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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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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Most of the time, being inclusive isn't that hard. Actually, it's so easy, even 4-year-olds can grasp it. That's the message body acceptance activist and Instagram user Milly Smith wanted to share when she posted a photo of her son, Eli, explaining a very simple thing: "Some men have periods too. If I can get it, so can you."

Theoretically, it is easy to get the fact that non-binary people and some trans men menstruate. Usually, body-affirming hormone treatments stop them from menstruating, but that's not always the case. Sometimes their period will stop for years but make a surprise return for a variety of reasons, such as a medication change. Bodies like to keep us guessing like that.

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And yet, many of us, particularly cisgender people, fall back on our habitual ways of speaking about periods without even thinking about it. We have a hard enough time discussing menses as it is, so this may be one of the last vestiges of non-inclusive talk. When a young kid asks why mama is bleeding, the knee-jerk reaction could be to say, "It's just something that women do," hoping not to have to explain the finer points of sex and reproduction for a few more years.

But Smith is here to remind us not to do the knee-jerk thing.

"Eli has been told about periods since he saw blood on my pants a couple of years ago," Smith wrote on Instagram. "I didn't use the language of women have periods because it's not entirely inclusive. I told him that SOME women, SOME non binary people and SOME men have periods. It was easy for him to accept as he hadn't had to unlearn the engrained [sic] societal norm but if a 4-year-old can grasp it I'm sure most of us can have a crack at unlearning transphobic/misinformed norms and open our minds... ya think?"

Some corporations have begun to do their part to unlearn those gender stereotypes. According to PopSugar, Always announced in October that it was removing the Venus "female" symbol from its packaging. While the website for Thinx period underwear is still Shethinx.com, it has attempted to appeal to trans and nonbinary customers as well, referring to "people with periods." Last year, British period subscription service Pink Parcel launched a campaign that included trans man Kenny Jones as one of its spokespeople.

Sadly, a couple of ads and an Instagram featuring a cute kid have not quite solved the problem of transphobia in this world. Smith has turned off the comments on her post, probably because of negative backlash from the shining citizens of the internet. That's an upsetting reminder of how far we have to go.

But at least we can still enjoy Smith's concluding words, "It's not insulting to women, it's not discrediting women," she said of this change of wording. "It's opening up the community to make it a safe space for those who don't identify as women but still have periods."

The world isn't always black and white and it's time we start recognizing the beauty in accepting the grey areas.

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It's hard to believe, but it's been a whole year since Gabrielle Union announced the birth of her baby girl. Since then, we've all had the pleasure of watching adorable baby Kaavia James grow, as well as seeing Union and husband Dwyane Wade raise her. This year hasn't always been easy for Union, however, as she shared in a beautifully honest post on her daughter's birthday.

"Scared to hold you," Union wrote in her post on Thursday afternoon. "Scared to burp you. Scared to reveal I have no clue what I'm doing. Scared to go to work. Scared to stay home. Scared when you sleep. Scared when you wake up. Scared I'm not living up to some impossible standard of motherhood. Scared I'd lose myself. Scared I'd be exposed as a failure, as less than, not as good as, not as comfortable as, not as... anything."

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Yes, even gorgeous, successful Gabrielle Union experiences the same doubts about motherhood as so many of us. Because it really is hard.

"Now I understand why sometimes you'll see moms at the airport or in Target just in tears," she told People earlier this year. "You try to do what you can in the hours that you can. I may not be hitting it out of the park at work, at home, with her or with my husband, but that's okay."

For this birthday post Union shared a slideshow video of Kaavia's first year, set to Bill Withers' "Lovely Day." She had also posted the lyrics of that song with her birth announcement post last year. We've seen most of those images before, but they're somehow more moving in montage form.

Union went on to write about how her daughter helped her gain confidence in herself, too.

"But there you were, everyday, looking up at me, like 'gurl, you got this!' " Union wrote. "When I let go of my fears of judgment and just did my best and recognized that my best would and could change from day to day and life would magically go on... Man, I finally allowed myself to just enjoy you @kaaviajames and relax into the peace of imperfection."

We certainly couldn't have described that first year of parenting better ourselves.

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Whether or not you're trying to come up with a name for a baby on the way, you can't deny that baby name conversations are always fascinating. Why are all of your friends named Emily and Sarah? How many boys named Miles are in your kid's school right now? And of course, which baby name will be on every mama's lips next year?

Nameberry may know, as it has released its predictions for 2020's top baby names. The site analyzed its traffic to calculate which names had the biggest increases in interest this year.

"These include newly minted names, rediscovered antiques, plus names imported from around the world," Nameberry cofounder Pamela Redmond writes.

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If you are in fact pondering names for your own child, this could either be a good place to start or a list of names to avoid, depending on how you feel about being one of many or the outlier in a group.

Here are Nameberry's predictions for the top baby names in 2020.

Girls' names

1. Adah

2. Reese

3. Mika

4. Paisley

5. Amina

6. Teagan

7. Nova

8. Aura

9. Pearl

10. Billie

Boys' names

1. Austin

2. Alva

3. Acacius

4. Tate

5. Diego

6. Easton

7. Lucius

8. Cash

9. Ash

10. Luca

There's quite a mix of rationale for choosing each of these names. Some, like Reese, Mika, and Billie, are likely inspired by the famous women with those names (Witherspoon, Brzezinski, and Eilish, respectively). Some are continuations of current trends. The biblical name Adah extends the trend for "Ad" girl names, and Lucius is likely to follow the popularity of Lucy, Lucia, and Lucian, Nameberry says.

We're surprised by a couple of the names on this list. Alva is the number two boys' name, for instance. "Every American schoolchild knows this as the middle name of the great inventor Thomas Edison, whose surname has also become popular," Redmond writes. "With Alma and Alba now stylish for girls, Alva could gain visibility for boys."

They're also going out on a limb with the girls' number eight, Aura, which was used only 120 times in 2018. The rationale here is that it's similar to current fave Aria/Arya. We'd also add that all things witchy and supernatural are trendy again.

We won't know if this list is right until the Social Security list for 2020 comes out in May 2021, but as soon as the data comes in we'll let you know which names really topped 2020. Only time will tell if Adah and Austin are the next Liam and Emma.

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Shawn Johnson East and her husband Andrew recently welcomed their little girl into the world. It's a dream come true for the couple who had previously suffered a pregnancy loss, but Shawn says she didn't get the birth of her dreams.

"22 hours of labor to end in a c section," she wrote on Instagram. "I went in with such a stubborn mindset of thinking the only way I could bring our baby into the world was naturally. No meds no intervention. At 14 hours when I chose to get an epidural I felt guilty. At 22 hours when we were told I had to get a c section I felt like I had failed."

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We get how hard it is when your birth plan doesn't go as planned. What Shawn feels is actually pretty common, say mental health experts. The combination of unexpected surgery and feelings of loss of power and guilt when a birth doesn't go as plan, can be traumatic.

An emergency C-section is not a personal failure. It's a medical emergency and it's common.

"The emergency nature of C-sections leads [some mothers] to feel out of control, as well as fear that there will be harm to the baby or themselves," Dr. Sarah Allen, a Chicago psychologist and director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

In Shawn's case, everything went well, and that changed how she was feeling. "But after holding our sweet girl in my arms and being told everything went well and she had made it to us safely I could have cared less [about the C-section]."

Shawn no longer feels guilty and we are so glad she doesn't.

It is important for pregnant people to know that there is no wrong way to give birth, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C-sections are very common, representing about 32% of all births in the United States.

Shawn did not fail, and neither did you, mama. C-section mamas are strong + brave.

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