Does Having Kids Make You Happy?

1Research has found that having children is terrible for quality of life—but the truth about what parenthood means for happiness is a lot more complicated.

Few choices are more important than whether to have children, and psychologists and other social scientists have worked to figure out what having kids means for happiness. Some of the most prominent scholars in the field have argued that if you want to be happy, it’s best to be childless. Others have pushed back, pointing out that a lot depends on who you are and where you live. But a bigger question is also at play: What if the rewards of having children are different from, and deeper than, happiness?

The early research is decisive: Having kids is bad for quality of life. In one study, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues asked about 900 employed women to report, at the end of each day, every one of their activities and how happy they were when they did them. They recalled being with their children as less enjoyable than many other activities, such as watching TV, shopping, or preparing food.

Other studies find that when a child is born, parents experience a decrease in happiness that doesn’t go away for a long time, in addition to a drop in marital satisfaction that doesn’t usually recover until the children leave the house. As the Harvard professor Dan Gilbert puts it, “The only symptom of empty nest syndrome is nonstop smiling.”

After all, having children, particularly when they are young, involves financial struggle, sleep deprivation, and stress. For mothers, there is also in many cases the physical strain of pregnancy and breastfeeding. And children can turn a cheerful and loving romantic partnership into a zero-sum battle over who gets to sleep and work and who doesn’t.

As the Atlantic staff writer Jennifer Senior notes in her book, All Joy and No Fun, children provoke a couple’s most frequent arguments—“more than money, more than work, more than in-laws, more than annoying personal habits, communication styles, leisure activities, commitment issues, bothersome friends, sex.” Someone who doesn’t understand this is welcome to spend a full day with an angry 2-year-old (or a sullen 15-year-old); they’ll find out what she means soon enough.

Read: It isn’t the kids. It’s the cost of raising them.

Children make some happy and others miserable; the rest fall somewhere in between—it depends, among other factors, on how old you are, whether you are a mother or a father, and where you live. But a deep puzzle remains: Many people would have had happier lives and marriages had they chosen not to have kids—yet they still describe parenthood as the “best thing they’ve ever done.” Why don’t we regret having children more?

One possibility is a phenomenon called memory distortion. When we think about our past experiences, we tend to remember the peaks and forget the mundane awfulness in between. Senior frames it like this: “Our experiencing selves tell researchers that we prefer doing the dishes—or napping, or shopping, or answering emails—to spending time with our kids … But our remembering selves tell researchers that no one—and nothing—provides us with so much joy as our children.

It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.” These are plausible-enough ideas, and I don’t reject them. But other theories about why people don’t regret parenthood actually have nothing to do with happiness—at least not in a simple sense.

One involves attachment. Most parents love their children, and it would seem terrible to admit that you would be better off if someone you loved didn’t exist. More than that, you genuinely prefer a world with your kids in it. This can put parents in the interesting predicament of desiring a state that doesn’t make them as happy as the alternative. In his book Midlife, the MIT professor Kieran Setiya expands on this point.

Modifying an example from the philosopher Derek Parfit, he asks readers to imagine a situation in which, if you and your partner were to conceive a child before a certain time, the child would have a serious, though not fatal, medical problem, such as chronic joint pain. If you wait, the child will be healthy. For whatever reason, you choose not to wait. You love your child and, though he suffers, he is happy to be alive. Do you regret your decision?

Read: How adult children affect their mother’s happiness

That’s a complicated question. Of course it would have been easier to have a kid without this condition. But if you’d waited, you’d have a different child, and this baby (then boy, then man) whom you love wouldn’t exist. It was a mistake, yes, but perhaps a mistake that you don’t regret. The attachment we have to an individual can supersede an overall decrease in our quality of life, and so the love we usually have toward our children means that our choice to bring them into existence has value above and beyond whatever effect they have on our happiness.

This relates to a second point, which is that there’s more to life than happiness. When I say that raising my sons is the best thing I’ve ever done, I’m not saying that they gave me pleasure in any simple day-to-day sense, and I’m not saying that they were good for my marriage. I’m talking about something deeper, having to do with satisfaction, purpose, and meaning. It’s not just me.

When you ask people about their life’s meaning and purpose, parents say that their lives have more meaning than those of nonparents. A study by the social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues found that the more time people spent taking care of children, the more meaningful they said their life was—even though they reported that their life was no happier.

Raising children, then, has an uncertain connection to pleasure but may connect to other aspects of a life well lived, satisfying our hunger for attachment, and for meaning and purpose. The writer Zadie Smith puts it better than I ever could, describing having a child as a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.” Smith, echoing the thoughts of everyone else who has seriously considered these issues, points out the risk of close attachments:

“Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you? Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation?” But this annihilation reflects the extraordinary value of such attachments; as the author Julian Barnes writes of grief, quoting a friend, “It hurts just as much as it is worth.”

