Psychologists often point out that parenthood can make deep and lasting changes to one’s personality, thanks to the many challenges and benefits it brings to one’s life. For instance, people tend to see the world as a more threatening place when they become parents. They also tend to adopt a more long-term decision making perspective.
Although nothing can truly prepare someone for the experience of parenthood, it doesn’t hurt to take a few notes from the latest research on the topic. Here are three parenting wisdoms from recent studies in psychology that can help new and old parents ‘perfect their craft,’ so to speak.
#1. Work on your levels of trust
Becoming a parent requires individuals to become more trusting of others. This is because raising children is impossible to do entirely on one’s own.
Research suggests that individuals who become parents experience a gradual increase in trust in the years following the transition into parenthood.
“Empirical studies on parenthood tend to paint a dark picture, showing that parenthood is associated with decreasing happiness, marital satisfaction, and self-esteem,” say the authors of the research, led by Olga Stavrova of Tilburg University in the Netherlands. “Our study points out some bright sides of parenthood, showing that it is associated with increasing trust — and trust is a positive trait, associated with many positive life outcomes.”
Not all parents are keen to approach the world from a more trusting point of view. People with serious trust issues prior to parenthood are more likely to resist the instinct to become more trusting after having children, which can have deleterious mental health consequences.
All parents should let more trust into their lives. Aside from the parenting benefits it will bring, people who express a lot of trust are generally more satisfied with life, they are less neurotic, more agreeable, have a stronger sense of control over what happens in their lives, and are in better physical health.
#2: Understand your relationship with perfectionism
A new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality explains how unhealthy levels of perfectionism pass from parent to child.
“We found that demanding, hyper-critical parents raise perfectionistic kids,” say the authors of the research. “In particular, hyper-critical, demanding, and controlling parents raise self-critical, demanding, and perfectionistic kids who feel other people are disappointed in them.”
Perfectionism, according to the researchers, derives from a myriad of different factors. Biological factors include genetics and temperament. One’s relationships with family, friends, teachers, and other socialization agents also matter. There are also societal and cultural pressures for perfection.
The authors offer the following advice for parents who might be inadvertently pushing their children towards perfection:
- Try to communicate to your child that you value them not only based on what they do but who they are
- Strive to be less controlling, critical, and overprotective of children
- Teach children to tolerate and learn from their mistakes
- Emphasize hard work and discipline over the pursuit of perfection
#3: Don’t ignore signs of parental burnout
Parental burnout is defined as a “unique and context-specific syndrome resulting from enduring exposure to chronic parenting stress.” Its primary symptom is overwhelming exhaustion relating to one’s role as a parent. Other symptoms include:
- Emotionally distancing from children
- Feeling fed up with parenting
- Losing one’s sense of accomplishment from parenting
To avoid parental burnout, research suggests a simultaneous approach of increasing resources and reducing risk factors. For instance, if parental chores are becoming overly burdensome, consider the help of a nursery. Or, if parental recommendations (for example, five fruits and vegetables per day, no television before age six, warm and positive parenting) are doing more harm than good, consider relaxing the notion of what it means to be a good parent. Simply put, identify your biggest caregiving stressors and take steps to build resources to help you make it through.
Conclusion: Becoming more trusting, being cautious about not pushing children toward unhealthy levels of perfectionism, and not being afraid to add resources that help lighten the parenting load are all good ways to perfect your parenting craft.