The mind is a powerful thing. And unfortunately, mommy mind games have become the bread and butter of this age of extreme parenting.
The topic is well on the radar of parents and professionals. Recently, parenting expert Katie Allison Granju wrote on the over-parenting crisis for Babble, and psychologist Ann Dunnewold’s new Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box offers strategies to help moms wade out of the mind game quagmire. This morning I’ll share my thoughts on this book per a review for the Parent Bloggers Network.
Dr. Dunnewold is expert in counseling women suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. Through Even June Cleaver, she uses client scenarios and a cognitive therapeutic approach to frame her case; that extreme parenting reflects an obsessed need for control that results in overperfecting (trying to measure up to Martha), overprotecting (is there really a "wrong crowd" at 18 months old?), and overproducing (it’s trouble if your toddler needs a PDA). These pillars of extreme parenting are perpetuated by “mommy thinking traps” (e.g., perceived societal shoulds, our own absolute or “awfulizing” thinking), and Dunnewold advocates for a mindset shift geared towards “perfectly good” parenting; that, in fact, you can be a great parent and raise great kids as a normal, flawed human being. She offers advice to challenge/avoid mommy thinking traps, and concrete, every day examples of irrational, self-critical thinking (e.g., “[I’m the] meanest mommy ever”) and their reality-based, perfectly good translations (e.g., “These kids will learn about real feelings”). Related to the semi-recent media blitz on praising for effort over achievement, I found especially interesting the idea that developing thinking that is free of shoulds, absolutes, and awfulizing is not only good for mom, but helps kids avoid perfectionism and unrealistic expectations. Kids already tend to see things in black and white (e.g., being good or bad), and a “perfectly good lens” can help define stress and anxiety reducing middle ground.
I’m a trained experimental psychologist (married to a therapist-to-be) who has logged countless therapy hours breaking down my perfectionist belief system as it relates to parenting, my family and friends, and my professional life (via the fascinating Enneagram system); subsequently, the general ideas in Dunnewold’s book actually were not new to me. But familiar or not, Dunnewold's case is solid and she presents her methods for working towards a solution in clear terms. She also is refreshingly honest in acknowledging that reversing habits and fighting the peer pressure tide will be challenging and slow. But clearly – given the countless times I've seen moms clearly blame themselves for their kid's "imperfect behavior" (verbally or via a look of utter dejection and humiliation) – it's a fight worth fighting. And all the better, according to Dunnewold, if you can engage your partner and other like minded mommy friends in the battle.
Yes, the mind is a powerful thing. But the good news is that if you have the power to work yourself into an unraveling mommy frenzy, then you’ve also got the goods to follow your instincts and work on standing tall in the face of the mental mommy bullies.