Leave your children alone once in awhile!
Economist Bryan Caplan, author of Selfish Reasons to Have Kids, offers a suggestion for parents that sounds at first to be both obvious and dangerous in today's hyper-parented society: Want to be a happier parent? Back off from parenting. Helicopter parenting, that is.
Rather than feeling as if you need to hover about your child at all waking moments, if you feel your own sanity starting to slip, it might be time to put on a DVD, call the babysitter, and spend some time on your personal needs.
Caplan's ideas shouldn't sound selfish or ludicrous, considering that everyone needs a short break from their responsibilities once in awhile. There is concern, though, that children who lack adequate nurture will experience difficulty fulfilling their natural potential to excel.
Remember the "Tiger Mom" hoopla? Many parents believe that without rigorous training (like music lessons and tutoring) their children won't learn proper discipline or artistry. If parents don't monitor their children's social lives, they might mingle with the wrong crowd. While the guidance sounds well-intentioned, and often leads to great results ("Tiger Mom" Amy Chua's daughter was actually accepted into Harvard), it can burn out parents and marriages.
In response to the debate on nature versus nurture, Caplan cites research on twins and adopted children. Studies show that children raised by college-educated parents tend to have larger vocabularies than children raised by high school drop outs, so you would think that children adopted by degree-holding parents would possess similar tendencies.
To the surprise of many, the Colorado Adoption Project found that the 2-year-olds adopted into high-achieving families only displayed enriched abilities during the first few years of life. As they grew up, their abilities became more similar to those of their biological parents.
Since natural tendencies strongly influence adopted children, Caplan argues that people can switch parenting styles without being too concerned for how their children will turn out.
All parents experience exhaustion, but parenting doesn't have to ruin your life or your marriage. Based on the adoption research, parents can take a break without jeopardizing their children's future.
To alleviate stress, Caplan suggests supervising less. If neither you nor your kid enjoys a recreational activity, allow your child to quit and move on to something else. Let your children watch TV and play video games in moderation. Plan relaxing family vacations instead of super-ambitious ones (cut the historical sightseeing, for instance). If you have the money, put your kids in daycare or hire a babysitter.
The time away from your children doesn't mean losing precious hours with them, and it certainly doesn't make you an absent parent. It means that you'll have more energy to play with and appreciate them when you're together. And that is where the magic of parenting really starts to work.