It runs counter to our instincts as parents, but making your kids your top priority may be doing them more harm than good. I received this email after my appearance on the BBC:
"My first marriage broke down with two children because I gave them ALL my time. Now, with my lovely new hubby and a set of twins, all six of us laugh more than ever, due to my husband and I balancing time for us, as well as them!"
-- Gayle in Leeds, England
These days, we parents are so afraid of screwing up our kids that we break our backs to provide perfect, trauma-free childhoods for them.
Um, where are the results? Studies show today's parents spend more time with their kids, and yet today's kids don't seem happier. They seem more troubled, entitled and needy. Here are the top three myths of parenting today:
The key is to realize that anxiety is a survival instinct. Back in our cave man days, anxiety helped us to worry--to anticipate possible dangers and trigger our fight-or-flight response to get out of danger.
For example, if you were a "cave person" who was highly anxious, and overreacted to every noise you heard in the bushes, but your mate lounged in the sun even as the lion roared nearby, you wouldn't last long together. So, back then, you wanted a mate with your same level of anxiety, because that meant you'd both react in similar ways to danger. You might say the couple who 'fights or flees' together stays together--and reproduces.
Mother Nature doesn't lie: You and your spouse felt chemistry for each other because you both have the same level of anxiety. Our level of anxiety determines how we react (or overreact) to others--in other words, our maturity level. For example, when we're anxious we tend to be irritable, and more likely to criticize or blame our spouse. The more anxious we are, the more immaturely we behave, because our anxiety triggers our fight-or-flight response more often in our marriages.
So the next time you're feeling superior, accept that you're just as anxious and immature as your spouse is, and settle down to create the best marriage possible. Both you and your kids will be glad you did.
- I'm in The New York Times.