### Escaping the Parenting ShouldStorm: Are You Feeling Trapped?

Kirk Cameron/Unsplash

Source: Kirk Cameron/Unsplash

We reside in a society that promotes children and scrutinizes parents. While everyone desires the best for their children, how can one confront their own expectations and the critique—whether real or perceived—that accompanies modern-day parenting? I consulted with Alison Escalante, a pediatrician and fellow contributor to Psychology Today, to explore how parents can navigate the challenging landscape of fulfilling their child’s needs amidst a culture where other parents are relentlessly pushing for their children to achieve more and excel further.

Q: What is the concept behind the ShouldStorm parents are faced with today?

A: The term “ShouldStorm” was coined to describe the high-pressure environment of criticism and anxiety that fuels perfectionistic parenting in our society. Culture encompasses the beliefs and behaviors that a community accepts as norms. It influences our social circles, both online and offline, as well as the plethora of parenting resources available such as blogs, articles, and books. The ShouldStorm dictates opinions on every aspect of parenting, often presenting conflicting directives. It dictates what parents should or should not do, warning of dire consequences if these expectations are not met. Consequently, parents internalize these “shoulds,” leading to feelings of anxiety and shame induced by the ShouldStorm residing in their minds. This constant pressure results in parents approaching their parental duties from a standpoint of anxious apprehension about meeting the perceived standards.

Q: Your book, Sigh, See, Start: How to Be the Parent Your Child Needs in a World that Won’t Stop Pushing _, proposes a solution. Is this approach feasible for most parents?

A: The primary motivation behind writing this book was to offer a straightforward parenting method. As a pediatrician and a young mother myself, I struggled to find a simple yet effective approach to parenting due to my busy and overwhelmed state. The three-step “Sigh, See, Start” technique was developed to be concise and memorable, allowing parents to implement it even in the midst of challenging situations. Just as we recall “stop, drop, and roll” in case of a fire, “Sigh, See, Start” serves as a practical tool to navigate heated parenting moments.

Q: What transpires when a parent initiates the “Sigh” step, the initial move towards liberating themselves from the ShouldStorm?

A: Sighing is a rapid method to soothe our nervous systems. By exhaling slowly, sighing activates the vagus nerve in the autonomic nervous system, transitioning us from a state of fight or flight to a more composed state. This shift is crucial as our rational thinking diminishes when we are upset and reactive. Sighing aids in reactivating the parts of our brain responsible for sound decision-making.

Q: How should parents implement the “See” and “Start” stages in your methodology?

A: See: It involves observing the situation and your child. Are they content? On the verge of tears? Clenched in anger? Seeing is not just about visual perception but about mindful observation—acknowledging the present circumstances without an immediate urge to intervene or impose expectations. This mindful moment allows us to truly understand our child rather than projecting our internal dialogue onto the situation.

Start: Following observation, the next step is to listen and contemplate an appropriate response. Does your child need a comforting embrace? Some personal space? Another form of support? A valuable approach is sometimes to do nothing initially. For individuals inclined to react impulsively, allowing a moment of pause can be beneficial. The essence of starting lies in the process of learning—gathering insights on what strategies are effective or ineffective. It shifts the focus from striving for perfection to embracing the journey of parenthood as an experimental process. This shift in perspective alleviates anxiety, fostering a sense of confidence in one’s evolving parenting skills.

Q: What are the repercussions when a parent and child succumb to the ShouldStorm and adopt perfectionistic parenting practices?

Constantly striving for perfection and fretting over perceived failures as parents can be immensely distracting. By fixating on meeting societal expectations, we risk sacrificing our joy and undermining the fundamental need for genuine connection with our children. The “Sigh, See, Start” method redirects attention away from unrealistic standards, enabling parents to engage with their children authentically, fostering a sense of openness and attentiveness that nurtures a deep bond. It is this feeling of security, knowing they have a parent who is genuinely invested in understanding them, that holds the true power of parenting. Ultimately, our objective as parents is to guide our children towards a fulfilling and healthy life, and it is the quality of connection they share with us that paves the way for this journey.

THE BASICS

Copyright @2024 by Susan Newman, Ph.D.