Mama Bear: Amazing Moms (Releasing the Stress)

Hey, it’s great to be back with you again this week. I’m Jeff Schadt, the founder of Revive Family, and we’re continuing in the series, “Mama Bear, Amazing Moms. You moms really are amazing! My research has opened my eyes and even slapped me in the face a bit because moms work an average of 98.5 hours a week. It is no wonder so many moms are tired. Dads, this is why I hope you are listening to this series so you gain some insights into how you can come alongside your wife and help her get the breaks she needs. 

In session one we talked about the risk of amazing moms being able to do it all. Putting in all those hours and emotional energy puts them at risk of a state of exhaustion. 

In session two of this series, we addressed all the stress and pressure moms feel:  the internal pressure they put on themselves, societal pressures, and the pressures moms tend to put on each other. 

In this session we’re talking about how moms can take some of the stress and pressure off of themselves and raise content, happy, caring kids.

Last week in session two I mentioned a Harvard study that shows kids of working moms grow up just as happy as those with stay-at- home moms. Does that surprise you? It did me a bit because I’ve been raised in a culture that tells me that stay-at-home moms will have happier, more successful kids. I think this is part of the reason I found doing the research with 4,000 kids so challenging, because I had adopted a mindset that focused on the right and wrong in parenting. The kids blew me out of the water over and over again.  One aspect of parenting that really challenged me was kids’ need for autonomy.

Autonomy is Important for Kids and Scary for Parents

 

What my research found along with a host of other things is that kids’ having autonomy is very important. That is one of the reasons that working moms and single moms can end up with happy kids.  Independence is shown to lead to happier, more confident kids who have fewer mental health issues like depression and anxiety. 

I also know from working with so many families, that the word autonomy can strike fear into parents’ hearts. In session one we talked about how fear can impact us and drive us to do more and spend more time with our kids than we need to or should. So if you’re just tuning into this series, Mama Bear, Amazing Moms, you may want to go back to session one. 

There’s so much pressure on moms to be super mom, to spend time, teach, and be everything for their child, that it can really be taxing and stressful. This level of stress makes it harder for moms to be who they want to be, kind, close, compassionate, and caring. But when under pressure and stress, it’s so much easier to end up reacting and doing things we don’t want to do as parents. 

How Do We View Our Role?

So how do we view our role? How do we view our home and our kids? How do we approach being a mom who is balanced and raising happy content, confident kids who will stay in the faith? One of the things I’ve found and also saw supported in the research that we talked about in session two is that we don’t need to stress about teaching our kids a bunch of things. Rather, we need to change the way we live our lives with our kids.

Kids Learn by Osmosis

Research shows that our kids learn better through osmosis, they learn from us as we’re doing things like cooking, shopping, and paying for things. Instead of cutting out a specific time to sit down and teach your kids math or other things, simply begin to communicate more openly as you’re doing these activities with your kids.  When you pick up a box, read the ingredients and share with them what you’re looking for and why. You can pick up different things on the shelf and show them the price per ounce. You can take them to the cash register and give them some cash to pay for some of the items. They will learn more about numbers this way than sitting down with flash cards especially when they are young. Moreover it makes more effective use of what you’re already doing and will engage your kids and make them more interested in doing these things with you. 

While I found that we’re spending money on studies like the following one a bit humorous, I did find the results fairly poignant. A Duke University student studied mother dogs and their puppies. Some mother dogs would lie down to feed their puppies, spend a lot of time nurturing them as well as let them crawl all over them. Other mother dogs would stay standing up and the puppies would have to feed in a standing position. They didn’t spend as much time cuddling or playing with their puppies, but they did a fair amount of it.

The student found that those puppies that had a standing mom actually ended up being more outgoing, socialized, and trainable.  Why? Probably because they had autonomy and developed more confidence as a result. What was surprising to me was this student is now a professor and continuing her research with dogs and their puppies.  The lessons from her studies can relate to parenting; the conclusions are similar to what were published in the article we’ve referred to before, The 10 New Things Science Says about Being a Mom by the Smithsonian Institute. 

Let Go of Being Highly Directive

One section of the article says, “Don’t be so bossy.” Moms, please don’t take offense. These aren’t my words. The article states that kids tend to have warmer feelings about mothers who respect their autonomy and don’t try to control them too much. Researchers at the University of Missouri agree. In a study of 2000 moms and their children, they found that mothers who tightly controlled the activities of their children when they were toddlers often continue to control them up to the fifth grade. When those kids became adolescents, they were less likely to want to engage with their moms.  Jean IPSA, one of the study authors, said, “We found that mothers who supported their children’s autonomy were regarded more positively by their children than mothers who were highly directive.” This is what I’ve been saying on the radio program. The more stressed and worried parents are, the more directive they tend to be, which drives kids crazy and moves them away. 

