiffrin HH, Liss M, Miles-McLean H, Geary KA, Erchull MJ, Tashner T. Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being. J Child Fam Stud. Published online February 9, 2013:548-557. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9716-3