There is no doubt that being a parent is stressful. From the moment a baby is born, parents are in charge of everything from food to sleep to clothing and education. Plus, take into account that they are not only responsible for the health and safety of their children, but also play a major role in their development as people and their success in life. Everything a parent does with and for their child has the potential to impact their development and self-esteem. Parents put pressure on themselves to make sure that their impact is a positive one by trying to do everything a good parent should. But at what point does the pressure to be a perfect parent actually do more harm than good? How do you reduce stress for yourself while still being a good parent? Let’s take a look:
Why You Should Reduce Stress
Stress at a biological level is designed to help humans adapt to change and stressful events, both physically and mentally. However, humans were not made to handle stress long-term, so when we handle stress for long periods of time, it can actually harm our bodies inside and out. The Cleveland Clinic explains that chronic stress can lead to:
- Aches and pains.
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
- Headaches, dizziness, or shaking.
- High blood pressure.
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching.
- Stomach or digestive problems.
- Trouble having sex.
- Weak immune system.
- Anxiety or irritability.
- Panic attacks.
In addition to stress not being good for you as a parent, your stress can affect your children and even change their brain chemistry. A 2011 study found that when parents were stressed in the early years of their child’s life, some of the children’s genes responsible for insulin production and brain development were affected even years later in adolescence. In addition to having an impact on their brain chemistry and mental health, children of stressed parents have been found to eat fast food more often, exercise less, and are more likely to be obese.
How to Reduce Stress
Of course, we know that it is much easier said than done to reduce stress, especially as a parent. I mean, we are living through a Global Pandemic. Sometimes, we need to just cut ourselves some slack. With your health and your family’s health on the line, reducing stress is imperative. Here are some things to try to keep in mind that might help keep the stress level down:
Simple Meals: Fast food or frozen TV dinners are so quick and stress-free that it’s easy to find yourself back at McDonald’s several times a week to feed your kids, but we all know that this isn’t healthy. Instead, try to find simple, nutritional meals that you and the kids like and try to make them last. For example, a rotisserie chicken can be a part of Monday’s dinner, and then the leftovers can be used for lunch the next day or pulled apart for chicken enchiladas, soups, etc. for the rest of the week. (For some ideas, check out these healthy meals for families that can be ready in 30 minutes or less.) Of course, if you need to stop for some chicken nuggets every once in a while, that’s okay, too! Don’t be too hard on yourself if a Happy Meal was needed to get through grocery shopping. It’s all about balance.
Keep it Clean: Our mood is affected by our environment, so keeping a clean home is important to reduce stress, but as a parent, let’s be real — that is nearly impossible. Don’t sweat it! Even if you don’t have the time or energy to keep your house immaculate, you can make meaningful changes with just one or two chores a day. Just doing the dishes and throwing in a load of laundry adds up at the end of the week, and when it comes down to it, it might just make you feel better to have done something around the house.
Downtime: Downtime is important for children and grownups. We’re so used to rushing everywhere and trying to plan the next activity, we forget to breathe. While parents usually want to be as active and involved with their children as possible during the day, it is okay to throw on some CocoMelon every once in a while so you can have some coffee and send some emails.
“Me” Time: “Me” time is different from downtime, because this is the time you can take for yourself after the kids have gone to bed. Take some time before you crash at the end of the night to do something for yourself, and we’re talking beyond basic hygiene and eating dinner. Have a glass of wine, watch a show with your partner, try a new face mask, read a chapter of a book. Something just for you will help you feel like you’ve done something for yourself as well as taking care of your family.
Use “I” Statements: When the cause of the stress is our children, it is important to keep calm and have communication open. It is also important to keep in mind that just because your child is misbehaving it does not mean you’re a bad parent. Children watch and learn from our reactions to stress and apply those same reactions to their own lives and the stress they’re facing. Using “I” statements (“I feel disappointed when you don’t share your toys with your brother and it causes a fight”) not only helps convey a message to your children that their behavior was not right, but it also calls attention to emotions and how to deal with them in a healthy way.
The Perfect Parent Does Not Exist: Although it may seem like other people have this whole parenting thing down to a science, the truth is that the perfect parent doesn’t exist, and that you are not solely responsible for everyone’s happiness in your home. In fact, it might be a good thing that you don’t fulfill every need for your child. Psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicot explores this idea in what he calls “the good enough mother“. The good enough mother is a mother or caretaker that allows her baby or child to feel a small amount of frustration before coming to their aid, while still being caring, compassionate, and empathetic. This allows the child to recognize that mother is separate from themselves, and that every need is not met with immediate fulfillment. At the end of the day, we’re human, we make mistakes. Let go of the unspoken expectation that you need to be at 100% all the time. All you can do is commit to loving your children the best you can and offer them a calming, loving environment they can feel safe in.
Try a Calming Activity Together: When you or your kids are extra stressed, try finding a relaxing activity that you can do together. This not only shows kids healthy coping skills, but can also be a fun bonding moment that helps strengthen your relationship with them. Try stretching or beginner yoga for 15 minutes, get out your adult coloring book and color alongside your little ones, or try EFT Tapping, which has been clinically found to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels by 37%. HAPPÉ Life offers kids free lessons on tapping from our animated tapping guide, Ellie, and helps kids reduce anxiety and feel calm.
While you can’t escape the stress of being a parent, you can offer yourself some grace. As long as you’re committed to loving and helping your child grow into the person they want to be, you’re doing exactly what a parent should be! It may be challenging, but choosing to let go of the stress of being a “perfect parent” can actually help you be a better parent.
You can help your child deal with their own stress, build mental health skills, communicate emotions, and more with HAPPÉ Life! We use evidence-based programs like Mission I’m Possible and EFT Tapping to put the tools needed to manage stress in the hands of children and demonstrate their ability to shape the world around them and build healthy relationships by first reshaping their minds.