Parenting: It’s a journey.

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 8.16.22

Anyone who is a parent can tell you that it’s not as easy as you thought it would be. And every parent has journeys and stories to tell, starting from the day their children were born and extending into a lifetime of parenting ups and downs. For parents, often some of the most rewarding and inspirational moments of their lives can come from their children, while at the same time some of the biggest challenges and heartbreaks are related to their children. How does one navigate the parenting journey?

The absolute joy of welcoming a new baby into your life is too great for words. New parents often experience an overwhelming sense of love and commitment that permanently takes root. As we explore the parenting journey, our focus is going to be on some of the challenges, and this upcoming series of posts will offer tips for parents over the next month. However, please note that it is the love, joy and commitment that most new parents experience is the strongest component of parenting and provides the inspiration to strive to do the best you can for your children.

Raising the little ones: The early years.

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During the youngest years, parents are faced with small but significant decisions every day. Naptimes, feeding schedules, doctor visits, day care, preschool. In these early childhood days there are so many things to think about and many decisions do not seem easy. This can also be a time of high stress for new parents: Is my child meeting all the developmental milestones? Is my child forming positive attachments? Is my child healthy and safe? Am I doing everything right? When will I ever have time to myself again?

Not only do parents worry about milestones and basic care, there are also demands on parents to support and encourage social development and growth. In the early years, parents may find that they are spending time organizing play dates, joining interactive classes (library programs, Gymboree classes, Kindermusik, etc.), and enrolling young children in preschool or other structured early childhood educational experiences.

Unfortunately, parents who experience stress do not seek support, even from friends and family. While new parents do experience stress quite regularly, a recent survey found that 71% of new parents don’t want to ask for help, primarily because they are worried about being judged.

Parenting stress for new parents is quite normal. However, for some parents this does even further. In a 2015 poll found that 2 out of 5 new parents report issues such as depression or anxiety. Despite this, only 46% of parents who experience these actually seek professional support.

It is important and helpful to use published resources to help guide you during the parenting journey. As you seek these resources, though, it is also very important to reach out for help, support, and encouragement from other people during these early years.

The School Years

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The next phase of the journey for parents involves making choices about school. In some areas, there is the option for “School of Choice”, where students can go to any number of public schools within their area. Many locales also have charter schools, which are free for families but may offer more appealing programs. Private or religious schools may also be an option for some families. And in some cases, homeschooling may be the top choice.

In addition to the choices about education and schooling, there are other parenting updates during these years. Parent-supported play dates start to fade as children want to spend time with their friends with increasing levels of independence. With the gradual moves towards social independence, parents may have mixed feelings. On one hand, it allows parents more time for themselves and their other responsibilities. On the other hand, there may be some reluctance to step back, or some stress about safety (for example, wondering of your child will be safe going over to a friend’s house without you there to keep an eye on things).

During the school years, parents are also faced with increasingly complicated decisions about discipline and instilling responsibility and values. How do you encourage and reward positive behaviors, and how you discourage and consequence negative ones? How do you promote responsibility and strong values? And finally, how do you navigate the world of technology? Video game content, screen time limits, when to let your child have an smartphone and what controls will you place on the device? Each of these decisions will impact your child’s cognitive, emotional and social development. So. while the stress has changed form, it is still there.

It is important again to look to reputable published resources for guidance during the school years. It is also important to focus on your family values and building a strong relationship with open communication and respect between yourself and your children.

The Teen Years

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Many parents look to the teen years with some trepidation. This is a phase of development when your children are ready to test the waters of independence, and also to test the limits at home. This is an age where the influence of peers exceeds the influence of parents, which can lead to conflict. This is also a time when oversight becomes more complicated, especially with the dawn of social media, online gaming, and online influencers who capture the attention of youth and literally influence them. This is also the time when dating becomes more of a topic, and parents have to carefully navigate the role of setting boundaries while keeping the lines of communication open.

At this stage there are also opportunities to strengthen parent-child relationships. There seem to be some people who think parenting support can fade during the teen years, but this is a time when secure, supportive and stable relationships with parents are critical. This is a good time to spend time with your teenager doing things they enjoy, finding out more about what they are learning and what interests they have, attending sporting events or performances, and providing opportunities for them to have friends over. These will all help foster positive relationships and trust.

Parents should also look to resources to help with navigating boundaries for teens when it comes to screens. One such resource is Children and Screens, which offers events, newsletters and tips on how to help children and teens navigate the digital world safely.

As challenging as parenting is for all parents, it is also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling roles one can experience. Over the next few weeks, watch for posts with tips for each of these phases!

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