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Living in the age of 'continuous parenting' is burning out parents

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Each day, licensed clinical social worker Ofra Obejas has appointments with a number of parents—with the idea that this is a designated time for them to decompress, turn their attention inward and concentrate on the counseling session. Yet, Obejas says she has noticed a disappointing trend: Many clients don't disconnect for that brief period.

"Parents have sat in therapy session with me and checked every time their phone alerted them, 'In case that's my kid calling me,'" she tells Motherly. "The smart device allows parents to never be away from the child."

Unlike in generations past, today's parents can be always "on" due to everything from high-tech baby monitors to a stream of pictures and updates sent to their phones. That's what we at Motherly have termed "continuous parenting," and the risk is it not only sets parents up for fatigue, but also sends children unhealthy messages about their own boundaries.

The answer isn't to erase our kids from our minds every so often—because that simply isn't possible. But we can benefit from making the effort to step back from actively "parenting" every now and then.

Parents spend more time than ever with their kids

According to a recent study from The Economist, American moms now spend twice as much time with their children compared with women 50 years ago. That works out to be an average of 125 minutes per day of devoted mom-child time. (Kudos to dads, too: Since 1965, they have tripled the time spent with their kids. It's now up to an average of 59 minutes daily.)

Experts credit this to increasingly flexible work schedules and options to punch in from home. Likely also at play is the fact that the newest generation of moms and dads are embracing the duty like few before, with 99% of millennial parents reporting they truly love parenting.

We're leaning into parenting—but are we overdoing it?

It's one thing to identify first and foremost as a parent and take pride in that role. It's another thing, however, to confuse our sense of worth with our children's accomplishments, which is something former Stanford University dean of freshmen Julie Lythcott-Haims says was commonplace among the parents she encountered.

"When I ask parents why they participate in the overprotection, overdirection, hand-holding frenzy, they respond, 'So my kid can be happy and successful,'" she writes in How to Raise an Adult. "When I ask them how it feels, they respond, 'Way too stressful.'"

This constant investment in children's lives can take a toll on the parent-child relationship when the parent doesn't take time for him or herself, too. "The parents feel that they 'sacrificed' their own time for the benefit of the child, even though during much of that time there was no direct engagement with the child," Obejas says of those hours spent shuttling kids around town or waiting outside the doctor's office. "The parents' own emotional and mental cup becomes empty, and when the child asks for more attention, the parents feel like they have already given enough."

The expectation of constant contact 'is draining for the brain'

Even outside the category of helicopter parents, the expectation that we should constantly know what our children are doing is problematic. "'Always on alert' didn't start with children," says Obejas. "It started with devices and apps designed to be addictive. It overtaxes our fight or flight response and leads to toxic stress when levels of cortisol and adrenaline don't ever subside."

Compared with the days when it was the norm for kids to roam free until the streetlights came on, it's commonplace today for parents to expect regular updates of their kids' exact whereabouts either by texts or GPS tracking tools.

"While this can be a safety backup, it increases the type of hypervigilance we know is draining for the brain," says Urszula Klich, licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Southeast Biofeedback and Clinical Neuroscience Association. "[This] can also cause incredible anxiety as parents hear and read things they wouldn't normally be subject to, that is, let's face it, a normal part of kids growing up."

Roles have reversed

Not so long ago, parents would go to the store or out on a date only with the faith that everything was fine at home. Now? That's almost unthinkable—as we've instead shifted to the mentality that our children or their responsible caregivers should be able to contact us at any given moment. Despite the good intentions at play here, this comes at an expense.

"In what other job do you never get a break? It is truly exhausting to never get to turn off the parent brain," says LMHC Jasmin Terrany, author of Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life's Most Important Job.

Driving this is the trend toward maternal gatekeeping, which describes the subconscious desire to micromanage child care even when someone else is perfectly capable of holding down the fort. As uncomfortable as this may feel, it's healthiest for everyone when parents can hand over the reigns on occasion.

"We must have regular practices to refuel," Terrany tells Motherly. "We don't need to feel guilty about taking this time for ourselves—our kids will not only learn that self-care is essential, but when we are good, they will be good."

