These six things make being a ‘good parent’ impossible

The following is an excerpt from Impossible Parenting: Creating a New Culture of Mental health issues for Parents by Olivia Scobie. Copyright( c) 2020 Olivia Scobie. Reprinted with the permission of Dundurn Press.

Parents are well aware of the problematic nature of today’s parenting culture, and they’re typically able to identify the overwhelming themes as contradictory and hilarious. We poke fun at “good parenting” principles and the judgements and competition that comes with them. The esteem of movies and demo such as Bad Moms, Workin’ Moms, or The Letdown, and websites like Scary Mommy, suggests that we understand that we’re overdoing it. We can chortle about our fixation with developmental milestones and our competitiveness around things like lunch-box art. Unfortunately, while jeering it might be easy, causing go of the internal expectations to be a excellent mother is a far greater challenge.

A 2014 study about the effects of intensive-mothering sends found that while mothers can see the intrinsic problems of setting this golden better standards of good parenting, we are actually working harder than ever before to try to achieve it. Mothers I working in collaboration with often shows this contradictory feeling of “I know better but I can’t seem to do better or feel better.”

The rules of parenting are moving targets, and since I firstly became a mother fifteen years ago, I’ve watched intensive-mothering expectancies morph and become even more impossible to achieve. While the goal of a “happy, health, and successful” outcome for children is not unique to our epoch, the number of resources required to achieve it is unprecedented and parents’ efforts toward it are more most investigated than ever. Parents in the 1980 s might have felt pressure to make sure their children were eating fairly vegetables, but now we’re expected to give children a exhaustive nutrition of organic food that’s cooked at home, and ideally gluten- and sugar-free as well. We still look to parenting experts, but the amount of information available to us is contradictory and always reforming, starting it hard for us to know what to trust. And with the increase of the internet and social media, the insinuate details of our lives are now witnessed publicly in a manner that is they never were before.

Western parenting culture is now dominated by a parenting ideology that I call absurd parenting. Hopeless parenting has its roots in the core concepts of intensive mothering that requirement child-centred homes, research-based decisions, and continuous responsiveness. But now that is no longer fairly, and parents are also expected to obsess over state and risk reluctance, hyperfocus their attention on psychological outcomes, and ensure everyone know-hows gratitude and joy along the way. And all of it must be demonstrated on social media, because in many ways parenting has become a lifestyle brand that is in line with whatever parish subculture you want to belong to, such as attachment parents, free-range parents, monster parents, or feminist mothers. While all communities understands impossible-parenting standards slightly differently, there was still six core values that underpin this new culture–and they’re obligating it impossible for parents today to succeed.


Sacrifice has long been connected to the concept of parenting, and there is a certain amount of personal sacrifice involved. How we waste our times, vigour, and sources of finance alters dramatically once we have children, particularly in the early years. This is normal. But when groups of parents come together, a competitive edge sometimes slithers into the conversation about how much we have suffered. While I think this is because we want so badly to have our relinquish recognized and confirmed, it can often show up as a scoot to the bottom: who’s the most tired, who had the worst recovery from birth, who are required to soothe a screaming baby for the longest.

I knowledge a austere precedent of this myself when I participated in an invasive medical study when my children were very young and I was very poor. I didn’t have enough money to buy them Christmas endowments, so I climbed at the opportunity to reach $400 for having my blood depicted every thirty minutes while in a CT scanner. In the end, it prompted a claustrophobic response and I quietly suffered through a two-hour-long panic attack. I was so traumatized that when it was all over I couldn’t regulate my heart rate. When I started to tell people what had happened in the days that followed, I wasn’t met with outrage, or expressed support for how I’d felt the need to endure this traumatizing procedure. Instead I was met with admire — so much kudo — about what a good baby I was to give their own children the beautiful Christmas they deserved.

Unfortunately, we do receive subtle( and not-so-subtle) senses that reinforce the idea that the more we sacrifice, the more we demo our cherish for our children. This is obviously a untrue joining, and it can lead us to make our physical and mental health in jeopardy. Telling people that they’re better parents if they suffer more can artificially improve their parenting confidence, creating a sick cycle of payoffs for( often unnecessary) sacrifice. This sacrifice/ love round emphasizes the meaning that good families are child-centred, as opposed to a family-centred philosophy where every family member’s needs thing equally.


