by Stephanie Gomme, Parent Partner — Family Empowerment Program
As children develop, there are important pillars in their lives that shape who they become. These pillars are the ones who hold them at night during a thunderstorm, convince them to eat broccoli and find socks in random places in their home: the caregivers, the providers, the parents.
As parents and caregivers, you may feel pressure to be perfect, but parenting can be overwhelming. Unrealistic expectations of yourself and a lack of support can create days of unrelieved stress, which can ultimately result in an inconsistent structure and routine for you and your family.
When you are burnt out you can become exhausted, suffer headaches, and become less likely to appropriately deal with situations. What were once easy tasks become challenging as you are overworked and overwhelmed. Combine that with children who need your care, and you can find yourself in a stressed household. All of a sudden, the norm becomes being late for work or school, forgetting personal needs or school projects, and being unable to plan for yourself or your child.
Have you ever looked at your week and asked “How will I do this?” or been exhausted for the fifth day in a row with no sign of a break? Then you are on the verge of being burnt out. Even though you are a caregiver, you are also an individual. You are allowed to take breaks, your home is allowed to be cluttered for a few days, and you are allowed to ask for help.
When you are faced with stress, as a parent and a person, you need to understand realistic expectations for yourself. Stop writing “to-do” lists that are impossible! Don’t assume you can neglect your basic needs because you don’t have time. When you care for yourself, you are then available to experience all your child has to offer. Children need parents who are healthy and mentally de-stressed, and who can help them successfully manage their problems.
Know your limits as a parent. Your child can be throwing a tantrum and you may feel obligated to react immediately. Ask yourself, “Am I calm right now?” When a person is aggravated and has reached his or her limit, it is difficult to have patience and show understanding, meaning it will be difficult to effectively parent a child. You are allowed to give yourself a time-out from the situation. Ask a family member, friend or spouse to help you. Sometimes a new person entering a stressful situation can defuse it.
Walk away. Whether your child is an infant or a teenager, during a stressful situation, ensure your child is safe and take a five minute break to calm down. Inappropriate discipline spawns from frustration and anger. If your infant is crying even though he or she has been changed, fed, and clothed appropriately, make sure he or she is in a safe space, and then take a few minutes to breathe. Sometimes coming back to the situation calmer can create a better environment. Did your teenager just slam their door in your face? If you are not prepared to have a discussion, put a “pause” on the discipline. Let them know he or she acted inappropriately and you will talk later. You are still modeling discipline but you are giving both parties time to reflect—a great coping skill to teach.
Ask for help. If you and your spouse are having difficulty communicating, voice your concerns and create a plan. Reach out to friends and family for extra support. Partner with your child’s school or daycare so they can better assist your child; some facilities have before and after care as well as homework help. Community resources can aid parents who are struggling, such as afterschool or weekend programs that can provide you and your child an appropriate “break” from one another. If you feel that more support is needed, there are behavioral health services available at community agencies that can provide counseling for you, your child, and your family.
As a parent, you don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be there for yourself so you can be there for your family. Know yourself, know your children and know what’s appropriate and realistic for your family.