Picture this: you walk in the door after a long day at work and are greeted by a howling infant and two toddlers screaming, “Mommy, we’re cleaning, we’re cleaning! Mommy—WE’RE CLEANING!!!” As you turn your head to peer deeper into the house, you see what they’re “cleaning”—every single toy light enough to carry has been strewn about the kitchen, leaving a layer of puzzle pieces, magnets, toy groceries, sticker books, and stuffed animals so thick that the kids could lay down and form angels as if it were a snow drift.
On days like this, to say that parenting can be stressful is an understatement. Just about every parent can identify with the day-to-day difficulties that surface while trying to manage kids and keep a household afloat. Whether you work outside of the home or spend all of your time with the kids, maintaining your cool amidst the chaos that we call parenting can be tough. So what can we do to help reduce the stress we feel in dealing with our kids?
Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion entails recognizing our own struggles/suffering, being kind to ourselves in response to those struggles, and knowing that we are not alone—that struggling is a shared parenting—and human—experience. This is useful because treating ourselves with kindness in the face of our own struggles and shortcomings as parents increases the likelihood that we can recover from these failures and begin to interact with our children in a more productive way. What does this look like in real-time? Identify and subvert your triggers that make you likely to lose control and lash out at your kids. Maybe this entails tending to your own basic needs, like hunger, or loosening your grip on certain expectations, like adhering to a rigid time schedule. Whatever your personal struggles are, recognizing them in a nonjudgmental manner and then working to help yourself through them will reduce the sense of pressure and stress you experience when your kids do what kids do best.
Practice presence and openness when you’re together. How often have you dedicated an afternoon to spending time with your kids, only to realize that you’ve spent at least half of it responding to emails and the other half of it lost in your thoughts about a project at work or a conflict with your spouse or what you’ll make for dinner on Wednesday and Thursday of this week? It is all too easy to walk through a moment without really being present in and aware of that experience. This inadvertent lack of engagement with our kids can not only reduce our enjoyment of parenting, but also increase the stress associated with it. Work to respond, rather than react, to your children’s behaviors. If you can tune in to what your child needs in that moment/what is contributing to his or her undesirable behavior, you increase the likelihood that you can respond with intention, rather than react mindlessly, to that behavior. Our children are more attuned with us than we know, and they realize with uncanny accuracy when our attention has strayed from them. By remaining fully present in our interactions with our kids and open to the shared experience that unfolds, we can bolster our sense of balance and calm in the moment.
Honor who your children are, not who you want them to be. So much of what we experience as stressful in parenting stems from our resistance to come to terms with the reality of any given moment. How much of your interaction with your kids is influenced by your concern about others’ perception of you or of your children, rather than by an understanding and acceptance of what your child needs in that moment? Practice letting go of expectations and work to accept your children just as they are. When the strictures of expectancy fall away, we become free to experience and enjoy the richness of life with our kids and better able to help them navigate any difficulties they may be facing. In these instances, the stress of a mismatch between what is in front of us and what we think our kids “should” be like dissipates, and we are left with openness and compassion that help us to be our best versions of our parenting selves.
*To learn more about reducing parenting stress, contact us to hear about our Mindful Parenting Group and individual sessions.*