There’s an increasing amount of pressing for mothers to “get it right” with children in the early years, with fuzzy suggestions that there could be devastating consequences if you don’t follow the rules of parenting experts. Or not-so-vague reminders, as in Bowlby’s threats of possible adult delinquency or psychopathy for children who don’t manage to secure attachment before age 5. During my first year of parenting, the Ontario government reeled out a campaign that used the motto “The Years Before Five Last the Rest of “Peoples lives”, ” which advocated for attachment parenting practices and early learning strategies as the best way to set your children up for social and academic success later in life. It was probably the most terrifying meaning that I, a good, depressed mother with a high-needs baby, could have received. I attended some of the free categories offered, which left me anxiously flip-flopping between trying to get my baby to watch Baby Einstein videos or stare into my looks while I fed him, and feeling like there was no point because I had surely previously shambled him up.

Parents start investing in their children’s future during pregnancy( food and lifestyle conversions) and it continues with birth( stressing the potential benefits of the vaginal microbiome and immediate skin-to-skin ). Anxiety continues to grow as brand-new mothers try to figure out what to do with their babies’ sleeping/ ingesting/ works/ fraternizing to ensure they are smart/ self-confident/ social/ healthy.

One of the biggest challenges is that you are expected to parent in several timelines. You have to parent the child you have in front of you, with all the day-to-day problem solving that requires your immediate attention( e.g ., feed them when they’re hungry ); you’re expected to parent for the child you want( e.g ., situate bounds and manage tantrums ); and you’re likewise somehow required to parent a child that will turn into an impressive adult( e.g ., school them chimed mores ). It is certainly dicey and complex! Not to mention that doing so belies the parenting advice about just “being present” or “being in the moment” with “their childrens”. You need to leave the park in the next ten minutes so you can make it home in time to give the baby lunch, otherwise they won’t go down for their nap on time, which means they won’t sleep well at night, which means they will be cranky tomorrow. So much of parenting involves preventive scheduling, constructing it difficult, if not impossible, lives in the moment all the time.

There has also been an intense boom of classifies for children in recent years, including music years, push categories, yoga world-class, and communication world-class such as baby sign language trends for children that don’t have hearing or oral communication disabilities. One of the goals of baby sign language seems to be to help parents meet their babies’ needs even more efficiently, as we have very little tolerance for dissatisfied babies. The notion that children need additional world-class to develop the skills they need for life continues to grow in popularity. Parenting researcher Linda Rose Ennis argues that it’s really a highway for working parents to alleviate their guilt by devoting them a room to aid and entertain their children without being present. Of track , not all mothers have access to the same amount of term or financial resources to invest in their children, which can have a negative impact on their parenting identity.


Parenting itself is scary and fitted with unknowns, but impossible-parenting culture is laden with horrors. Mothers are attacked with senses about all the ways their children might be in physical or emotional hazard, and much like the invest up front messages, this begins with the birthrate process. Every client I’ve had in their thirties has shared frights about trying to conceive after age thirty-five. During pregnancy, we are given a long list of does( eat organic, watch your calorie intake, and move your person) and don’ts( down sushi, unpasteurized diary, sugar, handled meats, coffee, or booze) to prevent you from mischief your fetus. These fears can become all-consuming for parties with a history of loss.

These horrors intensify formerly we satisfy “their childrens”. Concerns about sudden infant death syndrome( SIDS) are what I be informed about the most from expectant mothers. I’ve likewise convened parents desperately afraid of poor attachment, baby carriers, infant flat intelligence, allergies, vehicle sets — there seems to be no end to what might menace a minuscule babe. Researcher Solveig Brown’s study of maternal panic found that mothers are also very afraid of the impact the outside world will have on their children, quoting rising suspicions about screens and social media, good relationships with peers, fitting in at institution, abduction, molestation, illness, refuge, form persona, and healthy attires, along with nervousness about drinking, copulation, and drugs. That’s a ponderous feeling load for parents to carry! Then you add to that the ever-growing need to process anxiety related to cataclysmic horrors, such as climate change, food and financial defence, struggle, terrorism, police inhumanity, and tyrannical government policies — particularly for racialized, marginalized, and outsider categories. I’ve found that these suspicions are directly correlated to postpartum anxiety. This has no doubt been true-blue for frights related to the most recent pandemic.

While these fears are valid, it’s also true-life that purveyors leverage parenting horrors to sell makes by reinforcing words that children are innocent, priceless, helpless, and persistently in danger. With the rise of parenting experts and research-based parenting, and more access to trauma narrations than ever before, vigilant monitoring of children had significantly increased, ensuing in a significant lack of confidence for numerous mothers who are scared they won’t be able to keep their teenagers safe.

It’s an incredible burden for parents have discovered that physical and feelings suffer is not just a theoretical part of the human experience but will be a part of their personal experience and their children’s experience. And in a culture that is very uncomfortable with acknowledging death and loss, many of us understandably don’t cope well with the unavoidable fact that we, and everyone we are familiar, will someday die. While I got a lot of tendernes for the penetration of anguish a person can experience, it’s questionable that impossible-parenting culture has tried to convince parents that suffering can be avoided with enough anxiety, scheduling, and safety products, because when the unthinkable does happen, we think it’s our fault.


