MindShift Interview With Barbara Fredrickson
What Does “Smart Motherhood” Look Like?
Photo by MindShift
For nearly 40 years, Stanford psychology professor and social work dean Barbara Fredrickson has been researching how and why parents and families bond with their children. Her book, What’s Working: When Parents Gain Ground through Children, is the most recent of these studies. In a recent interview with MindShift, she shared what she has learned about a range of challenges, including overparenting, intergenerational conflict, overinvolved grandparents, identity formation and the concerns of working moms and dads.
What do you think about parenting in the 21st century?
Parents do a terrific job being real with their children, present, engaged, helping, sometimes very stressful. The biggest thing we’re seeing is the amount of pressure to be too smart. Kids hear about smarter parents and smart kids. For example, your kid will never know you’re too stressed out to do their homework, so you pull out your smartphone and do it for them! The risk is that kids think you’re smart for telling them you’re working on homework, not smart for being there! Many of my research findings reflect this interest in working too hard, instead of planning ahead with parent-child agreements about what to do with the homework, chores, etc.
What do you mean by “smart” parents, and what is overparenting?
What are smart parents, exactly? I say smart parents because they are good at being engaged with their children. Great parents remember dates and holidays. They engage in “pull ups” to mark important milestones in a child’s life. They choose sports and activities that take up time to emphasize school accomplishments or physical activity. They provide engaging discussions that are grounded in understanding about important social behaviors. But they also play keep away with a valuable resource for their children: their time. In my experience, parents who play keep away and give their children lots of reasons why they can’t participate in activities rarely have as fulfilling of a life as parents who learn to collaborate with their children.
What are overprotective parents?
Overprotective parents are the one who tell their children they can’t have things or who require their children to wear specific kinds of clothing to school, for example. They have unrealistic expectations. They’re concerned about health because they have known more people in their lives who died in ways they find frightening. Their children are afraid because they have grown up with narratives of nuclear warfare and war, of torture and wars. These parents do not understand the wholeness of children; they must protect them from the risk of worry and pain. They don’t let children problem solve because they have feared what children will do if the stakes are higher.
What do you think about parents who say they are getting younger, and their children are getting older?
Because of the time crunch, many parents provide their kids with too much structure. They put children on meds, restrict their movements, respond to signs of aggression with verbal threats and physical violence. They are intensely present, but their children are not independent. They are overprotected and underparented.
What about parenthood as a whole?
With all that you do, with all that you expect from your children, with all that you have available to you—what is the value of parenthood? When you ask your parents when they were a good parent, they’ll say they were a good parent, and they were reliable. They were available. They wanted to help. They stayed connected to their children. They experienced their own joys and feelings, and were able to access their own identity and struggles. Those qualities are lacking in too many families.
Have you ever met an overparent?
From a very early age I lived in a family that was so involved, so dynamic and engaged with my needs and experiences that I was naturally aware of how my parents cared about me.
More about Learning and Parenting at The Conversation
Photo by MindShift
Betsy and Douglas Anderson provide thought-provoking insight on parenting that elicits insightful conversation. Stay in touch with their twice monthly parenting community Conversations for Meaning: HomeParenting.