Parenting Stress! You know the feeling.
Stress is a sign that something needs to change…
Stress is when there is too much pressure put on us. Either from the outside word, people around us or even us self. Maybe we have too high expectation on keeping our house tidy and ‘look nice’. It can be to much work that does not balance our home and personal life. It can be a kids party or family gathering that we want to be perfect.
Parenting stress can be good for us in small doses if we can manage it
We become a role model for stress management: No one goes through life without stress and conflicts. Once we have the tools and skills to manage our stress we can ‘show’ our kids how they can deal with stress in their life. We are our kids’ biggest role models. From an early age they copy everything we do, say, feel and even our moods. So, if we can ‘teach them by doing’, our kids will benefit from our way of dealing with stress. But also from how we think about stress. And remember that it also goes the other way: if you cannot manage your stress they might copy that too.
Stress gives us drive and energy: At certain times I am all up for stress, bring it on! It helps us to build resilience and teaches us to problem solve. It can give us much needed adrenaline, energy and drive. I am always stressed just before I am about to present a big workshop or meet a new client – but this makes me sharper and more open to the situation and helps me stay alert and present and connect better. It is when it is ongoing or we don’t know how to manage it, that stress becomes bad.
Stress can be beneficial for kids too
Builds resilience: no one goes through life free of stress and battles. So, if we allow our kids to experience some stress from an early age it can help them to be prepared for stresses and challenges later in life. But the learning experience they gain from going through stress all depends on whether they have the tools and backup from adults around them to handle the situation.
Why parenting stress is not good
One of the areas I support parents with, is not only what to do when stressed or consider why they are stressed. It’s also what constant stress do to them, their families and their children, now and in the future.
I am sure we have all been there where we did or said something we regretted later. Maybe we yelled at our child, said unkind things. Or maybe we dropped a cup or spilled food all over the place.
These mistakes, or bad decisions, often occur when we are stressed. Then our minds are full of the wrong thing at the wrong time. So we become mindless and make mistakes.
As mentioned earlier, stress can sometimes be good. But if it is present over long periods of time it can really affect the way we parent and the connection with our kids and our partner.
Stress can make us less sensitive to our children because we become less capable of tuning into their thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Stress can make us angrier and more impatient and we are in danger of becoming impulsive instead of measured. This can be scary for our children to live with, as we can become unpredictable.
We are our kid’s strongest role models. And from an early age they repeat everything we do and say. They even tap into our feelings and state of mind. So, there is a strong correlation between children of stressed and angry parents and aggressive and non-compliant children.
The effects of parental stress and anger can continue to impact the child into adulthood. That includes increasing degrees of depression, social alienation, spouse abuse and career and economic achievement.
So, it is important to place attention on our stress levels and become aware of what we can control and change.
What can we do
- Awareness is the first step to change. Know the signs that you are not ok and may be stressed: stomach ache, headache, clenched fists, tight throat etc. Changes in appetite — either not eating or eating too much. Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities. Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes. Exhibiting more nervous behaviours, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing.
- Once you are aware of the signs have a think about what the TRIGGERS are for you: siblings fighting, refusal to do homework, bedtime rebellion, too much work, messy house, relationship with partner etc.
- Then ask yourself: What can you change or control in the environment:
- create a different bedtime or homework routine.
- talk to children about sibling fighting in the home.
- ask for time off from work, less hours, more balance or support to create a better family, life and work balance.
- discuss with partner how you can ‘parent as a team’.
- tidy up the house if it stresses you.
- delegate jobs to others – we don’t have to do it all.
- maybe you need to sit with the family and have a family chat about how you can work together as a team and establish a routine and agreement that sits well with you and respects each family member.
- What can you do differently (control) within yourself: Teach yourself to stop, pause and breathe when you feel the ‘signs’. Don’t do or say anything until you have paused. Pausing gives us time to think and check in with ourselves. We become aware of why we are stressed, and what effect it has and what we can do about it.
- Think: What I am feeling right now (anger, overload etc.) is ok, but I don’t want it to hijack how I parent.
- Ask why. Get curious, not furious. Ask yourself, ‘what do I need right now to deal with my stress or the situation?’
- Action: make a decision about what you will do and say, or not do and say: stay calm, dont scream, step back from the situation, go for a walk, call a good friend etc. Accept that you are stressed and that it is ok, but it is what you do with it that matters.Work on the ability to say “no” and set boundaries with your kids, yourselves and people around you. What is it that you need right now in order to find more balance in your life? We don’t have to say yes all the time. It is completely legitimate to say “I need to think about it”, “Let us talk about it later”, without promising anything.
- Keep a stress diary so you become aware of when and why you get stressed. This will help you to be curious, not furious: Enquire why you got stressed in the first place so you can change it or avoid it in the future!
- Stay focused on your health: good food, exercise, get outdoors, good sleep routine, keep an eye on your technology use etc .
- Be kind to yourself when you are stressed: it is ok, normal and natural to be stressed at times. Be kind to yourself and try to schedule some ‘me-time’ into your week where you can re-energise and recharge. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just a walk around the block, a bath, meet a good friend etc.
- Verbalize it to people around you: you might not want everyone to know about your stress. But those who love you, and are close to you will sense that you are not in a good place. And children are very quick to tune into our moods and state of mind; if they don’t know why they might make up a reason themselves that might not be right. They might think mum/dad doesn’t love me, it’s my fault, mum/dad will leave us etc.
- Share with them in an open and positive way ‘I just want you to know that I feel a bit stressed for the moment but that I am working on it and it is an adult thing and nothing to do with you, I still love you very much’. Say it to your partner or colleagues, ‘I just want you to know that I’m feeling a bit stressed and overloaded for the moment so might be a bit short tempered but I am working on it and it has nothing to do with you’. This makes us safe company to be with and we are more likely to actually do something about it once we have shared our emotions.