By Paul Bloom

Source: Does Having Kids Make You Happy? – The Atlantic

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More Contents:

. “A review of the relationship among parenting practices, parenting styles, and adolescent school achievement” (PDF). Educational Psychology Review. 17

 “Parenting Style as a Moderator of Associations Between Maternal Disciplinary Strategies and Child Well-Being”

“The Influence of Parenting Style on Academic Achievement and Career Path”Day, Nicholas (10 April 2013). “Parental ethnotheories and how parents in America differ from parents everywhere else”. Slate. Retrieved 19 April 2013.[verification needed]

“The Terrible Twos Explained – Safe Kids (UK)”Kenneth R. Ginsburg. “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” (PDF). American Academy of Pediatrics. Archived from the origina

To Get Kids Vaccinated Against COVID-19, Health Officials Will Need to Reach Hesitant Parents

For as long as COVID-19 vaccines have existed, Melissa Chernofsky has been practically counting down the days until she can get one for her 5-year-old son. “If it was like getting Lollapalooza tickets, where you have to camp out all night, that’s what I would do,” says the 46-year-old from Brooklyn.

Chernofsky got a shot for herself as soon as she was eligible, and says she has never hesitated about doing the same for her child once she has the option. “As a parent, our number one job is to keep our kids safe,” she says. “I don’t really understand the idea that if there is a tool that can keep your kid from getting a disease, that you wouldn’t give it to them.”

One such tool—Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds—was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 29, bringing it a step closer to widespread availability. If the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends it for some or all children in that age group, kids could start getting vaccinated in the coming days.

But for every parent who feels as passionately pro-vaccine as Chernofsky does, there is at least one other with serious concerns about vaccinating their child. According to an October Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 27% of parents with kids ages 5 to 11 said they would vaccinate their child right away. But even more—35%—said they either definitely wouldn’t vaccinate or wouldn’t unless required. The rest were somewhere in the middle and said they would “wait and see.”

That split illustrates the significant challenge ahead of federal officials and health care workers, who must be ready to fulfill many families’ urgent desire for shots while also reaching those who are hesitant. Dr. Sara Bode, who is the medical director of school-based and mobile-care clinics for Ohio’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital, says pediatric hospitals and public-health departments around the country are gearing up to hold larger-scale clinics that can satisfy much of the pent-up demand for pediatric shots.

Vaccine supply is no longer an issue, so she thinks parents who want to vaccinate their kids should be able to do so easily. But “once this initial surge is over and everyone who wanted it gets it,” Bode says, “that’s where the real work starts to happen.”

Once it begins, a successful vaccine rollout must serve parents with questions or concerns about the vaccine in addition to those who are highly motivated—not just for the sake of those families, but for U.S. public health. Immunizing the roughly 28 million U.S. kids between the ages of 5 and 11 is a key piece of federal officials’ plan for controlling the virus, following their push to vaccinate older children after a shot was authorized for 12- to 15-year-olds in May.

“Not getting vaccinated means that our kids could potentially pass on the virus to others if they get infected,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said during a May call with parents, pediatricians, youth organizations and community leaders. “Breaking the chain of transmission is going to require us vaccinating our children.”

And, since 5- to 11-year-olds are too young to consent to vaccination themselves, that’s going to require convincing parents who, in many cases, are even more skeptical about vaccinating their children than they were about getting inoculated themselves. All told, about 78% of U.S. residents 12 and older have gotten at least one dose, but looking specifically at 12- to 15-year-olds, that number falls to about 57%.

“Messaging has to be to the parents, not to the kids,” Bode says. “It has to be sensitive and it has to be, usually, one-on-one,” so it can address each parent’s specific concerns. Individuals also tend to respond better when they hear about the vaccine from people who live and work in their community, rather than from government agencies or mass-communications campaigns, Bode adds.

The Biden Administration is banking on that. Its plan to vaccinate kids ages 5 to 11 hinges largely on distributing shots in pediatricians’ offices and schools, capitalizing on the trust parents often inherently hold for those institutions. “You are so often the people that folks want to hear from,” Murthy said on the May call with pediatricians and community leaders. “Your story, your outreach, can make all the difference in helping people get the information they need … and ultimately take that step of protecting their children.”

Dr. Tyree Winters, a New Jersey-based pediatrician, says he and his colleagues have been fielding questions from parents of older children for months, and he expects that to continue once younger kids can get the shot. Parents—even those who are vaccinated—often come in with concerns about their children experiencing vaccine-related side effects, or worried about misinformation they’ve read online.

