Parenting in the 21st century requires a whole new type of know-how when it comes to information overload.
We’re living in a new world. As modern parents raising the next generation in the post-digital age, we’re faced with challenges that parents in the past never had to consider.
On the one hand, we have an infinite amount of information and advice at our fingertips. Any questions that arise along our parenting journey can be researched fairly easily. We have unlimited access to books, articles, podcasts, studies, expert commentary, and Google results. We’re also able to connect with parents around the globe who can offer a range of support and perspective on any situation.
On the other hand, many of those benefits are accompanied by new landmines:
- The pace of our daily lives is much faster.
- We’re overwhelmed with information, which can often lead to analysis paralysis or confusion.
- Not all of the information we view is credible. It can be hard to differentiate between fact and fiction.
- Even when the information we find is verified, there’s often an equally reliable study that offers a contradictory conclusion.
- We’re surrounded by “guru advice.” It’s tempting to buy into the myth that our problems can be easily fixed with a quick life hack. In reality, it often requires much more.
As a new parent who struggled to blend my responsibilities at work, at home, and in life in general, I found all of the information at my disposal comforting on one level. I thought I could “educate” my way into work-life balance. If one resource or friend didn’t hold the key to success, I’d just continue on to the next recommendation.
After years of failing to create a life that worked for my family and me, it occurred to me that this endless consumption of information was making matters worse; it just led to a lack of confidence within myself.
It’s not that the information wasn’t credible (sometimes it was, and other times it wasn’t). The bigger issue was that I had no filter through which to assess all of the information and advice I encountered. That was controlling my experience as a working mom in a negative way. Even the best advice fell short at times, simply because it wasn’t applicable for me in that particular moment of my life.
There are three main skills I’ve had to develop in order to leverage the abundant treasure trove of information we all have access to. These three skills help me cherry-pick the information that will be helpful to me and then apply it in my daily life.
The Center for Media Literacy describes media literacy as: “Helping [people] become competent, critical and literate in all media forms so that they control the interpretation of what they see or hear rather than letting the interpretation control them.”
Media literacy is an important skill for a lot of different reasons. Being able to distinguish fact from fiction is a fundamental part of matching our perspective to our reality. But knowing how to filter and apply that information in our own lives is important too. Here are some of the main questions I ask whenever I’m confronted with new information in my life:
- Is this information credible?
- Is this information relevant to me right now?
- Is this information helpful to me right now?
- Can I implement this information right now?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” I know I can disregard it for the moment, knowing I can always return to it in the future if I need to. This helps me navigate information overload, or feelings of failure when popular advice doesn’t seem to fit for me.
As a working mom, I’m faced with demands from the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night (and more often than not, in the middle-of-the-night hours too!). Developing the ability to seamlessly shift between broad awareness of my life as a whole and deep focus on what’s most important in each moment has become critical to my own happiness and well-being.
I’ve come to understand working parenthood as a complex web of individual parts that make up a larger whole. For example, I have a marriage part, a parenting part, a business owner part, a mental wellness part, and a household management part (among others).
My inclination is to approach each part in a vacuum, but they really all interact with each other. It’s helpful to understand how each part is operating independently in my life, as well as how each part is impacting the larger whole.
This ability to zoom in and out feels a lot like being an air traffic controller who’s tracking a bunch of moving airplanes all at once:
- Some airplanes are lined up and waiting for their turn to take off. These are the plans I make ahead of time that keep my life running smoothly. This might look like having meal plans prepared for the week, establishing a comforting bedtime routine for my kids, or scheduling a massage.
- Some airplanes are taxiing down the runway, about to take off. These are the projects or responsibilities that need my immediate attention. This might include a big work project I’m about to turn in, a client meeting I’m walking into, or a check-in on my mental health.
- Some airplanes have just taken off and are flying out of my range of responsibility. These are the items I am actively transitioning off my plate, either because they’re complete, I no longer need to do it, or I’m outsourcing it to someone else. In my daily life, this looks like dropping my kids off at school for the day, submitting a finished article to my editor, or finishing up a workout.
- Others are lined up in the air, ready to come in for a landing. These are the most important parts of my life that need attention. If I don’t get them on the ground soon, bad things will happen. This includes making sure I’m regularly taking care of my health, spending quality time with my family, or doing something purely for the joy of it.
As a working mom, I need to know where every one of my “airplanes” are on a broad scale. But I also need to keep an eye on the single airplane that’s hitting the runway at any given moment. Working parenthood requires a constant process of zooming out to get a quick pulse on my life as a whole, and then zooming back in to dedicate all of my attention where it needs to be most.
There’s a lot of pressure on parents to do things the “right way” in modern society. We’re faced with examples of how everyone else is parenting, and it can be easy to miss what’s true for us.
For a long time, I thought my job was to find “THE BOOK” or “THE EXPERT” who had the right answers, and then implement their carefully curated solutions into my own life. I desperately wanted an instruction manual from someone who has been there, done that.
The problem is that no such instruction manual exists. There’s a lot of knowledge out there, but the real wisdom we seek comes from our own self-awareness. There’s no one else out there who is living my exact life, so all of the answers I find “out there” are inherently limited.
I’ve learned that understanding how I show up in all aspects of my life gives me the direction I need. I still take in a lot of information (using the questions I outlined earlier). But when it comes down to it, relying on my own inner knowingness is the best source of guidance I’ve found yet. Self-awareness has been the key to shutting out the noise, so I can ultimately make the right decisions for myself and my family.
Here are just a few of the questions I’ve found to be helpful in trusting my own path in life, even when I’m bombarded with examples of how other people are doing things differently:
- Does this activity or person give me energy, or did it deplete my energy?
- What is working in this area of my life?
- What is not working in this area of my life?
- What small or manageable thing can I do to make this easier for myself, or to get a better outcome?
- Do I feel like I’m living in alignment with my core values and priorities? If not, what doesn’t fit right now?
- Is this activity, relationship or belief serving a healthy purpose in my life? If not, how can I make an adjustment?
- What do I still need to learn? What are the gaps in my understanding?
The information we have available in the post-digital age can be extremely helpful, if we’re filtering it through our actual experience as working parents. As soon as we lose that connection to our self or our lives as a whole, that information can become overwhelming and counterproductive.
Sarah Argenal, MA, CPC, is on a mission to eradicate the burnout epidemic so working parents can finally enjoy these precious years of their lives. She is the founder of The Argenal Institute based in Austin, TX, host of the Working Parent Resource Podcast, and creator of the Whole SELF Lifestyle, which offers a sustainable and long-term approach to personal fulfillment for working parents. Visit her website at www.argenalinstitute.com to learn more or to browse her library of training materials.