Dealing With The Stress Of Parenthood
Life is stressful. Work, money, family, children…here's how to reduce the stress. Give yourself an emotional health-check and make the changes today.
Most parents find the experience of parenthood incredibly rewarding. However, most parents will also tell you that being a parent can, at times, also feel like hell. Equally, almost all parents want the best for their children, and want to do the best they can.
This desire to do the best we can for our children, combined with the difficulties parenting, and life, can bestow upon us can lead to parents feeling overloaded with work and stressed at the myriad of responsibilities having children can impose. Here's a snapshot look at the sources of stress, a checklist to find out whether you are stressed, and what to do to survive.
What Makes Us The Parent We Are? - Our own childhoods
Our first experience of parenting is most commonly from our own parents. As a child we watch our parents, learning how to respond to the expectations of family, community, and society from how they behaved to one another, ourselves and others around us.
Some treat their child without consciously thinking about why they do, purely following patterns of behaviour learned from their parents in childhood. Ever found yourself thinking you are turning into your mum or dad?
Others experience difficult childhoods and promise themselves they will raise their children very differently.
Some try to resolve their own childhood issues through their own parenting - perhaps subconsciously taking feelings out on their own children, being hurt or angry at their own parent, but later acting the hurt or anger out on their child.
Most people who experienced difficulties or abuse in their own childhoods go on to be caring attentive parents. However these childhood experiences will naturally make things more of a challenge for them.
The Perfect Parent?
It is often the case that when you feel at your lowest or most stressed, and have doubts about your own parenting abilities, you bump into that parent who appears to be Super-Mum or Super-Dad. Most people know someone who appears like this, and the media often portrays successful mothers as glamorous and confident, combining both the parenting and household chores with a high-flying job, all without a hint of stress or a hair out of place. Equally, television and films can often portray the concept of the new man, who returns from work, plunges his hands into the sink, or cooks a meal, baths the kids and then cracks on with the ironing, leaving his wife (a high powered business woman without a hair out of place) to enjoy a glass of bubbly in the Jacuzzi.
Scratch beneath the surface and you will find that Super-Mum and Super-Dad are probably just as stressed as the next person, and have the same worries and anxieties as most parents. It may be that they deal with their stress differently, or possibly more effectively.
Are You Stressed?
What makes us stressed tends to be very individual and we all respond to stress in different ways. Some of us get stressed over things that our friends just shrug off. This can raise our feelings of anxiety even more, thus reducing our abilities to cope with the pressure, and making us even more stressed. Genetic make-up, personality and life-experience can also contribute strongly to how you respond. These responses can become a vicious circle that can undermine how we cope with life and how we parent our children.
One thing you can do to help prevent or break this cycle is to be able recognise the sources of stress and what affects you. Stress tends to fall into four categories, with their own "symptoms" and "signs"...
Emotional: Irritability, Worrying, Self-Doubt, Anger, Depression, Resentment, Nervousness, Frustration, Anxiety and Moodiness.
Physical: Insomnia, Upset Tummy, Back Ache, Neck Ache, Tiredness, Insomnia, Headaches and Upset eating habits.
Mental: Lethargy, Confusion, Restlessness, Forgetfulness, Inability to get things done, Pessimism and Poor Concentration.
Social: Isolation, Loneliness, Nagging, Shouting, Losing temper, Low sex drive and Not wanting to be social.
So what do you do if you recognise any of these signs or symptoms? Recognising that you are suffering from stress is the first step to countering its effects. Once you know you are stressed you can begin to look for what makes you stressed. Some things, such as a screaming baby or a moody teen are obvious, however some can be subtler. For instance, are you trying to keep an immaculate household whilst having toddlers running around? If so, you may give yourself some quite unrealistic expectations. Obviously you need to ensure your house is safe and hygienic, but this doesn't mean you have to vacuum twice a day, or even every day. Someone once said, "trying to keep a tidy house when you have child is like trying to clear you path when it's snowing."
You and Your Partner
Relationships can often be a source of stress. Our relationships change when children come along. We have to adjust to caring, loving and raising our children and this requires time and energy. Time and energy that we may have spent making our partners or ourselves feel happy and loved. This can make us or our partner feel left out, or unloved, especially following the birth of a baby where the baby's needs can be an immense physical and emotional drain.
Equally, stress can be a major issue if you and your partner are undergoing relationship difficulties, leaving you feeling tired and vulnerable, with little energy left for your children. This can naturally impact on how you respond to your children, and how they respond to you.
If you are experiencing difficulties in your relationship, you may consider explaining this to your child, depending on their age and ability to take in what you are saying. Ensure they understand that the relationship difficulties you are experiencing are NOT their fault. Ensure that you and your partner do not allow the child to become part of any disagreements, or feel that they have to take sides. Ensure that you monitor any effects the difficulties may have on your child and respond sensitively and supportively.