(The incorrect idea that the shots can cause infertility is a big source of hesitation, he says.) Some are just plain uncomfortable with giving their kids a fairly new vaccine, even if they were willing to get it themselves. Getting through to these parents requires a balance of empathy and careful explanation of the science behind the vaccines, Winters says. “I let them know, ‘You’re not crazy, you’re not being over-dramatic, you’re not being unreasonable,’” he says. “That’s the beauty of being a pediatrician …we can relate to our patients and our families.”

Dr. Kelly Moore, CEO of the pro-vaccine Immunization Action Coalition, agrees that pediatricians can get through to many parents. But “not all children have a regular health care provider that they see, and public education through school systems will be important to reach families more widely,” Moore adds. Offering the shots in schools will also improve access to them, particularly for families that do not have a strong relationship with the traditional health system or parents who can’t take time off work to bring their child to a vaccine clinic.

The desire to keep kids in school can also convince some parents to vaccinate, says Dr. Sherri Young, who led adult and adolescent vaccination efforts in West Virginia’s Kanawha County. By mid-September, just a few weeks into the 2021-2022 school year, more than 1,800 U.S. schools had already experienced COVID-related closures, according to CDC data. That’s something both parents and kids want to avoid—and pitching vaccines as the way to do that can be effective, Young says.

“Sports are very important to kids. Going to school is very important to kids. Going to school is very important for parents,” Young says. “We’re going to keep our schools open longer if we all get in this together.”

Still, there are some parents who don’t believe their children need to be vaccinated, given the low rates of serious illness and death among people 18 and under. Others, concerned by reports of rare heart-related side effects among young people, think the risks of vaccination outweigh the benefits.

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

In authorizing Pfizer’s shot, the FDA said the opposite is true. The vaccine appears more than 90% effective at preventing symptomatic infections among 5- to 11-year-olds, and no serious side effects have been reported among a group of more than 3,000 kids who participated in trials. The CDC’s advisory group will soon discuss in more detail whether certain groups of kids should or should not get the shot.

Moore says the recent Delta-related spike in cases should show parents that there is serious benefit to vaccination. It remains true that children develop severe disease much less often than adults and die from coronavirus even less frequently—but images of overflowing pediatric ICUs and kids on ventilators from this past summer prove that the worst does sometimes happen, she says. Vaccines drastically reduce that risk.

Getting parents to understand that could not only save their children’s lives, but also help the U.S. finally put the worst of the pandemic in the past.

By Jamie Ducharme

Source: How Health Officials Can Reach Vaccine-Hesitant Parents | Time

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5 Pieces of Essential Life Advice From Seniors

It’s hard to feel a sweeping sense of perspective when you’re stuck in traffic, or feeling buried by work, or overwhelmed by family demands. But those are exactly the moments when some words of wisdom from your elders — the people who’ve been there, like the ones below — can come in handy.

Each of these insights comes from a conversation conducted during the Great Thanksgiving Listen, an annual initiative from TED Prize winner Dave Isay and his team at StoryCorps that asks people to interview an older family member or friend during the US holiday weekend. By participating, you could unlock new stories about your family or gain a different perspective on historical events, while ensuring your loved one’s story is preserved in the StoryCorps Archive at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center. And you might just hear a piece of useful advice that will get you through a difficult moment.

Think of hard times like bad weather — they too will pass.

Arden Fleming, 15, calls her grandmother Agneta Vulliet her “biggest role model.” Vulliet, the daughter of French immigrants, grew up in New York City, and she says she first learned about independence when she went to boarding school. Vulliet left school before graduation to get married, and ended up getting her high school degree at night school — while raising two kids. She studied art in college, where a professor was impressed with her determination and recommended her for a scholarship. Toward the end of their interview, recorded in October 2017 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, Fleming asked her grandmother for advice.

“What I want you to know and keep in mind is that your 20s are very turbulent and that it does get better,” Vulliet says. “You want so much for yourself, you have such expectations, you have so many wishes to succeed, and there’s a lot of anxiety that goes with how all that will take shape. I never want you to get carried away with how hard it seems.” She adds, “Growing up is a lot like the weather. Every time you hit the big storms that seem like they’re going to snow you under, it will change and get better — and the sun will come out.”

Draw inspiration from all the people you meet.

Bill Janz traveled the world as a journalist, and wrote a column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about ordinary people who’d shown remarkable courage. In a 2015 interview with his 14-year-old grandson, Jasper Kashou in Freedonia, Wisconsin, the now-retired Janz shared memorable stories from his days as a reporter — of almost falling off an elephant into tall grass where a tiger was hiding while in India, and of crawling on his belly to avoid sniper fire in Croatia during the Bosnian War.

