Are You a "Super Parent"?

Here are 5 signs that you may be trying to do more than you should.

Posted Jul 10, 2018

When you welcome a new baby or child into your family, there may be some amount of self-inflicted pressure to get everything right. Whether you are welcoming a newborn into the family or an older child, you may have high expectations regarding the transition and care and feeding of this new family member that are based on a fantasy you've created or the "idyllic arrivals" that friends promote on their social media accounts of their own expanding families.

While providing a new member of the family with the proper care and feeding is essential and a basic requirement, there are 5 signs that you've fallen into the "Super Parent" trap and may need to re-calibrate your expectations of your behavior:

  1. Feelings of guilt for needing an hour or two away from your child.
  2. Blaming yourself and believing you lack the ability to parent well when your baby cries.
  3. Fearing that any decision you make about your baby’s care (breastfeeding, co-sleeping, cloth vs. disposable diapers, and so on) will have negative and permanent ramifications on your baby's development.
  4. Being overwhelmed by the need to "measure up" to unrealistic expectations you set for yourself.
  5. Believing that no matter how you try to balance your family, social, and professional lives, you will never "get it right."

When a mother gives birth in China, her mother and mother-in-law may swoop in and provide instrumental assistance to the new mother in the traditional custom of “doing the month.” During this period, her activities, diet, and emotional state are all the focus of regulation with a goal of helping the mother and child get off to a healthy start. Traveling just a little further around the globe, there is a somewhat similar practice followed in Japan. Called satogaeri childbirth, the practice involves the return of the new mother and her child to her parents’ home. Here, her own mother looks after the needs of the new mother and she passes along the skills of infant care. In Western countries, the time surrounding the labor and delivery period historically was termed the “lying-in” period and traditionally has been a time in which the mother is restricted to little beyond bed rest and remaining isolated with her newborn from the external world.

Unfortunately, today's geographical transience often places expectant couples far away from the supportive extended family network. With new parents having to figure out how to care for their newborn with no older, more experienced generation around to offer support and encouragement, jumping into parenthood can present a wealth of self-doubts, fears, and anxieties. And the anxieties can lead parents to feel incompetent in their ability to care for their child as they try to manage their lives outside and inside the home under the assumption that no successful parent would ever doubt their own parenting skills.

Many of us have trouble recognizing the sheer magnitude of the changes that our lives will undergo with the birth of a child. It could possibly be a little easier if you have ever babysat an infant for a weekend or cared for younger siblings. This may give you some idea of the challenges involved, but nothing is quite the same as being thrust into the role of parent and realizing that this new life is totally your responsibility.

It is going to be overwhelming, no matter what, but when we live in a world in which parents are practically encouraged to teach their newborn how to ready or keep their child from obesity by regulating feeding or potty train their child in a day, the opportunities for failure seem to multiply.

The most important thing to do if you feel that you are “not good enough” is to figure out just what “good enough” looks like. Then, take your expectations down a notch or two. There is a rule about packing a suitcase for a vacation – pack everything you think you want to take, then take out half of what you had included. This will be “enough” for the journey.

So, thinking of all the things that you want to do right for your child -- the right feeding schedule, the right amount of stimulation, the right amount of affection, the right day care, pre-school, school districts, sports team, music lessons, after-school activities, service opportunities, tutoring, SAT prep course, college, medical school, stock market options, investment strategies, and on and on….

Those last few items are so far over-the-top, but that is what some new parents might be thinking – they keep amping up the obligations they feel they have for their child and get so caught up in what they should be doing or might need to one day do that they forget that all that they need to do today is feed, clothe, and care for their baby.

Super Parent syndrome is driven by a society that spends too much time focused on output and production, rather than input and quality of product. New mothers desperately need to feel validated in their new role, but when they look around at social media sites or news stories, they see mothers who capture and memorialize their “Kodak moments” that are brief and fleeting. We see videos of the first smile, the first laugh, and the first step. No one posts a video of the 3-hour crying spell their 2-month-old experienced!

We also fall into the trap of thinking that everyone can be above average. This affects new parents in terms of developmental milestone tracking. Unfortunately, there is some child who is going to be in the 5th percentile of something – and when a new parent blames him or herself for their child’s absolutely normal developmental pace, they can be led quickly into the “I’m a failure because my child is average” mindset. New parents need to recognize that their child is definitely extraordinary to them, but doesn’t have to be anything but “ordinary” outside the house.

How to Mitigate your Suffering in 4 Easy Steps

  1. Accept that the craziness that a new baby brings into a home is a totally "normal" crazy and it's totally normal to suffer from the paralyzing fear that you may be unable to meet what seems to be the absolutely overwhelming demands of a new baby. The stress of caring for a newborn is unprecedented for most couples and it's normal to feel like you're drowning, in the beginning.
  2. Remember that your number one priority is focusing on the here-and-now, not the what-if's and what-then's. Happy babies happen when parents are attentive, meet the basic needs, and connect emotionally with their child.
  3. Remind yourself that most "choices" are just that -- "choices," not "mandates." Working, not working, infant enrichment activities or afternoon walks in the stroller, breast or bottle. These are all highly individual and personal decisions. Reinforcing with parents that their choices are the right choices for their family is helpful. Each parenting puzzle will have a unique-to-the-family solution.
  4. Finally, remember that no child can escape childhood without some taste of less-than-perfect parenting. Everyone is going to make a choice they may later wish they hadn’t. It may be wasting money on some well-advertised baby product that is no better than the generic version or wishing that they had taken just one more week off for maternity leave. Parenting is full of opportunities to get it right or miss the mark a bit. And every parent is going to miss the mark every once in a while. That is absolutely normal.

Some things are simply not "Big" Things: Get over It!

What matters most is not trying to impress your neighbors, your co-workers, or your Facebook friends; what matters most is being there for your child as best you can as often as you can and building a lasting bond with your child – and being able to accept that no parent is perfect, although you are totally the perfect parent for your child.

References

Holroyd, E., Lopez, V., & Chan, S. W. (2011). Negotiating “doing the month”: An ethnographic study examining the postnatal practices of two generations of Chinese women. Nursing and Health Sciences, 13, 47-52.

Leung, S. S. K., Arthur, D., & Martinson, I. M. (2005). Perceived stress and support of the Chinese postpartum ritual “doing the month.” Health Care for Women International, 26, 212-224.

Kobayashi, Y. (2010). Assistance received from parturients’ own mothers during ‘satogaeri’ (their perinatal visit and stay with their parents) and development of the mother-infant relationship and maternal identity. Journal of Japan Academy of Midwifery, 1, 28-39.