Why Do So Many Parents Feel Anxious?
The pressure we put on our kids to succeed may reflect our own economic anxiety
Posted Dec 02, 2015
If you have kids, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about their future, trying to decide when to push them to try harder and when to back off.
We read about Tiger Moms who send their kids to Harvard or Carnegie Hall, and we might think, "Should I have done more?
We also hear about the sometimes tragic effects of parents' efforts to launch their children toward success and we think, "Thank goodness that's not my family."
As a mother myself, and as a psychologist who specializes in families, I am deeply familiar with these questions.
But when we think about the problem in this individualistic way—how best to provide for my child—we ignore larger socioeconomic and political circumstances that make families insecure and push the drive to succeed into overdrive.
Wages for most Americans are stagnating. Health care and a college education are not a universal right, but a personal expense. Almost every family fears—and many also experience—economic hardship.
With very few safety nets, families have to fend for themselves. Understandably, parents are anxious.
So it's not surprising that many well-meaning parents push kids toward what they hope will ensure a secure future; good grades, top colleges, and prestigious jobs. But we can't assure a secure future for our kids by pushing them to achieve more.
Instead, we need a shift in our thinking: from anxiety to empathy, from me to us.
Rather than trying to relieve our anxiety about the future by focusing on our own families, we would be better served by using our resources to make things better for everyone.
Research shows that countries with the greatest well-being and economic success have the most involved citizens and economic equality, plus strong social safety nets. In these happiest countries, people work together to create public institutions that benefit everyone.
So if what we really want for our kids is well-being and a secure future, let's stop focusing so intently on our own children and think about everyone's children.
Instead of pressuring our kids to do more, we should be pressuring our politicians.
This blog post was also broadcast on KQED Public Radio on November 30, 2015.
Dr. Reischer is a psychologist and author of "What Great Parents Do: The small Book of BIG Parenting Ideas" (forthcoming, Tarcher/Penguin Random House).