Being responsible for another life form can be stressful. Our society puts a lot of pressure on parents who care; the standards can feel impossible to meet and, honestly, they probably are. Whether both parents work outside the home or now, the obligations of today’s parents are immense. I am constantly in awe of people who chose to parent. This week’s column is for you.
Your first line of defense is self-awareness. It may seem easier to just ignore your own needs and take care of everyone around you, but the flight attendants have it right: You have to put on your own oxygen mask first or you’re not going to be able to help anyone else. As a parent, your job is boundaries, and that, unfortunately, includes your own. Believe me, no one else is going to turn on that fasten seatbelts light for you. You’ll have to monitor your own sensors.
This analogy has gotten weird. Sorry.
Let’s start by looking at the patterns that stress takes in your life.
- How long does it take you to realize you are stressed?
- How often does stress crop up for you?
- Does your stress happen in waves? Or does it like to hang out for a while?
- Are you aware of the effect stress has on you? Not the statistics, not generalities, how does stress effect you personally? And can you tell when it gets in the way of your ability to function?
Some of the less obvious symptoms of stress can include an inability to focus or concentrate, memory getting worse, having a hard time making decisions, and your temper getting shorter. Symptoms can also include unexplained weight gain, an increase in your intake of alcohol, recreational pharmaceuticals, or caffeine, and a general sense of dissatisfaction. If this sounds familiar, stop and take a deep breath. It’s always a good idea to rule out medical issues, so make an appointment to see a caregiver, and also start to assess your stress levels.
Now, take a look at your family. How is your relationship with your partner? Are your kids acting out? It’s possible that your whole family is stressed. Dysfunction starts with stress. In a well-functioning family unit, its members turn to each other for support, encouragement, and guidance. There are tangible emotional bonds between them, and home is a place of retreat from stress, not a place of added stress.
In a perfect world, you and your partner will have created a plan for managing stress long before your first child is born. Some of the tips in that link can continue after a baby’s first year:
- Staying flexible enough to roll with the punches and unanticipated hiccups.
- Staying clear on what your priorities really are – is it money or is it the emotional well-being of your family? Is it more important to sleep or to have your guest bathroom sparkle?
- Palpable emotional support – you would be amazed at how healing a hug can be.
- Planning for connection so it doesn’t fall by the wayside.
- Maintain some perspective. Parenting is hard work.
There are ways to stress-guard your family that will actually help your own stress levels by ensuring your family gives you the nurturing that you need. When your children have friends and understand the value of that friendship, they are learning the importance of emotional bonds.When you avoid harsh criticism and make an effort to support each other, that gets mirrored back at you. When you have some set, scheduled family rituals, you give everyone, yourself included, a chance to reconnect, ground, and relax.
My point here is this – when you make connection, relaxations, and good stress management a priority for your whole family, you make a it a priority for yourself as well. It’s not selfish to want to reduce your stress levels, it’s actually the most loving thing you can do for your household, and everyone will appreciate it.