This is also how we let our children know another adult can attend to their needs, which is an important step in fostering their sense of independence and confidence. As Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, previously told Motherly, "Let your partner actually figure it out on their own and know that the system survives even when you are not there."

Being 'always on' can degrade quality time, too

Much of being "always on" is a two-way street: Not only do we bring our children into our work days and social lives, but we also bring other obligations home with us in the form of emails sent to our smartphones and mid-playtime breaks to check social media.

"Our children need us, the parents to be 'there,'" says Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. "They need us to talk to them, play with them and be present with them. This is literally impossible if we are multitasking between the iPhone and our interactions with them."

As expert as we may consider ourselves at multitasking, there is also something to be said for setting boundaries. "In today's world it's become difficult not to carry that phone around you all the time, even more so when your job is tied to it," says Klich. "Set boundaries for yourself for when you will check, even if it's once an hour, and stick to that making it clear to the kids what you are doing and why."

And when we're away from the kids, remember this hack: Calls from favorite contacts can still come through when you're on do not disturb mode. So tell your partner or your babysitter or your kids to call if it's a true emergency—and then allow yourself to go off the clock. You'll be better for it.

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No kid is born a picky eater, but there are plenty who will give you a run for your money come mealtime. Whether it's a selective eating phase or simply a natural resistance to trying something new, getting your little one to try just.one.bite can be easier said than done.

But sometimes your attitude about eating can make the most impact. A 2017 study found a direct correlation between "mealtime emotional climate" (AKA, how positive meals are for parents and children) and a child's consumption of healthy food―meaning the difference between your child trying their green beans or not could depend on how positive you make the experience.

Not sure where to start?

Here are 10 positive parenting techniques that can help overcome picky eating and lead to more peaceful mealtimes for all.

1. Make them feel special.

Sometimes just knowing you have a special place at the table can help kids eat better. Create a special place setting with dishes just for them.

Try this: We love OXO's Stick & Stay plates and bowls for creating less mess at mealtime. Not only will the kids love the fun colors and designs, but the plates also come with a suction cup base that prevents little hands from knocking plates to the floor (or in your lap). Trust us—we've tried it.

2. Take off the pressure.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Plate

Think about it: If someone kept telling you to take one more bite during lunch, how likely would you be to go along without bristling?

Try this: Instead, use the Satter Division of Responsibility of feeding, which lets parents be responsible for what, when, and where feeding happens, while the child is left responsible of how much and whether. Besides promoting a more positive environment at mealtime, this method also boosts your child's confidence and helps encourage better self-regulation of food as they get older.

3. Serve a variety.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Divided Plate

It could be that your child is bored with the usual rotation. Keep things interesting by regularly introducing new ingredients, or reworking a familiar ingredient in a new way. The familiar setting might make your child more likely to take a bite without a struggle.

Try this: Sub in spaghetti squash with their favorite pasta sauce, or add in a new veggie to a beloved stir-fry. We love OXO's Stick & Stay Divided Plate for creating a "tasting menu" of new flavors for little ones to pick and choose or using the center spot for an appetizing dip.

4. Don't bargain or negotiate.

Many kids resist trying new foods or eating at all because it gives them a sense of control over their lives. By resisting an ingredient―even one they have tried and liked in the past―they are essentially saying, "You're not the boss of me."

Try this: Instead of resorting to bargaining tactics like, "Just take one bite!" or "You can have dessert if you try it!" lower the pressure with a neutral statement like, "This is what we're having for dinner tonight." There's no argument, so you avoid tripping their "Don't tell me what to do!" sensor.

5. Serve meals in courses.

Even adults are more likely to eat something when they're really hungry. When their tummies are rumbling, kids will usually put up less of a fight even when they're uncertain about a new ingredient.

Try this: Serve up vegetables or other new foods as an "appetizer" course. That way, you won't have to stress if they don't fill up because you can follow up with food you know they'll eat.

6. Make it a game.

The fastest way to get a toddler on board with a new idea is to make it more fun. Turn your kitchen into an episode of Top Chef and let your little one play judge.

Try this: Use each compartment of the Stick & Stay Divided Plate for a new ingredient. With each item, ask your child to tell you how the food tastes, smells, and feels, ranking each bite in order of preference. Over time, you just might be surprised to see veggies climb the leaderboard!

