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How “Savor Every Moment” Leads to Unnecessary Parent Stress

A guide to decreasing parenting pressure.

Key points

  • Pressure to cherish every parenting moment can create stress and unrealistic standards.
  • Awareness of the full spectrum of emotions makes way for true appreciation.
  • Trying “appreciation curiosity” can help parents improve well-being for themselves and their kids.

Nearly every parent has been given at one time or another the well-intentioned, but ultimately unhelpful, advice to “cherish every moment with your kids; they grow up so fast.” Yes, the years go by quickly in hindsight, but telling parents to appreciate every moment can invalidate the day-to-day challenges of parenting. Additionally, it can create unrealistic standards that can add pressure and make it more difficult to actually appreciate time with your kids. This post explores the psychological impact of this “appreciation pressure” and offers insights into achieving a more balanced, realistic, and ultimately rewarding way to parent.

The Problem: “Appreciation Pressure”

Parenting blogs, social media platforms, and well-meaning family members frequently emphasize the importance of savoring every moment of parenthood. The problem is that this advice is coming from the perspective of those viewing things in hindsight through the lens of nostalgia. While the sentiment is valid—they miss the time when their kids were young—this adage generally does not serve parents who are in the thick of parenting. Instead, it either is brushed aside to be processed at a later time when life may be less chaotic and stressful or it adds layers of guilt on top of the frustration, boredom, sadness, and other negative emotions that are natural parts of parenting in addition to the joy, love, awe, and other positive emotions experienced.

In other words, when parents start to think “I should be enjoying this moment,” it makes it more difficult to actually enjoy the moment—this is a classic type of cognitive distortion that is often the focus of cognitive behavioral therapy. The good news is there are effective techniques to counteract these mindsets.

Source: Alexander Grey/Unsplash
Source: Alexander Grey/Unsplash

Tips for Decreasing the Pressure

Tip 1: Identify cognitive distortions (like “should statements”) and reframe them to decrease the pressure. Instead of thinking “I should be enjoying this moment,” try telling yourself something like “It’s OK to feel annoyed; my kid is doing something annoying!” or “I’m feeling overwhelmed, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that I've also been having a lot of fun playing with my kid—both are part of being a parent.” These reframes can help to decrease some of the pressure and set more realistic and compassionate expectations for yourself.

Experiences with parenting can change in an instant—one moment you might be having a blast playing with your kids and the next moment your kids may be screaming at each other. In taking things moment by moment, the low moments don’t have to take away from the positive moments, and the positive moments don’t mean that you have to appreciate every negative moment, either. Identifying, labeling, and reframing distortions can be the first step to shedding some of these unrealistic expectations, leading to a more nuanced and ultimately rewarding experience day-to-day.

Tip 2: Allow emotional responses. This is another classic parenting reminder that works for both parents and kids: All emotions are valid. So, while you want your kid to know that it’s not OK to throw a toy at their sibling, it’s important to convey that it is OK to feel angry. The same reminder can be helpful for parents themselves, that while you might not want to feel angry about your kids’ behavior, it is completely normal, valid, and acceptable to feel that anger (or whatever emotion you feel). It is unrealistic to assume that you are going to feel positive emotions toward your kids at all times. Instead, by letting the emotions in and accepting how you feel, you can better make room for the next emotion that comes along instead of getting stuck in a particular emotion.

Other Psychology Today blogs have discussed becoming a mindful parent. Mindfulness, defined as a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, can be an effective strategy for allowing emotional responses. It enables parents to observe their thoughts and feelings without immediate reaction. The benefit is that by being less caught up in trying to feel only certain emotional responses and not others, it actually clears up headspace to be more present with your kids and act in an intentional way.

Tip 3: Engage in “appreciation curiosity.” A final tip comes back to the idea of appreciation itself. Is it possible to appreciate without the pressure? The answer is yes, but by asking rather than telling yourself to appreciate. Try this: Next time you’re hanging out with your kid, ask yourself “Is this a moment I’m appreciating?” If so, then, that’s great! And if not, that’s OK, too. You can also do a bit of mental time travel and imagine looking back at this moment 10 or 20 years in the future. How might you see this moment through that lens? Using these exercises you may even notice that you are appreciating some things at the same time as wishing other things were different. The important thing is reflecting from time to time to increase your awareness of the nuances of appreciation and how it can change from moment to moment as well as exist in the midst of frustration. This process helps to slow down the experience of time to take in the ups and downs more fully.

To sum it up, it’s time to reject “appreciation pressure” in favor of “appreciation curiosity.” Using strategies like reframing unhelpful thoughts and using mindful awareness and curiosity to allow the range of emotional responses to unfold can help parents to decrease guilt and counterintuitively increase moments of natural appreciation. It's about giving yourself permission to experience the wide range of emotions that parenting brings without the burden of constant enjoyment or appreciation. This approach makes way for genuine moments of connection and gratitude. Embracing the reality of parenting, including its lows, with kindness and understanding, sets the stage for a more fulfilling, less pressured experience for both parents and kids.

More from Matthew Scult Ph.D.
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