I have 2 kids — 6 1/2 and 5 years old. My husband works long hours and I am alone with them most of the time. It seems like all I do is scream and yell, because my stress level is so high. Money is short and I’m tired all the time. When something breaks down — yesterday it was the dishwasher — I fall apart in front of my kids. Now my children are hitting and having lots of meltdowns. What should I do to get a handle on things?
One of the most challenging things about being a parent is the fact that our children are always watching us, taking their cues about how to handle life’s ups and downs from what they see us doing. Whether we’re gripping the steering wheel at a red light because we’re late for an appointment, or shouting at someone who took the parking space we had our eye on, their cameras are always rolling.
When we handle stress in unhealthy ways — with anger, blame, shouting and so forth — we teach our children to do the same. As hard as it is to manage life’s difficult moments, your children are helping you see that it may be time to look for healthier ways to offload your stress.
Here are a few tips that may help:
• Aim for imperfection. Many of us have internalized someone else’s voice in our head — a critical parent or teacher, perhaps — and feel that we’re never good enough. Aiming for constant perfection creates ongoing stress. If you’re too tired to clean your house before your relatives come for dinner, allow your best to be good enough.
• Get enough sleep. One of the best ways to boost your ability to cope with stress is to get more rest. The average person needs 7 to 8 hours a night to recharge. When we shortchange ourselves on sleep, we can experience problems with mood regulation, focus, memory, illness and (of course) stress. If you need to take an afternoon nap with your toddler instead of tackling the dirty dishes, take the nap. The more rested you feel, the better able you’ll be to deal with life’s challenges.
• Don’t take things personally. Have you ever wondered why a particular experience can cause one person to feel terribly hurt, while another shrugs it off as no big deal? People who are more easygoing don’t take things as personally, and are less caught up in winning approval. Rather than letting your blood boil when your mother-in-law suggests that she never had problems getting her children to clean up their toys (really?), allow her comments to roll off your back without turning them into a declaration about your worth as a mother.
• Play. Remember what it was like to have fun? For many parents, life is about crossing things off a to-do list. Without time built into each day for nourishing our spirit, we become more vulnerable to frustration and stress. Laugh. Tell jokes. Draw. Have a dance contest with your children. These small acts can make a big difference in your stress level by helping you reconnect with the playful and happy parts of yourself that can get buried under the list of things to do.
• Get support. For most parents, the tasks involved with raising children are endless; they keep us running from morning to night. If you’re exhausted or need a break, ask for help. Get to know a few other parents who will swap school drop offs, pick ups, or even join a rotating afternoon homework club that moves from house to house. If you don’t have a network of caring, trustworthy people to lean on, it’s time to create one. And if you’d like support, consider joining my Six Week PWPS Intensive; read on for details!
Life in today’s fast-paced world can wear us down, causing us to be increasingly vulnerable to stress as we feel burdened by the never-ending demands placed upon us. Consider these tips, and take time to re-evaluate where you can make adjustments in your daily life that will help you handle those difficult experiences more easily. You’ll not only be doing yourself a favor — your children will benefit from seeing their mom take care of herself. You’ll show them that they too can learn to cope with life’s frustrations in healthier ways.