Asking for... Me

Are You A Lazy Parent? What Experts Say About Being A Mom Who Lets Things Slide

Sometimes passive parenting is all you can muster, but it often comes with a side of mom guilt.

A mom sits on a blanket in the yard as her kids play.
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As a new mom, I received terrible parenting advice. Or maybe I just didn't understand it correctly.

My toddler was constantly misbehaving. Desperate for a solution, I read an article that said, "Pick your battles," and I gave it a try. On days when I was totally at the end of my rope, I'd put my kid in front of the TV rather than figuring out more educational activities or cave in when they whined for extra candy.

I'm guessing that every mom lets the rules slide sometimes, but it never feels good to do it. When we give up and throw in the towel, we are left feeling like lazy parents. But is this mom guilt justified, or are we being too hard on ourselves?

I decided to ask the experts if occasionally caving on the rules is "lazy parenting" and what can happen as a result. Their responses surprised me.

The Not-So-Lazy Truth

"Sometimes parents are just overwhelmed, exhausted, outmatched, and shaming them as lazy isn't going to help that," says Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the How Can I Help? podcast.

Let's face it: We are all just trying to survive, and sometimes it's good to let your kids have a little independence — you just need to approach it correctly.

Back in 2021, moms united in support of the sittervising microtrend. This genius trick involves sitting back while your kids play on their own, navigating social drama, assessing risk, and practicing self-care. This is the celebrated side of lazy parenting, and it's actually not lazy when done correctly because there are definitive techniques to follow, and you still have to do the "supervising" part to keep your kids safe.

The mom-guilt-spurring side of lazy parenting happens when you fail to address problems or let bad habits form.

Be Proactive

Saltz encourages parents to first acknowledge and accept that they are pooped. Then, proactively consider the best ways to handle challenging situations.

"Parents may think, 'OK, let me just get past this moment,' not recognizing that they could be behaviorally training their child to do much more of the same thing," Saltz says.

There's a difference between deciding to let your kids have extra screen time on a rainy day and giving them extra screen time because they are pestering you. In the rainy day situation, there's a specific reason to make an exception to your rules, whereas the pestering situation rewards bad behavior, teaching your kid to whine and complain anytime they want something.

Basically, the "lazy route" of giving in can backfire, creating more issues to handle later on.

In the long run, it's easier to build good habits than to constantly deal with bad behavior. Putting in more work upfront can result in less stress and frustration overall. You're more likely to avoid situations where you might bend the rules by laying the groundwork ahead of time.

Set Up Rules and Rewards

Research shows that positive reinforcement is the most effective way to manage behavior. This means you set up expectations and rewards in advance.

I used this approach at my house to make bedtime slightly less miserable. Before I decided to try something new, I would have to pry Xbox controllers out of little hands and negotiate the terms of bathtime and pajamas. Eventually, we worked out a nightly routine and reward that made everyone happy: If my kids could get ready for bed quickly without arguments, we'd read extra stories.

According to Amy Betters-Midtvedt, teacher and author of You'll Make It (And They Will Too), kids are more likely to buy in if you give them a voice when making the rules and rewards. Betters-Midtvedt asks her kids to create their own plans for using screens. "They get a say, and they get a choice. I try to put it in their hands so they are owning their plan."

When All Else Fails

Rules and rewards sound great, but some days, kids might launch into a tantrum despite your best efforts to avoid it. In these situations, a little negative reinforcement might be needed. Yes, you read that correctly: negative reinforcement.

In a world where "positive parenting" is the holy grail of strategies, it's hard to believe there's a place for negative reinforcement. But don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds. It's not punishment or a bad response — it's no response at all.

Imagine your kid launches into a screaming fit because they don't want to get dressed. This is a good time for negative reinforcement, meaning you say, "I'm disappointed in this reaction," and walk away. Doing so gives you both a chance to breathe and re-group.

After the tantrum, come back and try the positive approach again by saying: "OK, time to get dressed. I know you are looking forward to going to grandma's house today, and we can only go if we change out of our PJs." The rule is to get dressed, and the reward is to go to grandma's house.

When it comes to parenting, there are no magical tricks that always work, but having a researched-backed strategy can give you more confidence and less mom guilt.

"Think of your child like a human, responsive to training, and think of you both with compassion, because parenting is hard, and being a kid is hard," Saltz says. "Feeling guilty makes it harder for you to parent."