Kids respond much better when we lead like the good shepherd who didn’t seek to control the disciples but showed them how to do things like I talked about earlier. He involved them in the things He was doing and then sent them out on their own to give it a try.  We never see Jesus, the good shepherd, forcing anyone to do anything against his will. He led with influence that drew on the internal desire of the disciples and the crowds to follow Him. They then chose to make changes in their lives because of that approach. In fact, when I did the radio series, Anchor Dad, I found research that indicated this was one of the reasons dads were so important. Dads often make room for their kids to have some autonomy, to go ahead and wrestle and take risks while moms and their protective instinct often get in the way.  In today’s society parents’ fear of what could happen to their children has significantly increased. As a result both moms and dads can tend to bend towards control and being directive as opposed to being relational with open discussions that help kids come to their own decisions, which is vital in empowering them to make good decisions when autonomous. 

Relationship Rules

I’ve found having a great relationship with your kids increases your influence and actually protects them. I think this is really good news for the one in four moms who find themselves raising children on their own. I have coached these moms and kids and often found that even while struggling because of emotional wounds from divorce and the loss of their father, they are far more responsible and involved in doing practical tasks. They are far better prepared for life on their own because they’ve had to pick up some responsibilities in their home like cooking meals, doing laundry and helping clean.  Taking on responsibilities actually builds their confidence and helps them start to feel good about themselves. Once they heal from their other wounds, these kids are really set to take off and do well in life.

Quality Time not Quantity Time

The good news for moms is that when we start to let go and provide some autonomy, it takes some pressure off. It gives us time to focus a bit on those activities that will recharge our batteries and it allows our kids to develop valuable skills. I want to remind you of something we said in the other blog from the same article, “quality rules.” Moms don’t need to spend as much time as they think to raise secure, content kids. So take a break. This may be where you really need to fight your protective instincts, especially as your kids get older. 

Real Bears Teach Cubs to Protect Themselves

Maybe we can take some lessons from the animal kingdom, actual mama bears. When their cubs are first born, they cuddle them, carry them in their arms, and suckle them. They’re very caring and compassionate, but it’s not very long before they start pushing them out of the den and teaching them how to run and climb a tree. They push them out of the den so they learn to protect themselves.

Cubs can wander when mama bears go out and forge for food to help feed them. So the first thing they do is teach their cubs to protect themselves. The lessons mama bears teach continue on.  They teach then how to forge for their own food, and allow them to wrestle and fight with each other so they learn to protect themselves. Ultimately them force their Cubs to leave their side at about 18 months old. 

This is a needed process that can be hard to see when our kids are young. Yet this is what research indicates. Providing our kids responsibility and teaching them how to protect themselves enables us to give them independence as they grow older. My research with 4,000 kids confirmed that and It is what all the research in current psychological journals is showing. Autonomy is important for our kids’ development and also contributes to having a great relationship with them through adolescence.   

If our goal is to raise content, caring, and confident kids, what are some of the things we can do that don’t add pressure to our plate but are proven to actually help us reach our goal? 

The Relationship is the Best Protector

According to an article in Frontiers in Psychology, there is strong, consistent, correlational support for the protective effect of a high quality mother child relationship. What does that mean? It means that it’s not our ability to control and direct our kids that protects them,  It’s actually the quality of our relationship with them. 

We have seen this work with all of our kids.  Deedee and I sought to lead like the good shepherd focusing on our relationships rather than rules.  We focused on what was inside their hearts rather than their performance, and things began to change dramatically.   We had so much more influence and our kids made much better decisions. The article from Frontiers in Psychology went on to say this, “Mother, child relationships characterized by warmth, supportiveness, effective problem solving skills, positive communication and low levels of conflict and negativity are consistently associated with children’s lower mental health problems and positive social adaptation outcomes including higher self esteem and better academic performance. Even following a divorce.” What does this mean for parents, especially for moms? The relationship rules, not our rules or authority, not our ability to teach, direct or control. Research has proven that what protects our kids from straying, making bad decisions and going off track is the quality of our relationship with them.

