It's OK: Letting Go of Parenting Stress

Key Takeaways

  • Parents today experience increased pressure, stress, and judgment.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect parent, and modeling “perfection” to children is not helpful.
  • It’s better to equip children with tools to regulate tough emotions and social challenges, than to remove or solve their problems.

Parenting. It’s fraught with more stress and judgment than ever before.1 Parents receive conflicting, and often unsolicited, advice thrown at them from every direction,2 and mothers in particular are juggling an unprecedented work/life balance.3 As a mom of two young children, I can definitely relate.

I know I’m not alone in feeling spread so thin that my successes in one area feel like they come at the expense of another part of my life.2 The idea that we can “have it all” often feels fictional. Just trying to keep up with the latest parenting trends, techniques, and approaches can be all-consuming.

But what if parents can “have it all”? What if having it all doesn’t mean being “perfect” in all areas? What if having it all actually means releasing the pressure and judgments from society, and ourselves, and being OK with exactly who and where we are?

Shedding away stress and expectations is far easier said than done. But the good news is, parents don’t have to add “pretending that everything is perfect” to their lengthy to-do lists. Not only is it OK, but it’s actually beneficial for children to see their parents struggle, show emotions, and work through difficulty in appropriate ways.4,5,6 That’s how children learn lessons in resilience, emotion regulation, and life.7,8

Similarly, it’s both OK and healthy for children to feel their feelings and be sad, angry, and frustrated at times. It’s not the job of parents to prevent children from experiencing challenges and expressing difficult emotions by removing obstacles or solving their problems for them.

Parents can always provide age- and situation-appropriate guidance, but learning to be OK with difficult situations and meeting their children exactly where they are in the moment is where parents can —and do—truly shine.”

It can be extremely uncomfortable to see children struggle (especially when parents often know the exact solution that will make it all go away!). Parents can always provide age- and situation-appropriate guidance, but learning to be OK with difficult situations and meeting their children exactly where they are in the moment is where parents can —and do—truly shine.

When we give children the judgment-free space to truly feel their feelings and openly work through their discomfort, we empower them to practice the self-regulation skills we’ve taught and modeled for them.9

For me, being OK with where I am means that I still work hard and strive to be my best in all areas of my life, but I give myself more grace and self-care in the process. As a lifelong overachiever, I have to constantly remind myself of this as I balance parenthood amongst all of my other responsibilities, especially during a pandemic! It’s the classic “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others” approach. For me, it’s sleep. When I’m not rested, I simply cannot be my best as a parent or spouse. And it’s critical that children see their parents treat themselves with kindness and respect so that they have a good example for themselves now and throughout life.

So, fellow parents—lean into the challenging moments of parenthood. That’s where those true teaching opportunities lie. But most importantly, give yourself a break. Raising kids is incredibly hard and so many of us are currently doing it without “a village.” Try to release the parenting stress and be OK with where you are today.

References

  1. The Center for Parenting Education. (n.d.). Why is it so hard to parent today? The big picture of parental responsibility. The Center for Parenting Education. https://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/focus-parents/hard-parent-today-big-picture-parental-responsibility/
  2. Lévesque, S., Bisson, V., Charton, L., & Fernet, M. (2020). Parenting and relational well-being during the transition to parenthood: Challenges for first-time parents. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29(7), 1938-1956.
  3. Sperlich, S., & Geyer, S. (2015). The impact of social and family-related factors on women’s stress experience in household and family work. International Journal of Public Health, 60(3), 375-387.
  4. Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (1998). Parental socialization of emotion. Psychological Inquiry, 9(4), 241-273.
  5. Zeman, J., Cassano, M., Perry-Parrish, C., & Stegall, S. Emotion regulation in children and adolescents. (April 2006). Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 27(2), 155-168. https://journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/Abstract/2006/04000/Emotion_Regulation_in_Children_and_Adolescents.14.aspx
  6. Crum, K. I., & Moreland, A. D. (2017). Parental stress and children’s social and behavioral outcomes: The role of abuse potential over time. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(11), 3067-3078.
  7. Traub, F., & Boynton-Jarrett, R. (2017). Modifiable resilience factors to childhood adversity for clinical pediatric practice. Pediatrics, 139(5).
  8. Castro, V. L., Halberstadt, A. G., Lozada, F. T., & Craig, A. B. (2014). Parents' emotion-related beliefs, behaviours, and skills predict children's recognition of emotion. Infant and Child Development, 24(1), 1-22.
  9. Masten, A., & Barnes, A. (2018). Resilience in children: Developmental perspectives. Children, 5(7), 98.

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