Related to both the invest up front belief and the danger is all around us informing, but deserving of a category of itself, is the parenting phenomenon of getting back-to-the-land and hindering everything as “natural” as possible. Many mothers notes with concern things like toxins and chemicals, with varying degrees of a better understanding of what these buzzwords actually aim, plus the impact of plastics, off-gassing, pesticides, and smells. As a arise, parents are opting more and more for makes, especially invests, toys, and foods, that feel less managed or mass-produced. Marketers are swiping labels on makes with names like all natural or organic, with pictures of raises and trees and swine to rekindle a wholesome feeling of safety. This also inspires dreads around the impact of special meat, such as sugar, menu colours, and even newborn formula, on newborns and children.

How we define what it means to be healthful and what individual rehearses contribute to this goal are very personal, but the keep it coming natural messaging has two major impacts on parents. The first is how much time it takes to research, root, propose, and ready health concoctions and traditions in a socio-economic system that appreciates fast-paced, productive living. For lesson, seeing your own baby food and emptying makes requires an intense amount of work for a generation of parents that is exceptionally time-starved. There are even hypervigilant and labour-intensive rules such as going diaper-free, which is mainly signifies starting toilet training right from birth, because it’s more “natural.”

The second influence is that “all natural” products, health providers, and organic foods are very expensive and not all mothers are able to access them, making this impossible-parenting value very class-based. The equation of keep it natural= state= good parenting is deeply problematic, because it means wealthy mothers get to feel like good, entitled parents, while low-income mothers are left feeling guilty or insufficient. Class-based health bias are exacerbated by inadequate access to resources such as medical care, cares, medication, and stress-reducing activities.


This impossible-parenting value of prescribed self-care is so significant that I have an part assembly dedicated to redefining our relationship to self-care. The self-care movement has taken hold in parenting communities, but not very successfully, because mothers are burnt out and fight with their mental health in significant numbers. I suspect that this is because the idea of self-care has become confined to a particular set of resource-heavy actions, such as spa visits, nighttimes out, or fitness tasks. Having self-care activities prescribed to mothers by others completely misses the object: what’s required to tend to each person’s needs is personal and involved and constantly changing. Yet absurd parenting utilizations self-care as a artillery against parents, leaving many of us denouncing ourselves if we struggle with our depression, health, or power and we haven’t been engaging in self-care in the ways we think we should.

Prescriptions for self-care often hyperfocus on the individual experience of wellness and overlook the importance of the community wellness event in a way that sometimes feels like we need to compete or hoard “care” sources. Telling mothers that the path to wellness is individual ignores the socio-economic and structural hindrances that make it so incredibly difficult to balance the work of caring for yourself, their own families, and their own communities. Yes, we need to find ways to take care of ourselves effectively, but we can’t focus so inwardly that we forget to look out for one another or to set beliefs of how we want to be cared for. Self-care shouldn’t cause distress, be precisely one other thing on your to-do list, or be an isolated ordeal. But, in many ways, that’s what it’s become.


Finally, impossible parenting challenges that we utter every moment mystical. This includes documenting the rise and development of our children in carefully curated ways to preserve our recalls. Parental recitals such as “gender” reveal gatherings, professional birth photographers, and elaborate cake smash-ups at one-year-old birthday defendants contribute to the idealized imagination of parenthood, an aggression-free, attuned, blissful revel of parent-child ties-in. While there are a lot enjoyable aspects of parenting and celebrating is fun, the facts of the case that we share so many of these fortunate renditions does tend to encourage us to stillness any negative feelings toward children or parenting. This, tragically, leaves countless parents hushing or pathologizing their negative recalls toward their children, rather than interpreting them as a regular, or even necessary, part of parenthood.

Authors Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels suggest that “motherhood has become a psychological police state.” When we break down impossible-parenting importances one by one, it’s no wonder so many mothers say that children are “all joy and no merriment, ” as they bring us deep emotional connect while taking the adult fun out of our life, albeit temporarily. Not exclusively do mothers need to thumped the behavioural and economic markers of “good parenting, ” they also have to like it. The cause is that mothers are working harder than ever to figure out how to build a career and take care of themselves, their partners, and their community while ever prioritizing their children’s needs. And it’s really hard — impossible, actually — to do all of these at the same time.

Olivia Scobie is a social work counsellor and educator who specializes in perinatal mood, birth trauma, and parental mental health issues. You got to find her at, @livwithkids on Twitter and oliviascobie on Facebook.

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