Ways to Manage Parental Stress

Don’t let yourself become “stumped”

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    I recently stumbled across The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  It was always one of my mom’s favorite children’s books, but I never liked the story growing up.  Why? 

    Well, it was extremely disconcerting when my mother routinely burst into tears by the end of the book.  I mean, talk about lack of a calming bedtime story.

    The other day, when having lunch with my mom, Barbara, we began discussing the parent-and-child relationship portrayed in the book.  When I asked the basis of her tears, she said:  “The love a parent has for their child relates to the love the tree had for the boy.  We will do almost anything because of that love.”

    Still, as depicted in The Giving Tree, many parents often unknowingly let their children strip them of their apples, their leaves and their branches.  The process of giving is so gradual yet accumulative:  first, you allow picky eaters to decide what’s for dinner, then what’s switched on the TV and maybe giving in to their demands for the latest new toy. 

    Before you know it, explains my mother, there’s no parental “you” time, and you’re giving everything you have to the stressful demands of work combined with the demands of home life -- an unhealthy, realistically unattainable combination. 

    “Parents give and give to their children,” my mother said, “sometimes we feel as though we have no control over our family or our lives.  With a family we tend to consider others before realizing what it does to us, and that’s how stress becomes a problem.  As parents, we have to remember to give to ourselves as well as our kids.”   

    Parents, ask yourselves, are you being whittled down to a stressed-out stump? 

    While parenthood (as with all other relationships) requires a great deal of sacrifice, it’s important to facilitate healthy relationships with your children and knowing when to say, “enough is enough.”  For instance, if a child is used to getting, getting, getting, then this absurdly high level of expectation from others is going to, no doubt, transcend to other relationships with friends, coworkers and those of romantic interest. 

    (Come on, we all have friends who suffer -- or shall I say, make us suffer -- from Only Child Syndrome.)

    “Parents should set firm household rules when their children are young. Children succeed in environments where there is structure and a daily routine. When setting household rules, parents should make sure the children understand the rules and that there will be consequences if they do not follow the rules,” said Beth Fisher, L.G.S.W., “most children at some point will defy the rules and parents need to make sure they follow through.”

    Pete Chirinos, M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C., of Capital Counseling Services on Connecticut Avenue, adds that reinforcement of rules is necessary to establish parental roles. 

    “These discussions need to be done within the context of patience and repetition and is most effective when the parent's role of an authority figure is clear within the framework of the child's mind and experience,” said Chirinos. “It also teaches children the process of meeting half way with another and parents can model this to children.”

    So what does that mean?  In simple speak, that saying “no” will, no doubt, be a constant word used in the household. 

    Still, my mother further points out that the word “no” is an alarmingly decreasing word used by parents nowadays.  “Children are truly a blessing but they don’t have to run our lives,” she said. “If you don’t say no, your child gets to the point where they think they can constantly have.  They never learn limits.  Short term stress may be caused by saying no, but by continuing to give in to a child, you’re creating your own stress because you’re doing more and more for them.”

    Additionally, taking time out for yourself as a parent enables you to recharge, thereby allowing your apples and leaves to grow back.  In this respect, you’ll better cherish the times spent with your kids, because you can give more of yourself and laugh at the small things.

    “Don’t be afraid to sit on the floor and play with your child.  Laugh with them,” stated my mom, “have fun.  It’s hard to feel stressed when having a good time.” 

    If you’re having a particularly low-energy day, then try going to a place with your kid like to the D.C. Public Library that offers quiet activities like story time.  While your child’s engaged in stories like Mother Goose, you can relax and enjoy a moment or two of peace.

    At the end of The Giving Tree (spoiler alert), the old man returned to the tree and sat on the stump, making the stump happy.  Even though the stump was content, it was no longer a flourishing tree.  There was, simply, nothing left to give.

    As a daughter, I’m thankful for the boundaries my mother set in place for me when growing up.  I’d like to think I’ve grown to a considerate, mostly selfless adult, who’s learning how to draw the line when some people in my life have the expectation that I should constantly give to them.  Likewise, I’m able to limit my expectations of others, knowing that this concept works both ways.

    “The stump loved the boy and it wanted to give,” said my mom. “But as a parent, you’ve got to leave something for yourself.  As a parent, you cannot continue to give until you have nothing left.  We’re going to love our kids no matter what.”

    Disclosure: The tips from my mother on how to handle parental stress stemmed from her raising my two older brothers.  I was a stress-free child to raise and remain the favorite child among the Cleary siblings.