7. Get them involved in cooking.

You've probably noticed that toddlers love anything that is theirs―having them help with preparing their own meals gives them a sense of ownership and makes them more likely to try new ingredients.

Try this: Look for ways to get those little hands involved in the kitchen, even if it means meal prep takes a bit longer or gets a bit messier. (We also love letting them help set the table―and OXO's unbreakable plates are a great place to start!) You could even let your toddler pick the veggie course for the meal. And if your child asks to taste a raw fruit or vegetable you planned to cook, go with it! Every bite counts as training that will ultimately broaden their palate.

8. Cut out unstructured snacking.

Not surprisingly, a hungry kid is more likely to try new foods. But if your toddler had a banana and a glass of milk (or a granola bar, or a handful of popcorn, or a glass of juice) an hour before dinner, odds are they aren't feeling truly hungry and will be more likely to resist what you serve at mealtime.

Try this: Stick to a consistent eating schedule. If your child leaves the table without eating as much as you think they should, remind them once that they won't be able to eat again until X time―and make good on that promise even if they start begging for a snack before the scheduled meal.

9. Model good eating habits.

Kids may not always do what you say, but they are much more likely to follow a good example. So if you want a child who eats vegetables regularly, you should do your best to fill your own plate with produce.

Try this: Pick a new food the whole family will try in multiple ways each week. For example, if you're introducing butternut squash, serve it roasted, blended in soup, cut up in pasta, as a mash, etc.―and be sure a healthy serving ends up on your plate too.

10. Don't worry about "fixing" picky eating.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Bowl

In most cases, children go through relatively consistent eating phases. At age two (when parents tend to notice selectiveness ramping up), growth rates have slowed and most children don't need as much food as parents might think.

Try this: Focus on keeping mealtime positive by providing children with a variety of foods in a no-pressure environment. And remember: This too shall pass. The less stress you put on eating now, the more likely they are to naturally broaden their palates as they get older.


This article was sponsored by OXO Tot. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Learn + Play

Every time Amy Schumer posts something to Instagram we're expecting a birth announcement, but in her latest Instagram post, Schumer let the world know she's still pregnant, and unfortunately, still throwing up.

Schumer made her "still pregnant" announcement in a funny Instagram caption, noting, "Amy is still pregnant and puking because money rarely goes to medical studies for women," suggesting that hyperemesis gravidarum, the extreme form of morning sickness that's seen her hospitalized multiple times during her pregnancy doesn't get as much attention as conditions that impact men.

She's made a joke out of it, but she's not wrong. Gender bias in medical research is very real, and something that the medical community has just recently begun to address.

And while more people suffer from erectile dysfunction than hyperemesis gravidarum, let's consider that five times as many studies are done on erectile dysfunction than premenstrual syndrome (PMS) when about 19% of men are impacted by erectile dysfunction but 90% of women experience symptoms related to PMS.

Schumer's point is important not just for women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, but for women and vulnerable pregnant people with all sorts of under-studied and under-diagnosed conditions. The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and bias in medicine is part of the problem.

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Having Amazon packages delivered to your door is super convenient, but when you need to return something packing it up and going to the post office isn't.

Kohl's is about to change all that, mama.

This week, Kohl's announced that, "All Kohl's stores will be accepting free, convenient, unpackaged returns for Amazon customers starting in July."

In just a few months Amazon customers can return items to any of the 1,150 locations across 48 states, but the program is already happening in select locations in Los Angeles, Chicago and Milwaukee.

When you want to return something to Amazon (regardless of the reason), just roll up to Kohl's and the store will "package and send all returned items to Amazon returns centers on behalf of customers, making the return process even easier."

Kohl's is probably hoping you'll pick something up while you're in the store, and it looks like they're hoping to get cozier with Amazon, too. Last month the retailer announced plans to carry Amazon products in about 200 of its stores.

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Sometimes being a mom can feel like you're the Wizard of Oz. You're behind the curtain pulling all the levers to make stuff happen, but all the credit goes to some fantastic fictional character, not the flesh-and-blood human working hard behind the curtain.

