The Stresses Of Parenting

Parenting is an extremely stressful job. And I think parents are the only ones who fully get that. Parenting is so stressful that it makes sense that you might let your kid run around a restaurant because she’s been running around all day and at least you know she won’t get hurt and maybe you will get five minutes to have a cup of coffee which you desperately need because you were up half the night with your baby who has a cold and couldn’t sleep. Whew. It’s exhausting just to write that. And the scenario isn’t unusual. It is a rare day when something stressful like this does NOT happen.

Parenting stressors sometimes come from the job of parenting itself and sometimes come from outside forces. The stressors of parenting — having to feed, clothe, transport, entertain, instruct, emotionally support, and love your child every day — are big stressors. There are some parents who are “naturals” who just love all of these aspects of parenting and do them all pretty well. But for many parents, parenting can be very difficult on a daily basis. And when I say “difficult,” I mean way more difficult than your difficult job. It’s way more difficult than my job and I’m a psychotherapist.

These parenting stressors would be hard enough without any other stress. But then you pile on the stressors from outside forces:

  • Sexism. Rigid gender roles and expectations often leave both men and women dissatisfied and frustrated. In a heterosexual relationship, many women feel pressured to be the perfect mother and to “do it all.” Meanwhile, many men feel incompetent in caring for a child and they step back, since their female partners are wanting to do it all anyhow. Men can then end up feeling distant from their own children and women can end up feeling overburdened and underappreciated.
  • Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia. For parents who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT), there is an additional level of pressure to be perfect parents (to disprove all of the bigoted ideas about GLBT people’s raising children). For some parents, there is a constant need to come out when people meet them and their child. There may be estrangement from family and lack of family support. There may be the need of dealing with the child’s being harassed for having GLBT parents. In any case, there is the stress of parenting a child when none of the parenting magazines or books or articles talk about the needs of your family, when your family is just “different.”
  • Financial instability and inadequate support for families. It’s hard for many people to be financially stable even without kids, but adding kids into the picture makes financial woes much more woeful. The cost of childcare is sky-high and often takes up much of at least one parent’s salary. Children are expensive. And aside from needing to spend money on the basics, there is social pressure to buy nice things for your kids and the understandable desire to get them things they want that you can’t afford.
  • Everyone else’s advice and opinions about childrearing. It can be difficult to trust your parenting instincts. Then, when you try to find out an answer for how you are supposed to do something (i.e. get your child to sleep, use the toilet, eat foods that are not white, stop screaming in the middle of the supermarket), there are hundreds of answers available. And all of the givers of these contradictory answers think their answers are correct and the others are wrong. There is so much pressure to do a good job as a parent, so much judgment when you mess up, and hardly any advice available that isn’t contradicted by many other pieces of advice.
  • Various kinds of oppression because of race, immigration status, religion, age, social class, disability, body size (in addition to anti-GLBT oppression mentioned above). Oppression is stressful. Add that to the stress of parenting and you have a lot of stress.

Some suggestions for how to cope with parenting stress:

  1. Keep a sense of humor. The struggles of parenting, while stressful, are also hilarious if you can take a step back.
  2. Take the long view. The stressful thing happening now may seem like it will go on forever, but it won’t. It will change to another stressful thing just when you’ve learned to deal with the previous stressful thing. (Here’s where that sense of humor comes in handy.)
  3. Focus on loving your children and showing them that you love them. All other parenting tasks are secondary to this one.
  4. Recognize that parenting is a growth opportunity for the parents. Children push all of your buttons repeatedly. Parenting forces you to look at yourself and to dredge up old wounds from your own childhood. While this can be difficult, it can also be healing.
  5. Treasure the joyful moments. The times when your children are adorable and sweet and funny and loving are times to savor.
  6. Learn from your children. Children do some things better than most of us adults: they express their feelings with gusto and then move on, they find joy in little things, they are curious and like to learn, they are stubborn in trying to get their needs met. In the most stressful moments ask yourself what you can learn from your child.
  7. If you are not a single parent, consider trying out equally shared parenting. If you and your partner are having conflicts and resentment about the division of parenting labor, think about how to share the work — and the fun! — equally.

Perhaps most importantly: get support. Talk with other parents and share your struggles and stories. Ask for help from friends and family when you need it. Talk to a therapist who understands the stress of parenting. Take some time for yourself to get the support you need. You deserve it and your kids deserve parents who handle their stress well.

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