Do mothers put too much pressure on themselves?


1950s housewifeThe other day I was at a friend’s house with a group of mothers and our children after school. Our children all go to different schools nearby. One of my friends told us that she had been asked to make an outfit for her 5-year-old son as his school was having a fairytale day. The letter from the school stated that they would prefer parents to make an outfit rather than buy one. My immediate reaction was outrage at the request even though I wasn’t being asked to do it. My outrage partially stems from the fact that I have no idea how to use a sewing machine and I can only just about sew a hem up. One of my other friends was equally outraged and said ‘The school seems to think we are all 1950s housewives with nothing else to do but make outfits’. So is making children’s dressing up outfits an essential skill every mother should have? I am not sure that it is although it would certainly save me some money. I also suspect that in the 1950s, women would not have been asked to make a costume for a special day at school, as they probably wouldn’t have had the money for such frivolities.

There does seem to be a current trend towards home-baking and traditional craft activities at the moment. I like baking, I would like to be able to knit but I am not so keen on sewing. However, I think we should all pause to think about what is essential to being a good mother before getting sucked into feeling that all mothers have to make cakes, sew costumes and knit scarves. Many mothers work long hours and I think it is unreasonable to expect such mothers to come home and do lots of home-making activities unless they want to. My friend who had been asked to make the DIY costume already works four days a week and she does not have that much time to sew.

So what makes a good mum? I have decided to compile a list of essentials and non-essentials.

Essential mother skills

-Showing love and affection to your children.
-Listening and talking to your children.
-Setting boundaries for your children so they feel secure.
-Attending to your children’s physical needs-providing food, shelter and warmth.

Non-essential mother skills

-Baking cakes-we can buy cakes instead!
-Sewing costumes-we can buy a dressing-up costume to make it easier for ourselves.
-Hosting and planning big birthday parties-we can have a small party at home or just take our child out somewhere nice.
-Buying expensive presents-we can explain to our children that we don’t have endless supplies of money. If you are worried about how to explain not being able to afford Christmas presents, you can say Father Christmas brings the stocking fillers only.

Sometimes it may be better for our children and us to do less rather than more. Buying a few cakes rather than baking them for the school fundraiser may mean we are less stressed and have more time to talk, read or play with our children. As mothers we don’t have to do it all and we should avoid feeling guilty for it. What can you stop doing to relieve the pressure?


The importance of family meals

How to deal with tantrums

Choosing a nursery


Understanding the teenage brain

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teenage brain scaffoldingWhen I was a teenager, I remember my mum getting mad at me because I got home at midnight when she had asked me to be home at 11.30.I thought she was being unreasonable but I didn’t really consider how worried she must have been. Teenagers are not necessarily the most considerate people but this may be outside their control.

Previously, people thought that the teenage brain was much like an adult brain and that the really important brain development occurred in the early years. However, neuroscientists have found that teenage brains are still developing. The brain rewires during the teen years and this can continue until the early twenties. New connections between nerve cells in the brain are formed and some connections are lost. The part of the brain that is most affected is the pre-frontal cortex, which is important for controlling emotions, empathy and decision-making. The prefrontal cortex helps us to plan ahead, control our impulses and understand the consequences of our actions so it is not surprising that teenagers can be reactive and have problems with self-control. Teenagers may not fully appreciate the consequences of their actions and they may not weigh up information in the same way adults do. So although adults might weigh up the consequences of getting in a car with a friend who has drunk too much but teenagers may not.

Teenagers can also find it difficult to read facial expressions and recognise other people’s feelings while the brain is rewiring. One study found that only 50% of teenagers could recognise fear as a facial expression compared to 100% of adults. So teenagers may need help recognising other people’s feelings.

Parents may feel frustrated when they tell their teenager to do their homework only to find them texting a friend two minutes later. Unfortunately, the reward centre of teenagers’ brain just seeks pleasure and they don’t think about the consequences. If parents understand that their teenagers are not deliberately trying to annoy them, then they are less likely to become frustrated.

Teenagers’ brains are also very reactive. One study compared children’s, teenagers’ and adults’ responses to rewards such as money. Teenagers showed the greatest brain activation to rewards. They can also be very reactive and can have a hard time controlling their emotions. Perhaps this suggests that we should really be bribing teenagers to do their homework rather than nagging them!

Teenagers find it more difficult to read facial expressions and recognise other people’s feelings while the brain is rewiring. One study found that only 50% of teenagers could recognise fear as a facial expression compared to 100% of adults. Teenagers may need help recognising other people’s feelings.

So how can we help teenagers? I have three suggestions: We can improve their understanding of their own and other people’s emotions; We can help them to control their thoughts, which in turn impacts their emotions and we can teach them skills of reflection and taking different perspectives.

Read more about teenagers in ‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ for sale as an e-book on Amazon,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.