The secret to good parenting? Lose the guilt

Parents today are facing more scrutiny than ever before. But Ann Douglas wants to celebrate the fact that parents don't have to be perfect, rather than spread the narrative that parenting is an exercise in misery.

Author Ann Douglas says we need to celebrate imperfect parents

We need to do away with the idea that parenting is an exercise in misery, say Ann Douglas (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

"What is it about this moment in parenting that has this generation of parents feeling so anxious, so guilty and so overwhelmed?"

That's the question the writer Ann Douglas set out to answer as she worked on her latest book Happy Parents: Happy Kids.

Parents today are facing more pressure and scrutiny than ever, she told Tapestry host Mary Hynes.

But rather than spreading the narrative that parenting is an exercise in misery, we need to celebrate the fact that parents don't have to be perfect, Douglas added.

I think we can let go of that fake pressure to be perfect.- Ann Douglas

Douglas has been writing about parenting for more than 30 years. And in the past few years, she says she's seen a profound shift.

"All the messages that I think parents get from the broader society are really harsh and judgmental and I would say often unfair," she said.

"I think that parents internalize that and they start thinking 'maybe I did sign up for this adventure but I'm almost afraid to admit to myself how woefully under-qualified I feel now.'"

'Why all the name calling?'

Douglas added that the cascade of messaging and advice directed at parents can too easily lead them to doubt their judgement.

The label "helicopter parent," in particular, has caused too many parents to second guess their desire to show kindness to their children, she said.

"This is one of the most important relationships you're going to invest in over the course of your life. So why wouldn't you give yourself permission to pour your heart and soul into that, without seconding guessing whether that's a good thing or not?" Douglas asked.

"You get one over-the-top parent who did that one over-the-top thing that one time, and now it's the defining characteristic of an entire generation of parents," she said. "Why all the name calling?"

Rather than adding to the burden parents already feel, Douglas believes we should encourage them to embrace all the messiness and vulnerability of parenting.

"When we give our kids the gift of a gloriously imperfect parent, we give our kids permission to be gloriously imperfect too," the author said.

"I think we can let go of that fake pressure to be perfect."

Ann Douglas, the author of 'Happy Parents, Happy Kids' (Aleisha Boyd Photography)

It takes a village

Douglas also took issue with something that she says she hears far too often: the notion that becoming a parent is like signing on for 20 years of misery.

"It's a pretty nasty thing to do to somebody who's just happily announced that a baby is joining their family," she said. "We don't have to traumatize them before they even become parents."

Douglas also said that much of that idea is disproven: "Sociologists and other scholars of the family … don't find that parents are more miserable than other people. This is a myth."

Instead of seeing it as a ticket to misery, we need to embrace parenting for the aspects that make it so rewarding, she added.

"You invest in that relationship with that other tiny little human being and you nurture them all the way along during their development. We know as humans that's where we get our greatest sense of meaning in life."

What makes parenting miserable, Douglas said, are "all the other social and cultural and economic factors that bump against our lives as parents."

"We need social policy and economic policy that actually helps to support us in being the kind of parents we want, as opposed to adding to the burden and leaving us feeling crushed, exhausted and alone," she added.

"We were never meant to do this parenting thing on our own."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.


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