But when Kashou asked him about the person who’d impacted him the most, Janz spoke of someone closer to home. “A boy named Eddy helped me see a little bit about what life is all about,” says Janz. Eddy was a 10-year-old he’d written about whose leg was amputated due to cancer. “No matter what happened to him, he never gave up,” he recalls. “I called Eddy once at home, and the phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, he picked up the phone.

I said, ‘Eddy. I was just about to hang up. Where were you?’ And he said, ‘Bill, I was in another room. My crutches weren’t near, so I crawled to the phone.’” Janz often finds himself thinking about that conversation. “He was only a young man, but he was teaching an old man to never give up,” Janz said. “I sometimes tend to give up and go do something else, and [he helps me] remember not to do that.”

Love your work — for the salary and for the people.

Bennie Stewart, 80, got his first job at age 7 — he’d run errands for his neighbors and get paid in chicken eggs. In a 2015 interview with grandaughter Vanyce Grant, 17, in Chicago, he talked through his many jobs. Stewart chopped cotton for $3 a day in 115 degree heat; bused dishes; cleaned buildings as a janitor; sold insurance; and eventually found his passion as a social worker and, later, as a pastor.

Grant asked his grandfather about what led him to these different occupations. “I love talking to people,” Stewart says. “I’ve been told I have the gift of gab, so I can talk and I can grasp things real fast. I always took pride in being able to listen to instructions and pick them up quick.” What lessons did he learn from his work experience? “It taught me that I can have something of my own and provide for my family and get some of the things in life that I couldn’t,” he says.

These themes echo those in an interview that Torri Noakes, 16, recorded with her grandmother Evelyn Trouser, 59, in 2016 in Flint, Michigan. Trouser worked in auto factories, first on the line and then as a welder. “My advice to everybody in my family: learn to take care of yourself. Don’t depend on anyone to provide you with anything,” Trouser says. She refuted any notion that her jobs were dreary. “I used to love going to work,” she said. “It’s the people you’re with that makes a job fun or not. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the people you’re with that make things different.”

Find mentors who can guide you and challenge you.

Allen Ebert, 73, reminisced about his working days in an interview with grandson Isaiah Ebert, 15, also recorded in 2016 in Flint. Ebert first worked as a welder in an auto factory when he was young and said the experience helped him once he entered medical school. “If you understand how something works, when it breaks you know what to look for and how to fix it,” he said. “Even the body is mechanical.”

When Ebert spoke about his experiences as a doctor, he impressed one thing upon his grandson: look for mentors. “The stuff you’re doing right now in school, you’re learning from people who know something you don’t know. Continue that throughout your life,” he says.

To find mentors, you should look beyond your bosses and teachers. “Just develop relationships with people whom you can observe, even from a distance, and see how they accomplish things,” Ebert says. “The way I look at it: in life, we probably make 95 percent good decisions and about 5 percent messed-up decisions. A large part of our lives as adults is fixing the mess of those few wrong decisions, and you can minimize them by just having people in your life who will challenge you and make you think twice, who will say, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound right to me.’”

Make the most of less.

According to StoryCorps, many people use the Great Thanksgiving Listen as a time to ask about family recipes. Along with step-by-step instructions, they receive a slice of family history, as well as life advice.

Some of the stories highlight one of the secrets to a life well-lived: learning to make the most of what you have. Kiefer Inson, 28, talked to his grandmother Patricia Smith, 80, about her classic tuna noodle casserole made with canned tuna. “When I was 18, I was married and had a child and did not have an outside job, so I’d go to the library, bring home cookbooks, and try the recipes,” Smith says. “Back then, we were on a very limited budget.

A pound of fish cost 69 cents, so I learned to cook a lot of things with that.” Jaxton Bloemhard, 16, interviewed his mother, Bethany Bloemhard, 38, about Ukranian pierogies. She told him how her own grandmother would make hundreds at a time. “She’d tell stories about how they kept the Ukranian people alive,” says Bethany Bloemhard. “The Ukrainians grew potatoes like nobody’s business, and as long as you had flour, water and some oil, you could make the dough.”

Other stories point to the need to keep trying until you succeed. June Maggard, 87, spoke to her granddaughter Emily Sprouse, 33, about the recipe book that she’s kept for 30 years. “People say they can’t make bread or biscuits, or anything really, but you just have to learn the feel,” Maggard says. “That comes by doing.”

Learn more about participating in the Great Thanksgiving Listen.

For more on what we get when we listen to people’s stories, watch Dave Isay’s TED Prize talk.

