Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

Becoming and being a parent is high on the stress scale. Raising happy, healthy, and successful children, be they infants or toddlers, teens or young adults creates psychological pressure that only adds to the practical stress of providing for your children and keeping them safe.

In today’s parenting climate the bar is high.  Parenting has become a competitive sport with efforts directed at raising “star” children who are also empathic, resilient, loving, and yes, happy. Wherever you set the bar for yourself and your children, the demands on parents can affect your stress level negatively.

You may stress about your picky eater, your child’s academic performance, a child’s not making the team or being left off a party invitation list. You may be stressed by recurring sibling conflicts or because your school age or college-bound student is overwhelmed and anxious. You may worry about your child getting into the college of his choice or how you will pay tuition. Once accepted, you worry about his adjustment.

In her book, Why Have Kids?, Jessica Valenti notes “Nearly every study done in the last ten years on parental happiness shows a marked decline in life satisfaction of those with kids.” Surely parents’ stress levels have something to do with these findings.  

In short, being a parent can leave you in a chronically, unhealthy stressed state.  Melanie Greenberg, author of The Stress-Proof Brain, explains that “if you understand your brain’s hardwired stress response, you can put your brain on a more calm, focused, and positive track.”

Courtesy of the Publisher
Source: Courtesy of the Publisher

Measuring Your Parenting Stress Level

Dr. Greenberg has a guide in her book to help you measure your stress. Here she adapts it for parents:

For each item, circle the number that best represents your answer,

where 0 = never, 1 = occasionally or almost never, 2 = sometimes, 3

= fairly often, and 4 = very often.

In the past month, how often have you . . .

been upset because of an unexpected event or frustration related to your kids?        

0 1 2 3 4

believed that you had more parenting stress to handle than you could deal with?
0 1 2 3 4

felt irritable and impatient with your kids about small things?
0 1 2 3 4

felt your heart racing or had kid-related butterflies in your stomach?
0 1 2 3 4

been unable to sleep because of you’re worried about one of your kids?
0 1 2 3 4

felt anxious when you woke up in the morning?
0 1 2 3 4 

had difficulty concentrating because of a child’s problem?
0 1 2 3 4

If you circled at least two 2s, 3s or 4s, you’re probably feeling at least moderately stressed; many 3s and 4s, you’re probably experiencing high stress.

4 Tools to Monitor & Control Your Stress

You can learn to control your stress response and become more resilient in the face of the many demands, frustrations and upsetting aspects of parenting.  Dr. Greenberg offers these valuable tools to help you monitor and control your responses to parenting stressors:

Interrupt Worry Cycles - If you find yourself worrying all the time about your kids or your parenting, ask yourself the following questions:  “Is this thought true?” and “Is this thought helpful or harmful?”  If the thoughts aren’t helpful, try not to focus on them. Rather than just assuming the thought is true, think of other possibilities.

De-Catastrophize –Notice when you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Most of the time, kids move on quickly from frustrations while the parent continues to worry. Ask yourself how bad it really is if your kid gets a B, has a fight with a friend, or has a temper tantrum?  Could you and your kid survive it? If yes, stop thinking it’s a catastrophe.

Stop Micro-Managing – Give your older kid the room to figure out her own answer with guidance from you, rather than feeling you have to solve everything for them.

Practice Mindfulness – Notice when your mind is busy fearing the future or regretting the past and gently bring your attention back to the present moment. Try to get some distance from your judging mind.

For insight into how your brain reacts to stress and how its different parts function to keep you sane and relaxed during the parenting journey, I recommend you read The Stress-Proof Brain. Few would argue that less stressed parents are happier, more effective parents.

References:

Greenberg, Melanie. The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2017.  

Newman, Susan. “Is There a Kid(s) in Your Future?” Psychology Today. September, 2012.

Valenti, Jessica. Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness. New York: New Harvest, 2012

Wilson, Robin.  An Epidemic of Anguish: Overwhelmed by Demand for Mental-Health Care, Colleges Face Conflicts in Choosing How to Respond." The Chronicle of Higher Education. (2015). 

Copyright @2017 by Susan Newman 

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