Mom of the Year

By Sara Vigneri

I thought that once my kids were old enough to feed and bathe themselves, my job as a mom would get exponentially easier. What I didn’t anticipate was sleepaway camp.

Last spring, my almost thirteen year-old daughter decided that she needed to check ‘sleepaway camp’ off her bucket list. Being a supportive mom I thought, sure, why not? I gritted my teeth as I wrote the LARGE check for one month of camp. Then I groaned as we shopped our way through the camp’s suggested packing list. And then I grumbled as I tried to shove the suggested packing list worth of stuff into the two bags they allow you to bring to camp. But, after squeezing everything (including my two daughters) into my tiny Honda, we began our trek to camp and I figured the worst was behind me. But amidst all the frustration of getting my daughter to camp, I completely misjudged how hard it would be to leave her there. After I hauled all her stuff out of my trunk, gave her a hug, and was shooed off the campgrounds by some pushy (but friendly) counselors, I let out a big breath and then promptly started sobbing. My younger daughter was either terrified of my tears or irritated by my behavior because she immediately put on her headphones and ignored me.

It was at that moment that I realized I lost control over my eldest daughter’s life. If she ate chocolate for breakfast every day and forgot to wear sunscreen, there was nothing I could do. If she was sad and lonely and the girls at camp were mean to her, I couldn’t give her advice or support. If she wanted to wear belly shirts, I couldn’t send her to her room to change into something decent. She was out of my control for the next month, and possibly forever. And I could not deal with it. Looking back at that reaction I started to wonder if my parenting style bordered on over-protective and controlling (I can imagine my husband nodding his head vigorously as I write this).

So I decided to take an online Parenting Style Test on Psychology Today’s website (take the test yourself at The test aims to categorize you on a scale of the four standard parenting styles: Authoritative (‘my way or the highway’ parenting); Authoritarian (rules are enforced but kids are given room to express themselves); Permissive (kids rule the roost) and Uninvolved (i.e. neglectful). Forty-two questions later, I was given a score of 45 out of 100 on the Perfect Parent meter. The test results claimed that I “may understand the urge to be a highly involved and nearly perfect parent” but that I “know that trying to raise children in a faultless manner is next to impossible.” They then add that people who try to be perfect parents “risk stressing themselves out – in addition to the rest of their family – because of their constant struggle for perfection.” I felt like someone had just said ‘no, you don’t look fat’ after I simply said ‘do you like my new dress?’ I mean, when did I ever say I wanted to be a perfect parent?

But the strive for perfection among parents isn’t uncommon nor is it unfounded. “As parents we’re impacting another person’s life and many generations to follow,” says Shel Dougherty, a certified Parenting and Family Coach who teaches the 5-week parenting program: Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB). “This is a big job!”

According to Psychology Today, research has shown children who grow up in households where there is too much or too little discipline are at risk of developing low self-esteem and disciplinary problems, which can lead to depression and anxiety as they become adults. When we gaze into the eyes of our tiny newborn babies, we want to imagine them growing up healthy, well-adjusted and happy. The thought that their fate rests entirely in our hands is terrifying.

And this pressure to raise successful and happy children can often turn well-meaning parents into tiger moms, helicopter parents or attachment parents – parents who obsess over every detail of their child’s life. But in the end, the person most harmed by the overprotective parent, is probably the parent, not the child. “Every child is on their own journey and the only person we can ultimately control is ourselves,” says Dougherty. “If we’re too attached to how our children turn out, we may find ourselves pretty disappointed when they don’t meet our expectations.”

In other words, most kids are going to grow up just fine, with or without your constant interventions. You, on the other hand, need to survive the journey as well. The secret? “More love and happiness in the here and now,” says Dougherty. “Less attachment to how they turn out and more attention to what we’re modeling to our children in the moment.”

I, for one, intend to take a break from obsessively checking my daughter’s Facebook page to give her a hug and tell her how proud I am of the person she’s become.

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