Stress is a part of parenting (and life). Unfortunately though, our stress can have a profound impact on our kids. Kids are MASTERS at reading our emotional state – so, if we’re stressed, it rubs off on them. Our kids might not know why we’re stressed, but they tend to blame themselves. (Especially young kids, who are naturally egocentric – which means, they assume everything is about them).
What’s more, kids usually cope with stress through temper tantrums, emotional meltdowns, and other behaviour challenges. Which makes OUR stress level even higher. It’s a vicious cycle. The reality, though, is that stress is going to happen. And the stress itself isn’t the problem. Rather, it’s how we deal with it.
Stress is simply a sign that something isn’t working for us, and that we need to take action. The key is to recognise stress, and do something resourceful with it. Suppressing or ignoring stress (chocolate or wine, anyone?) is NOT a healthy, long-term solution.
As a neuropsychologist, I’m often asked, “how can I cope with stress?”
The first step is to recognise the source of the stress. Awareness and insight are what lead to healthy stress management.
Here are the top three reasons that we experience parental stress – and what to do about it.
- We’re focusing on the unimportant stuff.
There are only 24 hours in a day, which means that time is a valuable resource. The problem is, many of us confuse “busy-ness” and “productivity”.
They’re not the same thing. It’s easy to fill our day with tasks and activities. Many of us have to-do lists that are a mile long. The problem is that our lists are filled with trivial busy-work, and we lose sight of the tasks that are really important in the grand scheme of things. And it’s those “big picture” tasks that are the most fulfilling – and, once accomplished, actually reduce our stress.
So, how do we figure out what’s important to us? The first thing to know is that there is no “one size fits all” solution. What’s important to me won’t necessarily be important to you. We need to be totally clear on our priorities and values.
Unfortunately, most of us have NO idea what we truly value, let alone how to go about fulfilling them. Our values and priorities change over time, as well – particularly after major life events like changing careers or having a child.
We need to be clear on what we really value in our lives.
Here’s a hint: it’s not stuff, like our partner, or our family, or our kids. It’s emotional states, like love, peacefulness, kindness, etc. (You can check out my audio program Chaos To Calm at www.revolutionme.com.au/chaos-to-calm for a quick and effective way to do this. It’s the same method I used to overcome stress, guilt, and frustration, when I became a mum).
It’s only when we know WHAT we value, that we can start making sure the actions we take are in-line with what’s most important to us.
- We’re “should-ing” all over ourselves.
We put an extraordinary amount of pressure on ourselves, especially women. We’re supposed to have the perfect career, the perfect family, the perfect body, prepare perfect meals, and be perfectly perfect ALL THE TIME. Hence the astronomical to-do lists (they could be actual, physical lists – or just the running mental list we have in our minds)
Most of the things on our to-do lists are “shoulds”.
“I should tend to the garden”
“I should workout more”
“I should do more reading with my child”
“I should go out with my friends”
And so on.
If we’re doing things that we “should” do, but that we don’t actually WANT to do, it can be a sign that we’re trying to meet someone else’s expectations. Like having a well-manicured lawn. Is it something we actually WANT? Or do we think we “should” have it? If so, for what reason? Perhaps we think that “good parents” have a neat front lawn. Or maybe we think that tended lawns are a sign of affluence. Or maybe we think that a messy lawn shows the world that we don’t have it all together.
It’s important to take a good look at our daily activities, and ask ourselves the reasons for doing the things we do. If we don’t really want to do it, then we need to question why it’s there. For what purpose are we doing it?
If we don’t really want to do it, OR if the purpose doesn’t align with something we really value (see point #1) – then it’s time to cross it off our to-do list.
- Our expectations are unrealistic.
This is a really big one for most of us, especially when it comes to our kids.
Many of us have high expectations for our children, and we don’t even realise it. Like expecting a toddler to manage his or her own behaviour. Or expecting our kids to obey everything we say. Or expecting our teens to always properly cope with their emotions.
These are great standards to have for ourselves, and great aspirations to have for our adult offspring. But not for kids who are still kids.
When we hold impossibly high standards for our kids, it creates frustration, irritation, and stress (for us and for them). We lament that our toddlers are having a meltdown, or our kids aren’t following our instructions, or our teens are mouthing off again.
Of course, we need to set limits for appropriate behaviour – that’s what parenting is. But there is a difference between setting limits in a calm and peaceful way, rather than in an angry, frazzled, or stressed way.
Changing our expectations means that we change the way we think about the problem – which makes us far more likely to achieve stress-free solutions that work for everyone.
Dr Ash is a clinical neuropsychologist who has been working with families for almost 15 years. She supports parents who want to raise happy, confident, and emotionally resilient kids. Her Chaos To Calm program helps mums who want to overcome stress, guilt, and frustration, and who want to be happier and more confident parents. Chaos To Calm is available at www.revolutionme.com.au/chaos-to-calm