When In Doubt, Parent Out
I’ve only been a parent for a few months – 10 months and 9 days to be exact – but I’m here to report that parenting is just as relentless as everyone says it is.
Our little ten-month-old is a good baby. He sleeps pretty well. He’s happy most of the time. He’s a smiley, crawly, wavy, little nugget that has me wrapped around his finger. My wife and I often comment that we didn’t know we could love someone so much.
But then there are nights like this last Saturday night. Our son woke up at about 1:00 am and was inconsolable. We tried feeding him, we got him in the bath. I got his stroller and tried pushing him around indoors. We took turn holding him, singing him songs, and giving him toys. At around 3:30 am he finally fell back asleep. The next morning, he woke up early and as happy as ever – just like he’d slept the whole night.
My wife and I weren’t quite as chipper. We drank coffee as quickly as we could to try and catch up to his energy.
On nights like this one, I’m reminded of people who come to my therapy office overwhelmed by trying to keep it all together while parenting. Often, they have read books, blogs, or followed parenting advice they found on Instagram or Twitter. They have tried to find ways to give their kid all the advantages and can feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for not doing enough.
When we feel overwhelmed, its often easy to try and find advice that will work quickly. But as many of my clients learn, the parenting advice out there can be contradictory, confusing, or complicated.
As a researcher, I can tell you that most of the parenting advice out there isn’t based in science – we don’t have good evidence that specific parenting advice will work for every kid every time.
But we do have good evidence of things that do help kids thrive. These are thing that I try to discuss with my clients. I like to call it parenting outward.
Most of the advice you find on the internet focuses on parenting inward – it tends to overemphasize the parents’ role and downplay outside factors. But research suggests that parenting inwardly might not be as impactful as we think it is. Often factors and relationships outside of the parent-child relationship have a greater impact on kid’s well-being.
So how do you parent outward? By encouraging and creating opportunities for you kid to form other relationships. Whether this be with grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, neighbors, or teachers, kids thrive when they know there are multiple people who love and support them.
Parenting outward also means parents taking a step back. Inward parenting is often focused on doing –what a parent should do and how they can do more of it. But outward parent focuses on letting the kids explore who they are within the confines of a boundary. Kids can figure out what they want to do if given the space to do it – they just need parents to make sure the don’t go to far.
It also means working to create healthy communities. Having access to outdoor spaces, clear air and water, healthy food, and good schools often has a greater impact on kids’ well-being than parenting. If you want to parent outward, you need to be invested in your community.
Is parenting outward going to make everything stress free? No. You’ll still have nights like I did with my ten-month-old. But parenting outward can shift our focus to the things that really matter – safe boundaries, secure relationships, and healthy communities.