By: Kate Torgovnick May

Source: 5 Pieces of Essential Life Advice From Seniors

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The COVID Vaccine For Kids Is Almost Here. Let’s Not Forget The Children Who Made This Possible

This week Pfizer and BioNTech said that their COVID-19 vaccine was safe for children aged 5 to 11. If approved by the FDA for emergency use, it could be ready for children as early as late October. Since the emergence of the delta variant, children have accounted for more than one in five new cases, and more children are hospitalized now, as a result of the coronavirus, than at any other time in the pandemic.

The concern and frustration surrounding relatively slow approval of treatment for kids under 12 years old is nothing new. For decades, kids with cancer have had to wait for trials to improve drug options and improve patient outcomes.

The call to do more, faster, has gone unanswered by drug companies who don’t invest in trials for a small number of unprofitable kids and by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which allocates only 4% of its annual $6.56 billion budget to pediatric cancer and other rare diseases.

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Trials are a key component to curing cancer and achieving vaccine safety, yet come with a caveat that most parents aren’t willing to risk. It feels good to help mankind, but not at the expense of their child’s growing body.

In 2010, my husband and I agreed to send my 4-year-old daughter to trial to treat her stage IV high-risk neuroblastoma. Emily’s oncologist was desperate to enroll kids in the trial and we were desperate to get rid of the cancer. It was the most difficult decision we’ve ever made.

Emily received two back-to-back stem cell transplants. The theory was that two transplants — as opposed to one that was the protocol of care — would be better at killing the tricky neuroblastoma cells that often lurked and caused a relapse.

It would seem a no-brainer to want two opportunities to kill the cancer cells, but it wasn’t. Kids died during the transplants. The amount of chemo they got in one transplant would kill an adult instantly, but kids metabolized it quicker, so they lived, but just barely. Three weeks after being discharged from the first transplant, a kid in the trial would be admitted into the hospital for the second one. If the neuroblastoma didn’t kill them, the trial protocol might.

We wanted to do everything possible to prevent Emily from dying, so we agreed to the trial. We weren’t about to wait around for her cancer.

We watched her claw her way through line infections, thick mucus in her lungs and ICU visits. We doubted whether we made the right decision with every obstacle, especially when she needed surgery to drain seven ounces of liquid from her heart during her second transplant.

We wanted to do everything possible to prevent Emily from dying, so we agreed to the trial. We weren’t about to wait around for her cancer.

Emily almost got kicked out of the trial in the last few months when her damaged kidneys were failing and dipped below the trial parameters. After her tandem stem cell transplants, 21 rounds of radiation, and months of an experimental antibody therapy, she was so close to finishing. Yet somehow, with the help of smart doctors and more medicine, she finished the trial.

After 18 months, the trial was successful in eliminating Emily’s body of neuroblastoma cells, but it stole parts of her she’d never get back.

Emily, who’s now 16, has chronic kidney disease, estrogen levels of a post-menopausal woman, stunted growth, frail hair and a 65% bi-lateral hearing loss from the toxic drugs used during the trial protocol. It’s been the catch-22 of a lifetime: Agreeing to have her participate in a trial that saved her life, but also compromised the quality of it.

About a year after Emily finished treatment, when she was 5, the trial she’d been enrolled in was stopped early. The data showed that the kids who had received two transplants were relapsing less and had a significantly better chance of survival than the kids who had received one transplant. It worked.

As a result, 300 to 400 kids a year who are diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma receive the protocol of care that Emily helped pioneer 10 years ago.

Despite the dark days of treatment and unpredictable secondary effects from chemo, I would make the same decision again, and send her into the trial. Emily would agree, though she longs for the hair that didn’t grow back well after treatment. We know how much worse the alternative could have been. She might not be alive, picking out a homecoming dress and watching Tik Tok videos for hours a day. She might be a statistic.

[The COVID vaccine trials] serve as a gatekeeper to kids’ health from a nation that doesn’t like to wait.

And now a nation of parents looks toward science to approve a COVID-19 vaccine to keep their kids from being statistics, too. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported 225,978 child COVID-19 cases last week, nearly 26% of the weekly reported cases. It’s the second-highest total of new diagnoses among children over the course of the pandemic.

As desperate as we are for our children to get their COVID-19 vaccines, the trial pharmaceutical companies are running — and the in-depth data analysis the FDA undertakes — exists to protect millions of kids from adverse effects that can’t be predicted. It serves as a gatekeeper to kids’ health from a nation that doesn’t like to wait.

When the FDA approves a vaccine for kids — and they will — let’s acknowledge the kids who, like Emily, answered the call. They’re the unsung heroes in getting a nation back to health.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.

By: Amy McHugh

Cognoscenti contributor
Amy McHugh is a high school teacher on Cape Cod where she lives with her husband, two teenage daughters, and two goldendoodles. She’s helped raise over $750,000 for neuroblastoma research at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic.

