Diane Lipton Dennis chuckles when she considers the questions she gets from parents who attend her seminars.
"I have parents of 3- and 4-year-olds who struggle with how to throw a birthday party for them and who to invite," says Ms. Dennis, founder and president of Lipton Corporate Child Care Centers, which provides backup child care and day care service to corporations in 10 centers in the Northeast.
"We're talking about high-powered CEOs and VPs of big, prestigious law firms and corporations who make million-dollar decisions every day, and they can't decide who to invite for their 4-year-old's party," she says.
Some aspects of family stress might be humorous, but the issue isn't so funny when families fail to appreciate or understand the specific pressures and stresses their friends and neighbors face.
So says Kim Nickerson, a psychologist with the American Psychological Association who has done research on stress as an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.
"One of the things that has often been difficult for parents we tried to help is that many of the conflicting messages that they get from reading self-help books or watching Oprah Winfrey or watching the nightly news and seeing a story on parenting are coming from a very middle-class or affluent person," says Mr. Nickerson, a minority fellowship assistant director for the APA.
"Many of these strategies have no relevance or no context for many different kinds of families, and that can cause quite a bit of problems," he says. "It's important to understand parenting challenges, that stresses can be different, and it depends on where your family is situated in terms of social and economic status.
"One of the troubling things for me and many folks is that when you think of policy-making and [lawmakers'] understanding of particular stresses, they don't pay attention to the differences, and one solution may not be the same for everyone."
That mentality isn't endemic to policy-makers and lawmakers, Mr. Nickerson says. Families often fail to grasp that next-door neighbors or colleagues at work may struggle with vastly different kinds of stresses. Such families assume they have so much in common with their neighbors or co-workers that their challenges are similar.
"The parenting challenge of a stable middle-class or upper-middle-class household, where two parents are in the household, are very, very different from the stresses that a single-parent household faces, regardless of social status," Mr. …