Do you know there is something called parenting stress and that there is even a parenting stress index which is a questionnaire assessing parents’ feelings about their role as a parent? Parenting stress is so real, there is even a questionnaire about it!
Parenting stress is associated with lower emotional well-being in parents, and it has been found to be one of the reasons for poor parent-child relationship. Additionally, it is one of the main reasons for a child’s poor mental health.
The distress you experience when you feel you just can’t cope as a parent is called parenting stress. You feel that there are too many demands placed on you and that the demands are too high. Additionally, you don’t feel you have the resources to meet those demands.
Where does parental stress come from? Well, the reality is that there is not just one thing that we can easily identify as the reason behind parental stress. If we want to be realistic, parental stress depends on the circumstances each parent must deal with since we are all different and we all have different conditions to face.
For some of us, economic conditions might be the reason for parental stress whereas for others social isolation or lack of a support system. Parents’ and children’s characteristics and their relationships can also lead to parenting stress. Being a parent, however joyful and fulfilling can be, still adds a lot of responsibility and demands on parents. Recent generations of parents have also been stripped of any support from their close circle too for various reasons and that adds to our stress too.
Parents with high stress report a negative impact on their own emotional well-being, but also a less positive outlook on parenting and less satisfaction in the parental role. Moreover, they tend to experience less pleasure in and enjoyment of their children. Not surprisingly, they report lower feelings of self-efficacy in the parenting role; that is, they feel less competent in carrying out their parental responsibilities and less confident that their efforts will have a positive impact on their children. High levels of parenting stress can contribute, for some parents, to psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
So, what can you do about it? Well, the first thing I would advise you is not to think that you are an inferior parent just because you are feeling overwhelmed. You’ve just got too much on your plate. That’s important to remember because feelings of hopelessness, defensiveness, and guilt can worsen your stress.
How to deal with parenting stress:5 tips
- Reach out. If you find that you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed find your support system and reach out. That can be a friend or family member or even a professional. Maybe even enroll in a parenting class. Just because you have too many worries to juggle doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve support.
- Find the positives in each situation. I know it’s hard to try and find the positives when you are dealing with a stressful situation or even more than one and I will not pretend that it’s an easy thing to do. But always keep in the back of your mind that when we are dealing with difficult situations our brain tends to just focus on the negatives. Try to re-train your brain and before you go to bed at night reflect on your day and think of one or two things that felt positive today. It can be anything from a meaningful connection time with your child to enjoying dinner together as a family. It doesn’t have to be big to feel grateful for it.
- Avoid social media and the news. Following my previous tip, this tip also has to do with our brain’s tendency to focus on the negatives. Remember at the start of the pandemic when we were all locked at home and the only thing we did was listen to the news? How did that make you feel? Didn’t you have the urge sometimes to just turn off the T.V and run to the garden? When we are dealing with stress, listening to the news is not a very positive experience nowadays, unfortunately, so it’s like you are feeding your stress. You are making it bigger and stronger. The same happens with social media. We see other’s people ‘happy’ which is not even a reality, and we immediately compare ourselves thinking that we are inferior and failures just because we don’t have what they have.
- Avoid affective empathy. Affective empathy is the ability to share other people’s feelings and, in this situation, our kids’ feelings. Even though that can be beneficial, when it happens all the time that can lead to overreaction, overprotection, and feeling overstressed. Instead, what you can do is engage in cognitive empathy which is the ability to put yourself in another person’s position but without necessarily engaging with their emotions.
- Teach your children how to deal with their stresses and emotions. It is very easy for a parent who sees their child struggling to try and find a solution for them because you take away their discomfort. Even though that’s the easy thing to do, there are two consequences of this behaviour. One, you become more stressed because you take everyone’s worries and make them your own, and two, you are not helping your children learn to deal with difficult situations.
Being a parent is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.