Source: The COVID Vaccine For Kids Is Almost Here. Let’s Not Forget The Children Who Made This Possible | Cognoscenti

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The Psychological Toll of Wanting Your Kid To Be Perfect

It’s called “other-oriented perfectionism,” and it can have a negative effect on children. Here’s why it happens.

Joliene Trujillo-Fuenning, who lives in Denver, Colorado with her two kids, ages 3 and 22 months, has some pretty clear perfectionist tendencies. If she sends an email with a typo in it, she says, “It will drive me nuts for a solid week or two.” After her husband cleans the bathroom, she has to fight the urge to criticize. (Sometimes she’ll just clean it again.)

And when it comes to her 3-year-old’s education, Trujillo-Fuenning says, “I have been very much struggling with the fact that she doesn’t want to write letters,” and finds herself thinking, “You are supposed to be at this point by three and a half or four, and if you don’t do it, you’re never going to.”

What Trujillo-Fuenning struggles with is something called other-oriented perfectionism. (You may have seen a shorter piece I wrote about the phenomenon for the Atlantic back in July.) Other-oriented perfectionism bears similarity to self-oriented perfectionism, when a person puts tremendous pressure on themselves to be perfect and then self-flagellates when they can’t be.

It’s also a little bit like socially prescribed perfectionism, where one internalizes the need to be perfect thanks to perceived pressure from others. The big difference is that with other-oriented perfectionism, unrealistic expectations are directed at, well, others.

When a parent sets exacting standards for their child and assumes a critical attitude, it can change how they parent (to their child’s detriment) and leave the parent bitter, resentful, and sometimes even wishing they’d never had children. That’s particularly problematic in light of new research suggesting that both parental expectations and parental criticism have been on the rise.

The impulse behind child-oriented perfectionism comes mostly from early life experiences and societal forces outside individuals’ control, but understanding — and interventions — can help thwart it, improving the wellbeing of both parent and child.

Natalie Dattilo, Ph.D., a psychologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has a patient roster made up mostly of young doctors, some of whom are the targets of other-oriented perfectionists who are “looking around and wondering why everybody [they] work with is incompetent.” For a supervisor like that, she said, “There is going to be an over-reliance on control, especially wanting to control how people do things.”

The other-oriented perfectionist seems self-assured. They always know the best way to do things and everything would be splendid if only others weren’t so flawed.

“On the surface it looks like grandiosity,” said Thomas Curran, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at London School of Economics and Political Science, “but at root, it’s really a profound insecurity about place in the world and whether you’re worth something.” The other-oriented perfectionist’s judgment, he said, is actually just “my way of projecting the things that I dislike in myself onto other people.”

People become other-oriented perfectionists in a variety of ways discussed in the book “Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment.” Oftentimes a cocktail of other types of perfectionism is to blame. Trujillo-Fuenning worries about her daughter’s progress because she wants the best for her, but there’s something more than that.

“I had a friend who pointed out that her language, her enunciation, her knowledge is pretty advanced for her age,” she explained, “And immediately, I had this sense of like, ‘Ha!’ It had nothing to do with me! Yet you still have a part of your brain that’s like, ‘She speaks well. That means I did my job right.

If she reads early, I did my job right.'” The pressure Trujillo-Fuenning feels to be perfect requires being — and being perceived as — a perfect parent. “How you’re doing as a parent is a reflection of who you are,” she said, “There’s no separation there in my head.”

In a paper published in 2020, Konrad Piotrowski, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at SWPS University in Poland, reported that both mothers and fathers there “tend to accept to a greater extent the mistakes and ‘imperfection’ of their children than those of their partner.” But sometimes they don’t.

John Lockner’s experience supports that idea. He was a stay-at-home dad for years and told me, “I kind of still am,” since he works part-time and spends the rest of it with his two teenage sons. “It’s definitely a struggle not to be on them all the time,” he said, but he knows that’s more about him than them. “I never wanted to be a manager, because I know I would expect my employees to do their best, and it would be very hard for me when they don’t,” he told me.

As one of just a handful of dads involved at their old school, Lockner said, “I felt this pressure to be better, and because of that my kids needed to be better.” With up-to-the-minute access to their assignments and grades through an online portal, he’d issue reminders on the drive to school: “You have to be sure to check on that and make sure it was turned in” or “You’re going to ask for that extra credit, right?” And he’d grill them on test results as soon as they got into the car at pickup.

But now, he said, “I’m kind of working on myself, to let some of that go.” What seems to be the key determinant is which relationship—the romantic one or the parental one—is more strongly associated with the parent’s self-esteem. Those who hang their identity on their parental role, like Trujillo-Fuenning, are more likely to experience child-oriented perfectionism than those who do not, Piotrowski theorized.

