Moms who see themselves as the most important person in a child's life and always put their child's needs first may be setting themselves up for stress or depression and other mental health challenges, according to a new study.
The research from the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, titled "Insight into the Parenthood Paradox: Mental Health Outcomes of Intensive Mothering," has just been published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.
The question of whether parenthood makes one happier or not has been roundly debated and the subject of several recent studies that yielded different findings. The new study suggests parenting style may explain why the results are so varied.
"Moms who take an intensive approach, marked by the belief that moms are the most important people in baby's life and that parents should always put their child's needs first, are less likely to be satisfied with their lives and more likely to be stressed than more laid-back moms," wrote Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience senior writer, of the study.
Intensive parenting also includes the thought "that children should be considered delightful and wholly fulfilling for parents," she noted.
Researchers captured the concepts underpinning intensive parenting: essentialism, challenging, fulfillment (mom's), stimulation (the child's) and child-centered.
For the study, the researchers recruited 181 moms with kids under 5 who took online surveys about parenting attitudes, family support, personal satisfaction and mental health. The higher a mom scored on those five concepts, the more intensive she was considered in mothering style.
They found most women don't believe moms are more important than anyone, including dads, but those who do believe that are less happy, more stressed and feel less support from those around them than do others who were surveyed.
Considering parenting very challenging also was associated with less personal satisfaction with one's life and more depression and stress.
"That one is a strongly held belief," one of the researchers, psychologist Miriam Liss, told LiveScience. "Parenting being really, really hard is a commonly held belief that seems to be really bad for women."
Of the contradictory findings on parenting and happiness, she said, "maybe there are certain ways of parenting, like this intensive style of parenting, that is more negative for parents' mental health."
Nearly one-third of mothers in the study were depressed, higher than the general public's rate, which the National Institute of Mental Health puts at 6.7 percent.
The researchers suggest in a written statement that those who mother with the intensive style "may think that it makes them better mothers, so they are willing to sacrifice their own mental health to enhance their children's cognitive, social and emotional outcomes. In reality, intensive parenting may have the opposite effect on children from what parents intend."
Wrote Forbes contributor Alice Walton, "It’s so easy to feel that every little thing we do will have a make-or-break effect on our kids’ development or success in life. But it’s important to remember that this just isn’t true. Putting our own mental health right up there with our kids’ — perhaps even first — is probably the best way to go. Since kids are so highly intuitive, working on own happiness and mental health is the best thing we can do — though it’s easier said than done, it’s probably the best legacy we can leave."
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