Stress. It’s something we all experience at some point or another. For mothers of young children, teens, multiples, home educating families or families parenting children with medical issues, to name just a few, the stress levels can increase exponentially.
When there is nothing more challenging than choosing which bagel topping to have for lunch or what film to watch on Netflix, it is easy to be calm. But the more balls thrown into our ever juggling arms, the more our stress levels can rise.
Our children are like sponges, soaking up our moods, be they calm or fraught. And when it is the latter, their own stress levels rise to match our own. They reflect it right back at you, no matter how hard you try to hide what you are feeling. You cannot mask your true mood from them.
They know you so deeply, they see through the false smile. And when they mirror that stress, absorbing all that tension, their behaviour descends into mayhem. They have to release it. A calm, serene child has little need to lash out and be destructive. They have no urge to argue or shout furiously in response to your requests. But when their insides are pulsing with pent up tension, mounting stress, they have to let it out.
They have to explode.
And it is the worst possible thing for us weary, drained parents. We are balancing on the edge of patience at all times. We are so close to reaching our absolute limit. We can’t manage a single extra challenge. And we are suddenly faced with a child who neither knows nor cares that we are hovering at breaking point, who is lashing out, needing support we can’t summon up the reserves to give.
This is parenting at its hardest. This is when things fall apart and we react in ways we later regret. When we ignore feelings, when we say harsh words or forget how scary it can feel to be lost in such big emotions when you are so very small. It all becomes just a step too far for us to manage.
It’s so easy to talk about the merits of peaceful parenting. It’s all so wonderful in theory. But is it really possible to be the parent you so desperately want to be in these times of undeniable stress?
Fortunately, the answer is yes. But it’s not easy. It’s not going to come without hard work. But it is worth it. Let me share how with you now.
Identify Your Triggers
As a first step, you need to understand the source of your own stress. What is it that is the biggest trigger for you? Is it a lack of sleep? Is it a constant sense of disorganisation, never managing to get out the door in time or find what you need? Is it something massive, a divorce, a death in the family, a child or parent going through intensive medical treatment?
Many of the things that cause us stress are things we can manage if we take the time to make small changes. Write a list of the things that trigger you and brainstorm as many solutions as you can.
Do you need to get in the habit of laying out clothes and packing lunch in the evenings rather than trying to fit it all in in the morning? Can you take a nap with the baby or find a way to get more sleep? Can you carve out some time in your week for you to focus on self care and creativity?
Some stresses are manageable.
Yet, some challenges will be things you have no control over. The sense of being dragged along a path you don’t want to be on, can be so disempowering. Our family experienced (and continue to experience) this first hand when my newborn daughter was born and we instantly had to leave our home, our work, everything familiar to us, and move into hospital in another town. Everything was upside down. We were stressed about our finances, our son’s emotional well being, and of course most of all, we were consumed with worry for our daughter and wondering if she would even survive.
For five long months we lived in this limbo, and our stress levels were through the roof. When we finally came home, it wasn’t an instant off switch as we had hoped. There were still so many emotions to process, so many practical details to deal with, companies to phone for medical supplies, doctors to negotiate with and regular bouts of sepsis dragging us all back into that world again. “Stressed” was an understatement.
Some things are out of your control. Some waves you just have to ride until you reach the shore.
When you are caught in a situation like this, my advice is to be gentle with yourself. Messing up is inevitable. Emotions need to be felt and accepted and given their chance to pass through you, and pushing them down won’t fool yourself or your children. Recognise that as terrible as things are in the moment, it is temporary. Do whatever you can to make things better. Get outside for a walk. Cuddle. Cut out anything from your to do list that isn’t absolutely vital. Focus hard on the few things that really matter. Holding your children, talking about all those deep seated emotions. Sleeping.
Take as much time as you need to just breathe. When you are constantly in a state of stress it takes very little to set you off and bring you right back to the peak. When this happens, stop. Analyse what has actually happened. Figure out what your next action needs to be. Do you need to speak to someone, call someone, make a complaint, ask for help? Or can you let it go? Let it pass through you and breathe it out? Save your energy for the big things and let the little things go.
Children are so wonderfully forgiving and adaptable. When you’ve been through a rough patch, when you’ve let your standards slip and become the parent you promised you’d never be, it’s not all over. You haven’t failed your child.
Do you want to know how you do fail them?
By giving up. By declaring it too late to change. They’re too badly behaved, you’ve lost them, you don’t know how to get it back. You have ruined it.
Don’t listen to that voice of despair. Don’t ever believe it’s too late. Your child is waiting for you to return to them. The loving, calm, kind parent they know and love. They will forgive you. They will come back to you as your sweet, loving child. You can make amends and start again.
Never give up. Never stop trying to be the person you deserve to be. Never walk away from your dream of a calm, content, loving family home. You can get there.
Make yourself a promise to start afresh. Read as much as you can about peaceful parenting. Surround yourself by others following the same path. Get inspired and immersed in love and kindness.
And when you fall off the path you need to be walking, dust yourself down, apologise to your child, hug them tightly and get right back on there again. Take it one step at a time, and you will make it.
It will be worth the effort. I promise you.
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