The impact of other-oriented perfectionism on children

That’s likely a good thing for his kids. Curran, the British perfectionism researcher, looked at a questionnaire that’s been given to cohorts of young people for decades. He and his team found that current college students perceive that their parents were more expectant than past generations — which is problematic, because studies (old and new) tie a caregiver having performance-oriented goals to controlling, critical parenting.

Though the research is murky, because different forms of perfectionism both overlap and function in distinct ways, children of parents who are perfectionists likely have higher odds of developing psychological distress, including anxiety and depression. Even when the impact falls short of clinical classification, children whose parents expect them to be perfect often grow up in homes characterized by conflict and tension. “It’s going to be a pressure cooker,” Curran told me.

The end result is often another generation of perfectionists. A 2017 study of 159 father-daughter dyads found a tie between “controlling fathers who demand perfection” and perfectionist daughters. And Curran’s own research has found that as parents’ expectations and criticism have increased, so too have rates of adolescent perfectionism.

We make jokes about perfectionism. (Did you hear the one about the perfectionist who walked into a bar? Apparently, it wasn’t set high enough.) But it’s a truly stressful way to live, Dr. Dattilo said, “Always striving to prove that you are capable, to prove that you are worthy, prove that you are successful based on other people’s evaluations.”

It should come as no surprise then, that there are, in Curran’s words, “huge, uncharacteristically strong correlations” between perfectionism and psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and anorexia.

“The data’s never that clean,” he told me. Gayani DeSilva knows what it feels like to be one of those data points. “My parents really did put a lot of pressure on me as a kid to be perfect,” recalled the child and adolescent psychiatrist who practices in Southern California. “I had to have straight As, couldn’t have an A-minus.”

When she carried a D in Calculus at one point, “I was so afraid that I actually thought that my parents were going to kill me.” Now looking back with a therapist’s eye, she said, “I couldn’t imagine them actually physically harming me, I just knew that I was gonna die.”

She internalized their exacting standards, “There was just no room for anything other than what they expected.” And when she couldn’t meet them, she said, “I faced all this guilt, like, ‘Why couldn’t I do it?'”

Josh McKivigan, a behavioral health therapist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, sees an impact at both ends of the economic spectrum. For kids of highly educated, well-off parents, he said, “You’d see them well put together, amazing grades, but behind the scenes, they’re barely holding it together. The only type of school they feel is acceptable is an Ivy League. They say things like, ‘I couldn’t imagine going to UCLA.'”

McKivigan also works with a refugee population. With these kids, he sees pressure to make something of a parent’s dangerous immigration journey. They end up saying, “I gotta make this right. I can’t let them down,” McKivigan told me.

But some kids don’t develop perfectionism of their own, instead responding to a parent’s pressure by rejecting their goals. After all, if someone is impossible to please, why bother trying?Nicole Coomber, Ph.D., an assistant dean at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, said research on motivation explains why.

“Autonomy is an important piece of this where you have to actually buy into whatever the goal is,” she notes. Requiring that a child practice piano for hours each day when they’d rather be playing soccer “can really backfire,” she added. Kids can end up feeling like their parent’s project or product — and push back by quitting. No matter how much bravado accompanies that move, there’s often also a sense of having let themselves and their parents down.

DeSilva failed her first year of medical school, she said, “because I just didn’t know how to ask for help.” After a car accident, she quit residency and then spent two years in therapy: “Once I was able to admit, ‘I’m not perfect,’ I was successful at pretty much everything I wanted to do, and I didn’t have to be anxious about it. I knew I could do it, whereas before, when I had to be perfect, I was really insecure.”

After she worked through her perfectionism, she said, “I was trying for my own standard, my own goals, my own desires, instead of somebody else’s standard for me.”

Other-oriented perfectionism is bad for parents too, but they can change

Child-oriented perfectionist tendencies aren’t just bad for kids. Trujillo-Fuenning started to feel burned out by her high standards in the parenting realm. The cumulative effect of a thousand little maximizations, like “trying to make sure they were eating the right things every meal,” became overwhelming and depleting. “To be honest, that’s part of why I went back to work,” she told me.

In his 2020 study, Piotrowski found that parents who target their children with other-oriented perfectionism tend to display higher levels of stress, dissatisfaction with parenthood, and feeling so burdened by the parental role that they regret parenthood entirely. He explained, “For mothers characterized by increased other-oriented perfectionism, family life is probably associated with many frustrations and stress, hence the focus on alternative visions of themselves that seem to be better than [being] a parent.”

