3 Life Changing Habits to Help With Parenting Stress
Three Life Changing Habits to Help with Parenting Stress
By Vanessa Durrant, MSW, LCSW-C, RMT, RYT
One of the best gifts we can give our children is our presence as a calm and nurturing caregiver. In other words, our children need us to have the ability to remain emotionally regulated during moments where we ourselves are experiencing stress. Parenting in these modern times is incredibly demanding and it can easily leave us chronically overwhelmed, exhausted, and agitated.
A recent study from the American Psychological Association confirms this. In the Stress in America survey in 2017, for the first time in 10 years, the overall stress in Americans increased. Though this study did not examine parenting stress in particular, it’s important to understand that overall adult stress does impact caregivers and their parenting. According to this survey, a growing number of adults report that stress impacts their physical and mental health. This trickles down in many ways, for example 33% of adults report changes in sleeping habits, 32% report headaches and 27% report an inability to concentrate due to stress. Furthermore, stress impacts our relationships and even our children; 47% of adults report losing patience with or yelling at their partner, and 46% report similar behavior with their children because of stress.
Being an adult is hectic enough, and being a parent increases our stress as well. Parenting stress is a normal part of the caregiving experience. It arises when parenting demands exceed the expected and actual resources available to the parents that permit them to succeed in the child-rearing role. Research has found that high levels of parenting stress impair warm responsive parenting and provoke harsh reactive caregiving. It also negatively influences the parent-child relationship, and it is predictive of negative social-emotional and cognitive outcomes for children and adolescents. These outcomes contradict the hopes most parents have for their kids. As parents, we hope our kids can be resilient in the face of adversity, and cope thru difficult circumstances so that they can experience greater success in life. So, it’s time to check ourselves. What are we doing in our present life to model this type of resilience for our children? In my experience as a mother, and psychotherapist specializing in parenting, trauma, and anxiety, I could give hundreds of ways to help you shift into a healthier way of handling parenting stress. But, if I could narrow it down to three life changing habits it would be these three:
We simply cannot pour from an empty cup. If parenting stress results from demands exceeding resources, then we need to increase our inner resources. We can do this by practicing caring for ourselves. Finding ways to fill our cup. This does not have to mean scheduling a vacation to the Caribbean. There is many small ways where we can practice self-care in our daily life. It could mean a few minutes of quiet in the morning, a walk in nature, an exercise routine, and even a good cry in the shower. Self-care works the best when we do it with the intention of releasing anything that has been toxic to our nervous systems. Think of activities along the lines of: Journaling. Creative expression. Movement. Nature. Laughter.
Increase Self-Reflection and Make Hard Decisions
Take time to self-reflect on how you’re doing, what you’re struggling with, and what triggers you the most about being a caregiver. What are your kids doing that drives you crazy? Fills you with anger? Makes you blow up? Self-reflect on these things and be curious. And then take action. What is contributing to your inability to self-regulate in these moments? Is it because their actions coupled with daily demands are too much for you to process? Is it because you are over-scheduled? Is parenting bringing up old childhood wounds or other traumas? Often times, self-reflection leads to hard decisions; removing activities, things, or people, that are not helping you cope in the healthiest of ways. The point of self-reflection is to shift from being on auto-pilot to a state of mind that is more conscious.
Reach out for Support
As humans, we are not wired to exist in isolation. We are social creatures wired for relationships. If you are struggling as a parent, it’s time to build that village. It really does take a village to raise our children. And here is where the golden nugget lies; be choosy about who is a part of your village. Pick people that have the strengths you don’t have. Pick people who love being parents and part of support systems, who are resilient, and emotionally connected with themselves. Why? Because if you are struggling with these very same issues, then they can be a source of healthy support. The cliché term, “misery loves company” is true; so fighting the unconscious urge to be attracted to people that mirror our darkness is important. We can create a healthy village by challenging ourselves to be around people that are mirroring light-even if it makes you feel so uncomfortable and insecure at first. Doing our own emotional and psychological self-growth as a parent is also vital. Seek the support of a good therapist if it feels like despite all your best efforts, you are still struggling. The positive domino effect of this will also make you a better human to those that struggle, especially your children.
Above all things, remember, the point is not about being the perfect parent who lives a life of no stress. The suggested habits above seem so simple, but are perhaps, some of the hardest habits to carry on and be consistent with. And they will change your life for the better. Don’t give up, even when your life continues to feel full of overwhelming emotions. It’s impossible to live a problem free life. Virginia Satir, a renowned family therapist said “Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem”. So, buckle up, and get coping with this beautiful, complex thing called parenthood and life. It’s how we can best instill the same attributes of resilience in our children.
Vanessa Durrant, is the owner of Kindred Tree Healing Center, a holistic mental health practice in downtown Frederick. Vanessa has extensive expertise in attachment, trauma, anxiety, and issues related to parenthood. She runs evidenced based parent support groups all year long that aim at helping parents navigate the challenges of parenting children who suffer from trauma, anxiety and attachment issues. Visit www.kindredtreehealing.comto learn more.
*This article was featured in the April/May 2019 Issue of Frederick's Child Magazine, and can be found here