I received a call to give a lecture to a group of parents who are dealing with anxiety.

“What are they anxious about?”

“Everything,” was the response.

The next day the front page of the New York Times said, “Stress, Exhaustion and Guilt: Modern Parenting.” What’s going on in our homes?

The article describes parents who, regardless of their economic situation, are constantly monitoring their children. There is tremendous anxiety trying to get children to climb higher and ensure that their children succeed or at least do as well as their parents financially. But for the first time it’s likely that the next generation will be less prosperous than their parents. And this worries parents. Trying to get their children into after school activities, the right high schools and colleges, and paying for tutors or being sure that high grades are achieved through constant overseeing is taking a hard toll. Parenting is grinding. Parents are getting worn out.

We’ve morphed from hovering helicopter parents to anxious parents who are consumed. Researchers say that the high expectations have permeated all segments of society. It begins in utero with a constant influx of what which foods and products to avoid. Parents are presented with baby monitors that record a child’s every move and whimper, pressure to make homemade baby food, sugar free snacks, classes for tots, and the stress to continuously keep up with classmates that only increases with time.

When children are given the opportunity to play freely and have leisure time they build social skills, emotional security and executive functions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in parents’ rooms for a year (!) and when children view a video or children’s television, shows should be co-viewed for maximum learning. Parents should not leave children alone while they prepare dinner or converse together. The message is that activities are best when they are experienced by both parents and children simultaneously. Adult conversation and time together between husband and wife suffers.

Of course family time is valued but there must be a balance that is found.

What is the effect of this constant contact on children?

Psychologists and others have warned that our children’s over-dependence on parents and hyper-intensive mothers and fathers have produced kids who are living with more anxiety. They are less satisfied with their lives. They are filled with stress. When children are given the opportunity to play freely and have leisure time they build social skills, emotional security and executive functions.

The Real Issue

There is more going on here than the pressure of increased time and monitoring of children by their parents.

FOMO – fear of missing out – through comparative living on social media had caused tremendous damage to our family life. Parents feel inadequate when others post their children’s accomplishments, trophies, college acceptance letters and star roles in dance productions or on the soccer team. Photos of vacations, sports events, shopping expeditions and cool concerts pressure parents to prove to themselves that they, too, are great parents who can give it all to their kids.

Mothers and fathers worry that they are not doing enough, providing enough, investing enough. Regardless of education, income or race, a new study has shown that parents feel that the most hands-on and expensive choices are best. Social media only fuels the fire.

Parents exhibit their own insecurities that trickle down to children. Why must we post our inner lives for the world to see? Why are vacations more enjoyable if we take the world with us? Why must we boast about high marks, gifts of jewelry, expensive new sneakers or evenings out? We cannot base our lives on the life that others live. Counting other people’s blessings prevents us from seeing our own.

The Toll on Mothers

All this stress has especially taken the greatest toll on moms. Though fathers have increased their participation in children’s lives, the real expectation falls on mothers. The time that women spend trying to help their children keep up is coming at the expense of sleep, time invested with partners, friendship, leisure activities and taking care of household needs. The pull between career and time spent with children can also produce great angst.

The power of a mother’s love is more valuable than any after school activity, technology or pair of sneakers money can buy. Living with a stressed out parent, no matter how hard she is working to maximize a child’s experiences, frays the bond between parent and child. Better to stop comparing and making sure that we are keeping up than sending a message to children that our self-worth is intertwined to other parents posts that we keep checking.

Be authentic to the type of parent you believe you should be. Be true to the experiences you wish your child to have; not because someone else decided it’s the thing to do. Reflect on a woman’s true mission in a home: to imbue each child with a sense of being, a purpose, a life legacy, as she transmits her mother’s milk of faith. Don’t fall into the trap of pressure, exhaustion or guilt. Parenting can be the most magical and joyful experience – if we allow it.

Take a moment of introspection to ponder your parenting journey. Don’t look back at these years with regret because you were caught up with everyone else’s desires. Live your life, know your children’s needs, see your blessings and build a home filled with love. Leave the stress and guilt behind.