When she starts trying to work on literacy again, Trujillo-Fuenning said, “I have to pull back and remind myself, if she’s fighting you, just let it go.” The same thing goes for micromanaging her kids’ appearance. “I’m catching my own insecurities of like, ‘You don’t look well put together. People are going to look at you and think I’m not taking care of you.'” But to avoid acting on those impulses requires “a constant mental check,” she told me.

Every now and then Lockner’s wife would say, “You’re being too hard on them. You are expecting too much.” But that doesn’t seem to be what made him change. His sons are at an all-boys school now, and, Lockner said, “Being around other groups of dads made a difference. Listening to how they act, and how their kids are, made me think, ‘Maybe I can ease up a little. My kids really are pretty good.'”

This sort of shift is what Curran sees happening in society as a whole—only in reverse.Other-oriented perfectionist parents aren’t the only ones ratcheting up expectations and pressure. Some parents don’t want to push, Curran said, “but they feel like they have to in this world where elite college is harder to access, where you basically have an economy where the middle class is downwardly mobile with increasing costs of living and stagnated income, and you’ve got chronic and increasing inequality.”

And the pressure can be even more intense for parents like Eric L. Heard, author of “Reflections of an Anxious African American Dad.” He described feeling “the need for immediate feedback” from his son’s teachers: “I always held a fear that I would not address some problem and he would head down a well-worn road of destruction” for Black men, he wrote. “My mind was haunted by the crippling thought of how I would be judged …. I would wear a permanent brand … a large white D for being a deadbeat dad who couldn’t save his son.”

If you’re a parent ruminating on the odds stacked against your child, it is rational to drive them to work harder, achieve more, and be better. Other parents react the same way, the result of which is a frenzied, fearful “rug rat race.” Once that starts to kick in, Curran said, “it’s really hard to stop, at a societal level. It creates an echo chamber where everybody’s engaging in unhealthy behaviors and no one wins.”

He doesn’t just mean that we all lose when we succumb to perfectionism. It also just plain doesn’t work. “Everybody’s engaging in this frantic upward comparison, and no one gains an advantage,” he said. “We just move the average of what’s expected further and further. It’s looking bad.”

But individuals can push back against a trend of overwhelmed young people and parents who, like the old Lockner, feel no choice but to be “the bad guy.” Now that he’s backed off, he said, “It’s easier on me. It’s easier on them.” They do more for themselves, and “they seem more willing to do stuff if I’m not on them all the time.” Truth be told, he likes himself more now.

Therapists can help their clients get there. Dr. Dattilo would tell an other-oriented perfectionist they need to believe it when someone says, “I’m doing the best I can.” Parents can interrogate their perfectionism in psychotherapy: Why is having a perfect child so important to me? Where did this need come from? And cognitive-behavioral therapists push people to fact-check their anxiety: What level of pressure is really necessary to prepare your child to live a good life? Is parental pressure truly the most effective way to forestall your fears? What will happen if you just back off?

When it came to parenting her son, DeSilva, the perfectionist-turned-psychiatrist, said she made a conscious decision. “I was going to raise him to have his own ideas and his own set of standards and really, for me to learn about and help him develop his strengths. And also, to really be comfortable with his weaknesses and vulnerabilities.” That puts her at odds with her own parents. When it comes to her son’s homework, they think, “It’s your job.

You have to make sure his homework is done,” she said. His grandparents even tell her to fix it for him “so it’s correct.” Instead, she explained to her son the consequences of not doing homework, or not doing it well, and let him decide. “He didn’t like it that his teacher was upset with him. So the next time he did his homework, he did it as best he could.”

Tying it all together

Yet individual parents can’t reverse course alone. Putting aside economic inequality for a minute, Curran said, “I think if the pressures of things like standardized testing — for young people to perform perfectly in school at such a young age — could be recalibrated downwards” it would take pressure off parents too. He called online grade portals “even scarier.”

If kids were just allowed to learn, to be, without all the tracking, assessing, and ranking, maybe more parents would feel like they can afford to break — and encourage their kids to break — the link between one’s accomplishments and one’s worth.

As Curran talked, I realized that much of the ground we’ve covered in my Are We There Yet? column is more related than I’d thought. Pressure on parents, including around the “one right way” to parent, produces intensive parenting and lack of autonomy for kids, and it also contributes to parents’ perfectionism and even abusive behavior, all of which lead to faltering mental health in adolescents, often with their own perfectionism as the mechanism. It’s a perfect storm for stressed out, sexless parents who worry they don’t measure up raising stressed out, helpless kids who worry they don’t measure up. To borrow Curran’s words, “It’s all interconnected.”

By Gail Cornwall

Gail Cornwall works as a mother and writer in San Francisco. Connect with Gail on Twitter, or read more at gailcornwall.comMORE FROM Gail Cornwall

Source: The psychological toll of wanting your kid to be “perfect” | Salon.com

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