More Information: Relationships - Dealing with Relationship Problems
Getting the Balance
Being a parent gives us one major skill or qualification - the ability to feel guilty. Our expectations, messages from TV and media, and pressures from society send us two very strong messages about parenting and work, especially to mothers:
You have to work, to earn, to buy, to have - if you don't you are somehow a failure, and unable to provide yourself or your family with everything they need. All those TV programmes with kids with PCs, TVs, and Hi-Fis in their rooms…no wonder some children never leave their rooms. So we go out to work, either full time or part time, come home, cook and clean, and are still expected to be full of life and vigour, cheery and bright.
Children need their mothers as they grow up - this message tells us that mothers shouldn't go out to work, and should stay at home providing stimulation, nurturing and rearing our children into balanced, good-natured young people.
The danger of both these messages are that they are credible, logical and almost reasonable expectations. What they fail to do is consider you and your child as individuals, with your own needs. It's the "damned if you do...damned if you don't" scenario.
You may need to work. Today's society places a great amount of financial pressure of families to buy and to have. You may need to work just to pay the mortgage. You want to work because you enjoy your job and developing your career. On the other hand you may rather be at home with your children. And why not? Who dictates whether you should or should not work? What is important is that you and your family are OK, and only you and your family can decide that.
It's too easy to fall into the trap advertisers and businesses lay for you. "You need this to be happy", "our product is the only one your child needs"... Whatever your circumstances, size of family, or income, you are likely to worry about money at least some of the time. If you are worried about money, or unhappy with how things are, life can be very stressful. Some people find themselves with very serious financial problems; others may just get stressed about money.
Whatever situation you are in there is always help, and it is important that you seek help before the stress you are suffering starts to impact on your parenting too heavily. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and consider what the most important thing is for your child...YOU and YOUR LOVE. Children who feel loved and supported, and who have positive relationships with their parents (or carers) generally develop into stable, well-balanced young people. Seek advice regarding your finances if you feel this is necessary. There are numerous organisations that will give you genuinely free advice and guidance regarding your money.
More Information: Financial
Sources Of Stress
A baby that doesn't stop crying - Your baby can't talk and you aren't psychic, therefore this is the best way your baby can tell you what it wants. Generally baby will want either feeding, watering, burping, changing or to go to sleep. If these things don't stop the little one howling, try the following:
Cuddling - in your arms.
Gentle Rocking - in a pram or cot.
Singing / humming - don't worry if you're out of tune, this isn't Pop Idol.
Walking up and down with baby in your arms.
Playing music - background noise, as long as it's not too loud or scary may help your baby settle.
More Information: Parenting - Parenting Babies
Battling Children - Lots of parents worry about the amount their children fight with each other, and wonder whether their children will ever learn to get on with other people. Remember they are learning to resolve disagreements so try not to intervene unless necessary. If you do need to intervene, ensure you listen to both sides and try to arbitrate fairly. Also...try to ensure you make time for each of your children.
More Information: Parenting - Positive Parenting
Being Ignored - Ever felt like a broken record, repeating yourself over and over? Most parents have frequent experience of this during one stage of their child's development, and it tends to be different for each child. Before getting too flustered ask yourself some questions and see if you can figure out why this is happening.
Does your child understand you? - Ensure you speak clearly, check out if they understand what you are saying, using long words can just confuse most young children...keep things simple.
Are you expecting too much? - Consider whether what you are saying is reasonable for their age...telling a two year old to tidy his room may well be beyond their ability or understanding. Equally, asking a toddler to share will have little success, as they are unlikely to have the social awareness to be able to share.
Try dos rather than don'ts - being told not to do this and not to do that can bring anyone down. When you are only two feet tall, and mummy is the person doing the don'ts, this can be especially distressing, and it is unsurprising that you are getting ignored. Try to be more positive..."please use you knife and fork" rather than "don't use your fingers".
Reward the good - When your child does respond, give them praise. This will encourage them to respond more often.
More Information: Parenting - Toddler Taming
Tantrums - Young children feel their emotions very strongly and can often feel overwhelmed. This is quite natural, but results in outbursts of emotion, especially when they feel disappointed or upset.
More Information: Parenting -Toddler Taming
We are always arguing - Parents of teens can often feel like they are always arguing with their child. They also feel like their child is moody and unapproachable. Spookily a lot of teens feel the same about their parents. Adolescence is a time is discovery, when your child moves from childhood to adulthood. With all the emotional, physical and social development changes that take place during this relatively short time, it is no surprise they spend a lot of time being moody and challenging everything you say.
Ensure your teen knows you love them. They may react uncomfortably when you tell them, but they do appreciate it. Ensure you don't embarrass them in front of their friends.
Saying you understand will often illicit a grunt at best. But acting as though you understand and being supportive and caring will be more positively received...with more positive results.
