Anna and Ross Stokke teach their daughters, Ava, 10, and Klara, 6, math at their house in Winnipeg on Sunday, March 4, 2012. (Photo by Marianne Helm for Maclean's Magazine)

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There are a couple of extremes when it comes to how you’d like others to perceive your experience of parenting. Either you try to make it look effortless; or you’re so openly miserable with all that you put yourself through that you must be a good parent! Both aren’t ideal, and neither is realistic. And speaking of unhappy parents, research is showing that the better educated a parent is, the unhappier they are likely to be.

According to this article, this happens for a few reasons. One, because better educated parents tend to opt for an intensive parenting style, which focuses on developmentally progressive childhoods and only the best parenting practices. Two: they experience more societal pressure about the way they parent. And three: these factors mean they leave less time for looking after their own wellbeing, meaning a more miserable existence.  

This is bittersweet to hear. On the one side it makes sense, and yet on the other my whole self protests – I’m an educated parent and I’m far from miserable! It seems so unfortunate that the parents who can provide for their kids financially and intellectually might miss out on providing something their kids arguably need more: a role model of happiness.

It’s no secret that the wellbeing of children is related to that of their parents. As the article summed it up nicely:

If this approach is making mothers and fathers miserable, children may be harmed. We know that parents’ mental health can make a big difference to children’s well-being. Likewise, unhappiness can threaten parents’ relationships, whose stability is also important to child development. We should value parents’ happiness—it matters to children. When designing policies for children, parents’ well-being should get plenty of consideration and support. It could be very short-sighted to leave it at the bottom of the list of priorities.

So what is to be done about this? How do we, well educated parents, remove misery from our parenting experience?

I suppose we start by calling ourselves out on our ‘intensive parenting’ – even though it’s hard, we can make a real effort to stop judging our kids by the milestones they meet and how early they meet them; as well as how they compare to other kids. As for parenting practices, we use what works for each individual’s child’s needs, and respect that other parents have also made the best choice for their unique child. Societal pressure about the way we parent will always be there, but we can only change ourselves – and hopefully that way, be an example to others.

As for looking after our own wellbeing and making time for ourselves: I have a love-hate relationship with this phrase. ‘Making time for ourselves’ could be mistaken for daily pampers and weekly shopping sprees and all-out treating ourselves; but I think that really it means looking after our body, mind and spirit. With this meaning, looking after ourselves is a service to our kids: it puts us in the right frame of mind to be our best self, and use this best self to forget ourselves and give our time to others – which is where lasting happiness is to be found.

Tamara El-Rahi is the editor of Family Edge, MercatorNet’s blog about family issues.

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.