The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

Parental Anxiety: It Goes with the Territory

Authored by Robert Noone, Ph. D.

The birth of a child gives birth to the hopes and dreams of parents, hopes that their child will grow to live an interesting and fulfilling life. Alongside hope lies fear of threats, large and small. Worry about the health and safety of one’s child is a natural part of parenting, but concern about children has increased in recent decades.  Parents seem less sure of themselves, concerned they are not doing enough to meet the needs of their children. Our child-oriented culture contributes to this anxiety with endless admonitions to be more involved. The problems parents are told to be on the lookout for have expanded exponentially along with a myriad of suggested “solutions”.

Heightened anxiety can lead to an erosion of parental confidence and loss of clarity about roles and responsibilities. Anxiety about one’s child can result in more tension in the relationship and exacerbate problems which may exist. It can also make it more difficult to hold the line when needed or to tolerate a child’s discomfort when dealing with age appropriate challenges. Allowing a child to become more separate and responsible for self is one of the major parental challenges. But the pressures parents experience to be more involved in their child’s life can make this more difficult.

The concept of differentiation of self and the study of one’s own multigenerational family provides a way to counter the societal and family pressures to be more involved with one’s child. It can provide some clarity about when over-involvement can constrain a child’s innate interest in his or her own growth. Being a responsible parent is not always intuitive and can take a thoughtful effort towards distinguishing between the realistic needs of the child and one’s own anxiety to grow the child for the child.

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