Seesaw of parenting stress

Seesaw of parenting stress

Here are a few tips to tackle parental stress

Parenting is often like having a camera which watches you all the time. One of the most challenging things about being a parent is the fact that the children are always observing, taking their cues about how to handle life’s ups and downs from what they see their parents doing.

A mother (name withheld) of a seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter says, “I am stressed because I don’t have time to do meaningful things for myself. As a parent, I have the pressure to be constantly updated and socially competent or else it would reflect wrongly on my children, like even dressing in a certain way. I feel like I am in a constantly forced metamorphosis where I am just not allowed to fail which is so tough to cope with!”

Keeping up with these constant demands often result in parenting stress. Stress is not always a bad thing. It is simply the body’s response to changes that create demands. Stress can be of two types — eustress and distress. Eustress is a term for positive stress, and distress refers to negative stress. In daily life, we often use the term “stress” to describe negative situations. This has led many people to believe that all stress is bad for you, which is not true. Stress helps us stay motivated and be compelled to bring about meaningful change.

An exhausted working mother of a year-old son says, “I feel disappointed when I don’t get enough time to bond with my son and I feel guilty and insecure about not knowing what’s going on at home. And of course, there is that never-ending conflict between parenting styles versus grand-parenting styles.”

It’s a bittersweet grind for a working parent. It is time we stop seeing work and life as a question of either/or. To feel good about work and life, we need to look at the way they intertwine and complement each other. Balance isn’t so much about always keeping every aspect of your life in equal proportions. Balance is more like a seesaw. When one end of it goes up, the other comes down. Sometimes you’re forced to focus on one side of the seesaw, knowing the other side will take a back seat. Then priorities shift, one goes down, and the other comes up.

While we can’t eliminate all stress, there are ways in which we can lighten our load.

Simplify things

Take a few minutes to understand all that you have on your plate. Being mindful will help you focus on the present and prioritise your commitments down to either the most essential or the ones that bring you satisfaction. Do one thing at a time, slow down and avoid multitasking. In India, we are privileged to get help from friends, family and extended family. Don’t be shy about asking for help and delegating your tasks.

Establish a system

This will make everyday routines run more smoothly. Routines create a sense of familiarity and comfort for children. If everyone knows what is expected and when it is easier to enforce the rules.

Get some ‘me’ time

It is hard to make time for yourself. And many of us feel that we need to ask permission to get some alone time. Recent research has shown that taking time for oneself can increase the effectiveness as parents. It is healthy and more beneficial for you and your child to have some time apart. Have a routine self-care break like exercising, painting, doing yoga or just dancing to your favourite song.

Practise self-compassion 

Self-compassion starts with accepting the problem and admitting that ‘this is painful’. Next, acknowledge that a lot of parents feel this way. Last, offer yourself kindness, like ‘I am strong, and I accept myself’. You could say this with a small gesture of a self-hug that will help you stay calm.

Seek help

Despite your best efforts to prevent or manage your parenting stress, sometimes things will inevitably be too much for you to deal with on your own or with your support systems. When you recognise that you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek professional help. A psychologist can provide strategies to help you cope with life’s challenges. Additionally, they may also provide resources to help you understand and improve your child’s functioning and reduce behavioural problems that may be causing more stress.  

It’s not about having it all or doing it all. It’s about finding a way to be kind to yourself through the roller-coaster ride filled with ups and downs.

(The author is a clinical psychologist at Mpower)