Ever Wonder Why Parenting Is Just So Hard?
Some days parenting feels easy. Everything goes as planned and you and your kiddos get from wake-up to bedtime without any major injuries or meltdowns or crises. Other days though, parenting feels hard.
There are the days when most things go right but you’re left with the nagging feeling you didn’t answer that major life question quite right or wondering if you’re doing all you can to help your child become their best self. And there are days when everything seems to go wrong, from a rushed and cranky morning, to a fitful lunchtime, all the way through to a tantrum at bedtime. Days like that can leave you wondering why parenting feels just so, well, hard.
It turns out that parenting feels hard because of a couple of simple reasons related to the ways our brains work and learn. While it’s true that some of the difficulty of parenting comes from the fact that we love our little creatures more than life itself but absolutely hate cleaning up little bits of food from the floor after every meal, there are real scientific reasons that parenting feels harder than just about any other job we could choose. Let’s look at why the way we learn new skills makes parenting feel as tough as it often does.
Parenting is not one skill
While we might think of parenting as one global topic, in reality, it’s hundreds and hundreds of skills that must come together to make us effective parents. Some skills are easy to master while others … not so much.
Think about it: it usually only takes people a few tries to become diaper changing masters but it can take a lifetime to get good at helping a small person manage their emotions or to effectively deal with a mid-meal meltdown.
To be effective at most jobs we need to develop a whole set of skills and, the more skills required, the more difficult it is to feel good at it. Because parenting requires us to learn so many different skills it can often feel much more difficult than our 9:00-5:00 which requires a narrower skill set.
It takes up to six years to get great at something
Studies have shown that it can take up to six years of consistent practice to get good at something. By this measure, we might think that, by the time our child is six, we’d be parenting experts. This line of thinking makes sense until we consider the fact that parenting is an ever-evolving task and that we haven't had six years to master being the parent of a six-year-old rather, we had a few months to practice being the parent of a newborn, a few years to practice being the parent of a toddler and only a year, by the close of their sixth year, to practice being the parent of a six-year-old.
Add to this the fact that children change and develop rapidly even as we call them ‘toddlers’ for years and it becomes clear that it’s simply not possible to put in the time necessary to feel like an expert with any single child.
There is no mentor
Adult brains learn best when they have someone they respect and admire to learn from, this is why mentoring programs are so popular within large scale, successful companies. In parenting though, there is no mentor.
While parents may have other adults — sometimes their own parents, sometimes friends or acquaintances — whose parenting practices they admire greatly, they often find that they can’t emulate these practices because the practices they so admire were developed for a totally different child with a totally different set of personality traits, challenges, and strengths.
While it would certainly be helpful, there’s simply no mentor who can model, with expertise, how to parent someone else's child.
The stakes are high and control is low
We all learn best when we’re not overly stressed. Unfortunately, parenting is one job that includes all the ingredients for a high-stress situation because the stakes are extremely high and our control is often woefully low.
While we have control over our parenting choices we don’t have control over the people they most deeply impact: our children. No matter how great our bedtime or mealtime or morning routine is there’s simply not a way to force another human to sleep or eat or move faster if they don’t want to. To further add to the stress, we often don’t know which parenting decisions will be inconsequential and which ones will deeply and formatively shape our children's futures. This mix of high-stress ingredients can make even low-key parenting days feel challenging.
So, if you often end the day feeling like you’re not as good at parenting as you’d like to be, rest assured that, because of the way our brains work and learn, it’s not possible for anyone to be an expert. One important thing to remember though? Kids don’t need experts. Science tells us that generally, all kids need to find a happy equilibrium is some solid boundaries, a receptive, warm parent and unconditional love. And those are all things you can master today.