Parenting Anxiety and Why We Worry

I’m back! It’s been a minute. It’s been a busy year to say the least. Along with starting a new job, I’ve also been working on publishing my research on children coding and parent confidence around STEM media. I’m happy to have both papers published and ready to get back to writing my blog for you!

Although the past year has indeed been busy, I can’t blame my lack of writing completely on time. Over the past few months, I’ve been reading articles and talking to friends to try to understand what information they look for on parenting. 

Instead of discovering topics of interest to them, however, the parent friends I spoke with expressed feeling inadequate or anxious about their role as a caregiver. One friend told me about how she would look for parenting information online and then find other information that she “didn’t want to know but now can’t unknow” because it made her worry more. Another friend told me that she felt like everything she did would potentially “mess him [her son] up for life.”

Despite my initial intentions to empower parents with research-backed information, I started to think my blog posts were part of the problem. When I thought back to some of them, I could see how a worried parent could read and think, I’m not doing enough. I feared that I was making parents feel small and inadequate—the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do.

Anxiety around parenting is not new, but it does seem to be heightened. We live in the age of information, where every parenting question can be answered by reading the right books or joining a Facebook group or Google searching frantically at 2 a.m. 

With the “answer” being one click away, it’s no wonder that parents worry constantly if they’re doing it right. Unlike previous generations that learned by trial and error, parents today feel like because they can know the right answer, they should know the right answer—if they want to be good parents. 

One parent told me that knowing too much information made her helicopter-y. “It breeds the wrong idea about what your job as a parent is,” she told me.

Economist Emily Oster has leveraged the plethora of data we have on parenting and pregnancy and written extensively on these topics. As an expecting mother when she wrote her first book, she wanted to know what the research said about parenting topics, like eating sushi when pregnant. In her most-recent book, Cribsheet, Oster summarizes the research literature and delivers parenting suggestions based on what we know (and don’t know) from the data. 

But what Oster also discovered in her research—and wrote about in this article—is that many topics, like breastfeeding, were loaded with parental anxiety, judgement and guilt. Along with being able to easily access information, we also can easily peer into someone else’s life and judge them for how they parent. In part, parenting anxiety comes from parents knowing that they’re going to be evaluated by others for doing something that is perceived as wrong.

While the fear that I was contributing to parenting anxiety initially stopped me from writing, learning more about the worries that parents face motivated me to pick it back up. My goal has always been to empower parents with information, but part of empowering parents is encouraging them to take care of themselves so that they can be effective parents. 

As I ease back into writing for you, I want to be more mindful about the challenges parents face today. More than ever, guilt, worry and anxiety taint parenting experiences. I think one step forward would be to invite parents to do what they need to do to take care of themselves—even if it doesn’t look like good parenting. 

You can turn the TV on when you’re home alone with your child and haven’t seen another adult in 12 hours. Even if the TV show isn’t educational, I bet you’ll be a more present, happier and effective parent after having a break.  

I don’t have a solution for fighting parenting anxiety, but I hope parents find solstice in knowing why they might feel guilty and worried on a daily basis. 

At the very least, I want parents to know they’re not alone.