How Are You Coping With the Challenges of Parenting?
Being a parent and managing a family can be stressful at times. Sleepless nights with a newborn, toddler upsets, or a bout of illness can all test a parent’s ability to handle challenging moments with grace and ease.
While these moments are generally fleeting—children eventually sleep through the night; toddlers learn to regulate their emotions; illnesses pass—constant stress can take its toll on us as parents. It’s important to know some of the signs that you may be struggling to keep up with the demands of parenthood.
Recognizing the warning signs
Frustration: Life is full of big and little frustrations (spilled milk, car trouble, lost keys, etc). It’s how we handle these situations that tells us about our emotional health. If you find yourself frequently frustrated with your child and are responding in an unhealthy way with anger, sarcasm or other unkindness, it may be time to incorporate some techniques to help you manage your frustration.
Before you respond to a frustrating situation, pause for a moment and:
- Take a few deep breaths. Breathe slowly in through your nose, deep into your belly. Imagine a balloon filling with air; take a pause before slowly breathing out through your nose or mouth. Keep your breathing slow and steady. Breathe through your muscles to help reduce tension throughout your body.
- Replace unhelpful thoughts with positive coping statements: Override negative thinking (such as “I can’t do anything right”) with more helpful statements, including “Today was hard, but I got through it and tomorrow it will be easier.”
Embarrassment: As parents, we’ve all had our share of embarrassing moments out in public with our children. From explosive diapers, unexpected milk letdowns, to public displays of toddler nudity, it’s safe to say embarrassing moments are par for the course when it comes to parenting. It’s time to worry when your feelings of embarrassment extend beyond these day-to-day occurrences, such as feeling judged or embarrassed for your child’s behavior or even your own. In these moments, here are a few ideas to try:
- Talk to your child about their behavior: If your child is repeating a behavior that needs to be different, talk with them about it before it happens. If the behavior routinely happens in public or in the presence of others (such as a family get-together), prep your child beforehand with a conversation about your expectations. Tell them what you’ve noticed and why it is unacceptable, and support them to make a better choice. And of course, lay on the praise when you see they are trying to do better!
- Develop a coping plan for yourself when you start to feel embarrassed. This could include deep breaths, politely removing yourself or your child from the situation, using a coping thought (“this is just a stage”) or diffusing the situation with a joke.
Temper: Frequently losing your temper can be a sign that you are experiencing unhelpful amounts of stress. If everyday occurrences, such as your child’s lost shoes when you are running late or your toddler spilling their cup, quickly spikes your stress levels, then it’s a good time to find coping strategies for managing stress and anger.
- Look at the main sources of stress in your life and make a plan. For instance, if mornings are stressful because you are always running late, look into ways to make your morning routine easier, such as pre-packing lunch or laying out clothes for the morning.
- Be mindful of how you talk to your child. If your toddler throws his cup across the room, pause and breathe before you respond. Use a calm and clear voice to explain the behavior you’d like to see.
- Find ways throughout your day to reduce stress levels: take a walk, read a book, exercise, meditate, explore in nature. Remember the basics for both you and your children: eat well and regularly, drink plenty of water, get enough rest, and nurture your sense of humor.
Mood: It’s normal to sometimes feel overwhelmed by the demands of parenthood. But if you are feeling hopeless or out of control, it’s time to reach out for help. New research shows that postpartum depression can extend far beyond babyhood and that it’s common for many parents to experience parental depression and anxiety.
- Find a healthcare provider that acknowledges your feelings and supports you.
- You are not alone in how you are feeling. Look through the Resources for Families Directory to find the support you need, whether it’s feeding support, postpartum wellness, helplines, etc.
- Talk to someone. 1 in 5 mothers experience postpartum depression. We are now aware that dads and parenting partners also can experience postpartum depression. The more we as a society talk about it, the less stigma it carries. Open up to a friend or family member about your feelings. Chances are, they’ve been there or are going through the same challenges.
Recognizing when there’s a problem is one of the first steps to improving your parenting skills. For more guidance in developing coping strategies for stress, consider joining a parenting group such as Make Parenting A Pleasure. For a list of parenting groups in Lane County, visit lanekids.org.