Caring for children is stressful even in the best of situations, but we’re hearing from parents that their stress levels right now are at their worst since the start of the pandemic. Feeling stressed or burned out does not make you a bad caretaker and you are certainly not alone in those feelings. As with so many things, it’s how you respond to the stress and model that response for your children that matters.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and managing parenting stress is an important component of mental health for parents. As caretakers, it is common to prioritize children and others in the family but taking care of your mental health IS taking of your kids. Children learn from the behaviors of the adults around them, and the experience of those moments impact them long into their future. Extreme stress at home can cause feelings of anxiety and sometimes even trauma for children. Stress management is an important part of parenting.
The stress of the past two years is overwhelming to all of us and there is no perfect plan or “right way” that works for everyone, but to try to help you manage the anxiety of this new normal, we’ve put together five practices that can help you slow down and manage your stress. Before you hit your breaking point, consider if putting any of these practices into action might help.
Give yourself a break
Parenting is a tough job and the uncertainty that is preventing us from developing normal routines doesn’t come with a detailed how-to guide. You are doing your best; try not to be too hard on yourself! You’re learning as you go, and things may not always be just the way you’d expect or what it might look like for someone else. Know that is OK.
Celebrate the wins, big and small. The past two years have been challenging for your children and they turn to you looking for warmth and safety. Making it to the end of the day with your family well-being intact means you faced the challenges of the day and succeeded. That in and of itself is a win. Congratulations!
Ask for help
Sometimes asking for help is one of the hardest things to do. While it might feel counterintuitive, try leaning into flexible schedules at work, carpooling kids to activities, and saying “no” to too many activities. And don’t forget that Massachusetts has robust network of Family Centers that provide support groups and parenting resources. You are not alone on this journey.
Try to slow down
Be in the moment. Cuddle on the couch, watch a movie together, bake cookies, or read a book aloud. Not every moment has to be perfect, but you might just find one moment of near perfection.
Here are some helpful tips drawn from mindfulness.com: Stop wherever you are and take several deep breaths, focus on yourself and your surroundings. The goal is to pay attention to the present moment, the here and now, but without judgement. There is no pressure to quiet the mind or to stop thinking about what needs to be done, rather to pay attention to what is going on in your body and around you. Release yourself from judging and listen to your breathing to help reduce obsessing over the content of your thoughts.
Schedule time to be alone
Ideally, set aside at least 15 minutes per day to do something you enjoy by yourself. Anything! The demands of playing multiple roles in your life as a caregiver, a partner, a son or a daughter helping aging parents, and an employee are real. It may be impossible to take time for yourself every day, but it can be invaluable to keeping your own sanity.
Remember you can’t control everything
There is so much that is out of our control right now, like inconsistent childcare and fluctuating requirements about mask-wearing. It’s ok to be frustrated at the enormity of things that you can’t do anything about. Try journaling or talking to other parents about your frustrations to relieve some of that stress and anxiety.