Expect to disagree - you wouldn't want a clone of yourself, and you're not going to get one. Try to understand your teenagers' views and allow them to make their own choices - and be ready to pick up the pieces when necessary.
Billy's Mum lets him...! - Don't you just hate it? You think you've managed to stick to your guns, and your authority is undermined by…"Billy's Mum"...who is Billy, you've never met Billy or his mum and have no idea whether he exists, but the very mention destroys your purely logical explanation of why your child is not allowed to do something. Before you fly off the handle, consider whether there are any other angles you haven't considered, or...
More Information: Parenting - Teen Angst
And Relax - How To Reduce The Effects Of Stress
Communication - Talking is not only therapeutic, it is also a great way of preventing stress in the first place. Communication is a major ingredient of good relationships. Try to communicate as much as possible with your partner, especially when he/she is deployed. This will help you feel more supported and keep your family linked throughout the deployment. Also, regular communication between your partner and your children is likely to counter the emotional impact of the separation, which can often exasperate day to day parent/child issues.
Plan - Plan your day or week ahead - if you know there are going to be points where difficulties or conflicts are likely, consider ways of avoiding problems or diffusing them should they occur.
Organise yourself - By planning your time you will be more able to achieve more. Being able to achieve the goals we set ourselves is a major way of avoiding getting stressed.
Take a break - If you don't look after yourself, you will be less able to look after the children. Try to give yourself some time everyday. This is particularly important when your partner is at sea. There are times in a deployment when you will feel more stressed or experience more problems. If you are having a difficult week, give yourself a reasonable target and reward yourself for any successes.
Congratulate yourself - Again, this is really important, but doubly so when your partner is away. You are likely to be working very hard - and coping well. Give yourself a slap of the back and feel proud of your achievements.
And relax - A cup of tea, relaxing music or watching GMTV - whatever helps you to unwind - give yourself regular time to de-stress during the day. Rushing from one task to another to give yourself more time in the evening is OK, but don't exhaust yourself to the point you miss out on the benefits.
Keep positive - Not an easy task in itself, finding a positive outlook can be difficult, but changing your way of looking at things changes the way they affect you.
DO NOT HIT - Parents are most likely to hit their children when they are stressed. Modern research indicates that in most cases when a parent hits a child, the reason is more to do with how the parent is feeling, rather than what the child has done.
Keeping Calm - 10 Steps
Sometimes you cannot avoid stressful situations - your children do not always give you the option of using distraction but insist on an all out confrontation. Should this happen then try the following:
Count 1 - Take a deep breath and count to ten.
Count 2 - Remember that it is you who are stressed. If so...your children are likely to get stressed, and you are likely to be even more stressed as a result. Avoid this nasty cycle of events by following these tips.
Count 3 - Think before you act or speak - we can often say and do the wrong thing when we are stressed. This is likely to make things worse and increase our feelings of tension or anxiety - give yourself some time before you respond if possible.
Count 4 - Leave - if you're going to lose it- leave the room. Ensure your child is safe and give yourself some time out to gather yourself then go back in as soon as you can.
Count 5 - Telephone someone you can talk to. Talking to another adult can really deflate any tension you feel. This is particularly important when your partner is away. It is always worthwhile keeping note of a list of people you can rely on near the phone.
Count 6 - Step outside for some fresh air. This can also be good for your child and can give him/her an opportunity to burn of some of their energy. 10 Minutes in the garden, even in the rain, can be enough to escape the confines of a house in winter.
Count 7 - If things start to feel really bad...think ahead…plan a treat for coping and focus on the positive outcome of managing the difficulty.
Count 8 - Try to find something to laugh at. Often the tensest of situations can be relieved with humour.
Count 9 - If you are REALLY stressed, leave the room and have a good scream. It's OK to let out your emotions, but make sure you don't scream AT your children...this will scare them and probably make things worse.
Count 10 - Picture something that will help you keep calm. This may be a sunny beach, a crisp mountain morning or a walk in a pine forest...your idea of paradise. Whatever you feel can help you keep calm.
There will be times, especially during long deployments and detachments when things get really hard. Problems occur in all families at some time, and we all need some help, even if this is just advice. Don't assume that you are the only one able to be responsible for your child. Speak to teachers, midwives, GPs or whoever is involved with your child. These can provide a good sounding board and provide advice where needed. In an emergency call 999. Additionally, NPFS or RM Welfare can offer support to families experiencing difficulties.
Phone: 0808 800 5000 - NSPCC (24 hr)
Phone: 020 7404 5011 - Cry-sis Helpline (Open 8 am - 11pm)
More Information: NPFS / RM Welfare
More Information: RNCom Helpdesk
Web site: Home-Start
Web site: Parentline Plus
Web site: National Family & Parenting Institute
Web site: NSPCC