Kim Ferre, Psychologist, Lakeside Psychology.
Becoming a parent is an amazing time for many. A new baby brings with it a whole new focus and love, but also the need for significant change. Such changes can include a restriction of personal freedom and flexibility, less time to engage in hobbies and social activities, and an array of new responsibilities. You now have a little life in your hands, a responsibility that takes priority over all else.
Entering the world of parenthood can elicit a broad spectrum of emotions, ranging from a sense of pure joy, love and excitement to fear, worry and doubt. The highs of bonding with a new child can also be accompanied by new stresses, such as managing behavioural challenges, doubt regarding your abilities as a parent and whether you are doing it “right”, worry for their wellbeing, and juggling demands and responsibilities. Further contributing to the stress of parenting can be the need to balance other responsibilities, including employment, running a household, maintaining health and fitness routines, and social activities.
Parenting in an era of social media brings new challenges. Parents can be flooded by often-conflicting opinions and advice from experts, parenting pages and forums, fellow parents and friends and family. The availability of information regarding all aspects of parenting, including discipline, nutrition, sleep, physical milestones and emotional and academic development can be overwhelming for parents. It is understandable that some parents feel a sense of pressure to be able to competently attend to all areas of a child’s social, emotional, physical and intellectual development. Social media has made it easy for parents to engage in social comparisons with other parents and their children. Viewing parents posts of children reaching developmental milestones, special achievements, family holidays, birthday parties and fun family activities can lead parents to question their own abilities as a parent or the life they are providing for their children. Furthermore, bullying and shaming now has a more public forum, making it easier for critics to voice their disapproval of parents’ behaviour or the decisions they make for their children.
Given the challenges of modern parenting, managing stress is fundamental in ensuring the health and wellbeing of parents. Below are some tools that can be utilised to assist parents in coping:
It can be easy to become so focused on caring for children that parents forget to care for themselves. Self-care is vital in managing stress and promoting good mental health, improving your capacity to effectively care for your children. Investing in your own wellbeing, such as engaging in hobbies, remaining physically active and taking a break when required, is also investing in the wellbeing of your children. Avoid placing excessive pressure on yourself by setting unrealistic goals and standards as to what you feel you should achieve each day. Prioritise important tasks and identify those that can wait and avoid taking on more than you feel you can manage.
Mindfulness practice can be helpful in managing the daily stresses of parenting and assist in improving overall wellbeing. It incorporates paying attention to the present moment in a deliberate, non-judgemental manner, rather than allowing the mind to wonder and dwell on the past, stress or worries about the future. It encourages the quietening of an active mind and a break from being absorbed by stress. Mindfulness can assist in maximising appreciation and enjoyment of the good times, absorbing those precious moments with your children without being distracted.
Simple methods for practicing mindfulness include tuning into your internal experiences, such as breathing, feelings and sensations, or by using your senses to focus on what is happening around you. Utilising daily activities, such as going for a walk or washing the dishes, can be an effective way to practice being more present and mindful.
To learn more about practicing mindfulness please refer to the following resources:
Challenge unhelpful thinking
Negative, self-critical thinking can exacerbate stress and limit your capacity to cope. Acknowledging thoughts that are self-critical and unhelpful and challenging them can assist in developing more realistic, balanced ways of viewing situations and improve emotional wellbeing and coping. Thoughts are not facts. Just because we think something it does not make it true. Acknowledge your successes rather than focusing on perceived failures. Acknowledge your skills and strengths as a parent, not just your weaknesses.
Maintaining good social support can assist in managing the stress associated with parenting. Life can get busy, but taking time to socialise with friends or visit family can help maintain a sense of connectedness. Ask for help when required or have a family member or friend look after the children to give yourself a break, recharge and do something for yourself. Connecting with other parents who understand the struggles of parenthood can be helpful in feeling more supported.
Seek professional support
If the stress of parenting is overwhelming and feels unmanageable, it may be beneficial to seek professional support. If you are concerned about any symptoms you may be experiencing, please speak to your GP.
Other helpful websites/pages:
- Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond (website).
- Janet Lansbruy: Elevating Child Care (website)
- Circle of Security International (website)
- Everyday Blessings: Mindfulness for parents (book)
- The Gottman Institute (website)