…parenting hard-ass, hater of mediocrity, with a moderate dose of compassion

Being an ‘Intense Mother’ Screws Up : Mother, Father, and Child, So Why Do It?

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‘Intense Mothers’ show higher rates of depression and negative mental outcomes

When you first found out you were pregnant (let’s include dads in this)…the moment that you know that parenting would be just around the corner, what was your first emotion?

Paralyzing fear? Euphoria? Inspiration? The intense need for a drink?

Your first child can bring about all of these logical emotions, and perhaps a few that you hadn’t anticipated: a feeling of inadequacy, buyer’s remorse, and maybe even complete denial.

Facing the fact that a short-bald-chubby-human with insufficient spine control will be left in your sole care is horrifying. I remember having nightmares of dropping the baby off of the edge of Niagara Falls. Funny, since I don’t live near Niagara Falls and had no intention of visiting with a newborn.

But the thought of losing my infant down the raging falls and watching it happen, utterly helpless – was, I think, the point of the dream.

The concept of engaged parenting is hurting children

21st century moms are expected to be in control at all times, which can be incredibly daunting. The concept of engaged parenting is a relatively new one. Whether we work or we don’t, the expectations are very high: homemade cupcakes, driving all over town to activities, and of course having the financial ability to buy, buy, buy.

Our own mothers did not spend hours on their knees with flashcards of 20th century scientists, or videos of classical music meant to stimulate cognitive function. Our mothers smoked and drank while they were pregnant, and dropped us in a playpen for a major part of the day without the company of an Elmo video. How on earth did we survive?

I’m certainly not suggesting that we should drink and smoke during pregnancy, but the pendulum has swung way too far out in the opposite direction. I’m not sure how we came to the point where it makes perfect sense to ensconce our precious children in a plastic bubble never to be let out again – even when they’ve turned 30 and are still living in the basement “finding themselves”.

Are YOU an Intense Mother?

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studieswomen who believe in intense mothering are more likely to have negative mental health outcomes. But what is an intense mother? Good question (but you might not like the answer)…

Intense mothers believe that:

  1. mothers are more necessary and capable than fathers
  2. a parents’ happiness is derived primarily from their children
  3. parents should always provide their children with stimulating activities that aid in their development
  4. parenting is more difficult than working
  5. a parent should always sacrifice their needs for the needs of the child

How can you remain sane? 

Women already have a higher incidence of depression than men. Adding intense motherhood to the heap of circumstances can make you feel like you’re teetering on the edge of sanity.

This belief system is harmful to parents as well as their children. Here’s my response to the intense mother manifesto above:

  1. Fathers are every bit as capable as mothers. The mere presence of your ovaries doesn’t make you a better parent – if it were only that easy. 
  2. Your happiness as a mother and as a person sits in your own hands. Don’t drop that load on your kid’s lap. What will you do about managing your own happiness when he moves out?
  3. Stimulating activities are great. However, the notion that you are doing your child an irrecoverable disservice by not carrying alphabet blocks around in your vagina, is stupid. And I would expect quite painful.
  4. Parenting is NOT more difficult than working AND parenting. This is utter nonsense. Mothers who work full time have to work full time AND mother full time. They don’t get to mother part time. If you have a personal hang-up about the fact that you don’t work, then get a job – but don’t bag on the working mothers. They’ve got enough to do.
  5. The idea of laying your body on the train tracks for the sake of your children is cheap novelette melodrama – remember to put the back of your hand on your forehead and swoon slightly while you’re at it. If you sacrifice your needs for the sake of your children – not only are they NOT going to appreciate it, all you’ve done is model sacrificial behavior for your daughter while showing your son the type of woman he should marry. Take care of your own needs and don’t blame your children for the fact that you are not demanding from the world exactly what you deserve. That’s on you.

What’s the bottom line? 

According to the concluding statement in the study:

“If intensive mothering is related to so many negative mental health outcomes, why do women do it?  They may think that it makes them better mothers, so they are willing to sacrifice their own mental health to enhance their children’s cognitive, social and emotional outcomes. In reality, intensive parenting may have the opposite effect on children from what parents intend.”

Somewhere we got the idea that if we don’t give everything to our children every day, then we suck as parents. And that just isn’t true. If you are raising compassionate children who will be financially self-sufficient as a result of their personal effort – then you’ve won. That’s all – that’s the goal. But you can’t destroy yourself in the process.

You are someone else’s daughter. Where is the compassion and love for YOUR life? If you don’t make your heart and your own fulfillment a priority, there is no reserve from which to feed the ones you love.

Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of this world too.


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14 Responses »

  1. The last sentence? Loved! Thank you for this – what a great read.

  2. Your comments always seem to be spot on! As a retired teacher I can testify that the best thing parents can teach their children is responsibility. Don’t bail them out. Let them accept the consequences for their actions. Doing too much for your kids gives them the message they are not capable to do it themselves. Children need to try, and try again and maybe again to learn how to stick with a task and solve their own problems. I think responsibility, tenacity and problem solving are more important life skills than many academic lessons learned in class.

    • Thanks Mrs G!
      If you don’t mind I’d like to send you my husband’s email address so you can explain to him how I’m always right. LOL
      Seriously though, your vantage point as a teacher truly is quite valuable to me. Especially the concept of “infantilization”.
      Cheers!

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