Parenting and Stress Management

March 18, 2013

Parenting is hard. No question about it. Just look around and you can see parents screaming at their kids, scowling silently or perhaps close to tears. Children have a way of getting into the deepest and most primal part of our psyches. When we least expect it, we feel out of control with our buttons pushed and may feel like we have little to no internal resources at hand. And then at other times, we gaze at their beautiful faces, hold onto their precious little hands, and wonder at how big they have grown. All the love, rage, hope and despair is held within the parent-child relationship.

As a therapist who specializes in parenting, I have experienced again and again the deep bond that runs like a river through grandparents, parents, children and siblings. Our ancestors live on through us and we carry the wisdom, the suffering, and sometimes the harmful patterns down to our children. Through increasing awareness of messages we received as children, of our own parents’ relationship, and also of how we were raised, we can gain insight into how we may be relating to our children, our spouse and even ourselves. How we speak to ourselves about our own parenting, our hopes and fears and our internal image of how we are doing is just as important as what we learned from our family of origin.

So, how do you speak to yourself? What is the tone, the quality, the overall message? Do you feel like you are doing a good job as a parent? More often than not, parents are very critical of themselves. You may be running around frantic, trying to meet everyone’s needs, trying to predict needs before they are even present. And this can increase stress levels and affect your sense of well-being.

The definition of stress, according to Richard S Lazarus, is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize. These demands can come from your own mind and from your environment. Often, it is a feedback loop where the internal and external sources of stress combine and this increases perceived pressure exponentially. When a stressful situation arises, you may go into fight or flight reaction. As parents, it is usually a “fight” response as fleeing is not an option. You may feel angry, overwhelmed, irritable or anxious.

So what can you do? Take responsibility. Taking responsibility means being able to respond, to your own needs first and then your children’s. It is similar to the instruction we receive when flying. The flight attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first. You have to take good care of yourself to be able to care well for others. When stress levels peak, the first thing to do is to stop. Literally stop what you are doing and if possible, close your eyes. Take a breath and then focus on your exhale. Start to slow down your exhale. Breathe out through your lips as if blowing through a straw. Let the inhale happen naturally. This automatically begins to calm your nervous system. Continue this breath for at least five rounds and notice places in your body you may be holding tension. Allow the tension to soften. Use your breath to relax your body. And then from this more relaxed space, you can think about how you would like to respond to the situation. You may say something to yourself that is reassuring and perhaps, kind.

Nicole Levin, MSW, LCSW is a Staff Therapist and can be reached at 610-642-2648 ext. 7061.