Warmth, Supportiveness, Problem Solving and Positive Communication

Research shows that what protects kids are relationships characterized by warmth, supportiveness, problem solving skills, positive communication and low levels of conflict. This does not mean enabling, which I know is what many parents believe.  When we have positive communication, we can speak into our kids’ hearts and they make great decisions. It’s not hard rules and boundaries that accomplish that. In fact, I’m finding that they are what damage relationships and cause kids to stray and make poor decisions. 

If you need further proof of this, another article, Adolescent Sexual Risk, by Christopher Browning cites a study that concluded that emotional support acts as a protective factor.  It interacts with other risk factors to reduce the likelihood of negative health outcomes among adolescents. This study concluded that strong parental support and relationships lead to lower sexual risk outcomes with adolescents.

This is why we cannot allow our fears about what might happen dictate the way we parent. Our fears will drive us to make decisions for our kids, which drives them away from us and into the danger. 

We Can Become Trapped in One-Way Communication

Moms can become trapped in one-way communication because they have a baby who becomes a toddler that requires one way directive communication.  This soon becomes a habit that is hard to break in the time frame the study we talked about earlier indicates. If you continue to direct and control toddlerhood, you’ll likely still be doing it when your child is in fifth grade and middle school. Your one-way communication and control will undermine your relationship especially when your child reaches adolescence.

I would suggest from my work with families that parents should start to involve their kids possibly as early as eighteen months. Begin to talk about issues and listen to their feelings. Begin to help them learn to make their own decisions. Base your relationship on mutual respect rather than one-way respect where your child has to respect you, which means they have to obey you all the time. One-way communication does not lead to deeper conversations that produce healthy relationships.  It does not result in their learning, maturing and gaining confidence. 

Another thing we need to do to build a healthy relationship with our kids is to have a balanced perspective. What do I mean by that? We need to expect failure. We fail every day and God still trusts us. We fail every day and God does not take our families or our kids away from us.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

It says in First John, “perfect love casts out fear.” Fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not perfected in love. God doesn’t punish us when we fail. We need to expect failure in our kids and approach it like Jesus did, in a gracious loving way. 

This is why we need to adopt a shepherding or mentoring mindset. Shepherds and mentors cannot control all the sheep our kids interact with. Instead, they have to rely on their relationship and influence to motivate the kid to engage.  They need to create a safe environment where discussions happen and where issues and decisions are evaluated. Kids normally don’t evaluate and need to be taught how so they function less off their emotions. Often they do not think things through. Parents tell me, my kid’ is making horrible decisions.  I’ve found that they are not making good decisions because they have not had a sounding board or learned how to think things through. They do not trust that there is a safe place where they can bounce ideas and process their thoughts with their parents.  

This is the why getting sleep and taking breaks is so important; they help us with our patience and keep us from overreacting.  There’s so much pressure and so many things ton our plates to do. It’s difficult to take a shepherding view with our kids and be patient with them and their failures.  Our next program series will be developing patience in our homes. 

A Light Hearted Approach to Failure

We need to develop a lighthearted approach to failure. We need to expect it. We need to almost find it humorous rather than taking it personally, being frustrated or scared by it or overreacting to it. If we want to have a great relationship with our kids, we need to develop a listening ear that draws out their deeper feelings and issues, which means they need to feel safe. They need to be able to trust that we are not going to react or come down on them. They need to believe that we will be there for them not against them.  We will shepherd them like Jesus. This will create a culture in our homes that encourages walking in the light. The Bible says “if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have true fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus purifies us from all unrighteousness.”

That will happen when our kids are willing to walk in the light with their deeper issues, their deeper struggles because they feel safe because the good shepherd protects the sheep,  He doesn’t beat the sheep, He protects them. When we have a great relationship with our kids and they feel safe with us, they make much better decisions because they’re actually talking with us. We are interacting with them,  not directing them, and as a result they make better decisions.

I found this to be true with all four of my kids. The quality of my relationship with them, how I interact and the way I love and extend grace, touches their hearts. It allows God to work in their lives and it brings the Holy Spirit to the surface of their hearts where He begins to convict and guide them. I don’t need to do that. The Good Shepherd’s leadership style really does work.  What we’re finding from these different articles and studies, is that they are starting to prove that the way Jesus led will work with our kids. Next week. We’ll continue in this conversation of Mama Bear, Amazing Moms, helping moms consider more ways they can develop really caring kids without spending more time and putting more pressure on themselves. In fact, moms, I want you to step back, take a deep breath, take the pressure off, begin to trust God and involve the Holy spirit in your parenting, which you can learn more about in our Influential Parenting program.

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