That's why this Easter, Kelly Clarkson pulled back the curtain for her two kids, 4-year-old daughter River and 3-year-old son Remington, and let them know who really left those Easter baskets.

"I kind of just was like, 'Mommy and daddy did these for you.' I knew my mom always did it," Clarkson tells People.

She continues: "Sometimes I'm tired of giving credit to non-existent things. Like I'm very busy, and I took the time to shop at Target and put this all together. I did this — no bunny! They got chocolate, so they're fine."

👏👏👏

We totally get it, Kelly.

Moms are the family managers, personal shoppers and magic makers and we often don't get credit for that.

Of course, it's totally understandable if a parent wants to give credit to the Easter bunny (that's a tradition for a lot of families) but it is also pretty cool to see a mother letting her kids know that Mom is the one making all this stuff happen.

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It's not like Clarkson isn't letting her kids enjoy Easter traditions (they totally had an egg hunt and painted eggs with mama), she's just taking credit where it's due.

And Clarkson isn't the only celeb to take this route. Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard told their daughters, 6-year-old Lincoln and 4-year-old Delta, the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly last year. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

The Bell-Shepard kids know that Kristen and Dax are the ones putting the gifts under the tree just like Clarkson's kids know mom bought the chocolates at Target, and that's totally okay. They understand how much effort their parents are putting into making them happy on a special day.

These kids know their parents love them. And that is a powerful, magical truth.

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One of the most powerful women in the world is about to have a baby. Which means that Meghan Markle, Prince Harry's wife and the Duchess of Sussex, could have access to any expert, any accommodation her heart desires.

If she wants a doula, breastfeeding expert, pediatrician of the highest caliber or even tea and scones, it's all available to the Duchess. (And like every pregnant mama, she deserves it ALL.)

We've been reading about her plans to keep her birth private, possibly even via home birth, and know that the entire British medical community is attuned to her now-full term pregnancy.

But on the brink of her due date, it's reported that what she really wants is her mom, Doria Ragland, at her side.

And I TOTALLY get it.

Birth has a way of making even the most independent women want their mamas close by.

That primal desire to have your mom hold your hand or guide you—it's not a sign of weakness. It's how women have been birthing from the beginning of time. It's actually a powerful sign of mothers' strength.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I had an instinctive need to keep my mother and mother-in-law close. They weren't present in the birth rooms, but they descended from out-of-state on our little family in the weeks before and after baby's birth.

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These mothers (and new grandmothers) were a reassuring presence during the biggest milestone of my life.

They were birth angels who helped share in our amazed excitement on the brink of baby's due date.

They were cleaning fairies who helped keep the house organized while I was too pregnant to bend over, or too overwhelmed to do the laundry.

They were breastfeeding ninjas who held my boob as I learned to nourish my son with my body.

They were doting grandmas to this brand new baby boy when we were all learning about the new person around whom our worlds began to revolve.

They were motherhood mentors who told me I was a wonderful mother even when I felt like I was a failure in those exhausting early days.

They were sleep coaches—for me and the baby—when I endured yet another sleepless night when a cranky newborn.

They were self-care guides encouraging me to change my clothes, brush my teeth, or take a shower when I felt newly unable to care for my own basic needs.

They were a sign of hope that these intense new days wouldn't last forever, and that someday, somehow, I would become as competent as they seemed to be.

They were a source of new strength and admiration, as I realized as a new mother myself just how many things I took for granted as a child (meals, a clean home, my mom's constant, reassuring presence.)

And no, those weeks weren't perfect. I do remember "words" exchanged at a few key moments. And I know that for some women, keeping their own family members at a distance is the happiest and healthiest thing they can do, especially right after a baby is born. The closeness can just me too much sometimes. I get it.

But women, mothers and daughters, have been helping guide one another into motherhood for as long as we've been having babies.

When I look back on big moments in my life, and meaningful seasons when I felt closest to and most grateful for my mother and mother-in-law, I think of those weeks fondly. I think of their sacrifice. I think of their generosity. I think of their love. I cherish their presence.

Megan Markle is about to experience one of the greatest crowning achievements of her life: becoming a mama. It just makes sense that she wants her mama, her queen, by her side.

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