Are you a mum-zilla?
Keeping stress levels low will help you cope better, writes Dr Justin Coulson
O f all the jobs in the world, parenting must be one of the toughest, most challenging and confronting things we do. Children are hard to understand, and sometimes they seem impossible to control. We regularly feel overwhelmed and incapable of getting it right — especially on those bad days.
Just last week I was solo parenting. My wife was away for a few days with a friend who was grieving the loss of her husband. I had the six kids and was feeling OK until Sunday morning, when my three-year-old fed all the fish food to the fish. We had a big container with about a two-year supply. And apparently overfeeding fish can kill them! We have an outside pond and I spent twenty minutes with a kitchen strainer, fishing the food out of the pond in the middle of a freezing winter.
I walked back into the house and discovered that she had opened the fireplace. I had removed the safety screen to get the fire started when I discovered the fish food issue and forgotten to place the screen back where it belonged. The fire was out and the fireplace was cold. The little one saw this as a wonderful opportunity to cover the floor with ashes, step in it, and run footprints all through the house — on both the floorboards and the carpet!
Stress typically comes from a feeling that we are out of control. When we feel pressured or when we feel we have no choices available to us, stress builds up. We feel anger. We experience headaches or stomach churn. We become discouraged and feel helpless. It’s as though there’s nothing we can do to solve the problems we face.
The ideas below can help you to manage and deal with stress when it surfaces.
1. Recognise what sets you off. Simply becoming aware of those stressors helps you to avoid them, or plan contingencies. You might know that mornings are a stressful time. By recognising this, you can proactively create new habits to make mornings work better.
2. Accept that you can’t fix everything. Sometimes that simple acknowledgment can change the game. When we know stress is coming and accept it, we feel calmer. The stress is strangely less stressful. Acceptance is a powerful tool in stress reduction.
3. Find the funny. My friend, Wally, holds special training sessions for his kids when things go wrong at home. As an example, if the lights are left on, he calls the family together to discuss a terrible crime. “Someone has snuck into the house and left the lights on. It was probably an elephant. Let’s go elephant hunting and switch off all the lights as we search the house.” The more ridiculous, the better!
4. Rehearse a reminder. Parenting author Steve Biddulph says we should always be calmer than our children. That’s easier said than done when stress levels are climbing. I have a reminder that I try to rehearse in tough times: “Calm and kind.” I remind myself that I need to be calm and kind when I want to be highly strung and horrible! 5. Look after yourself. If you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re using alcohol unhealthily (or other drugs at all), or if you’re not taking care of yourself emotionally, stress will build faster and hurt your family more. 6. Teach when everything is calm. It is tempting to discipline while we are in the moment with our kids. We want to “sort this stuff out now!” But recognising that we can talk later means everyone can calm down and relax a little before dealing with drama. 7. Get help. If you experience high levels of stress, if you feel out of control, or if anger is overtaking you, help is widely available. When you feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or even suicidal, get help. Go to your GP. Talk to your mum or your best friend. Arrange for someone to help a few hours each week. Just get help. There are dozens of other ways that you can reduce stress for yourself. These might include giving yourself a daily 20 minute vacation by taking a bath, going on a walk, seeing a friend, or reading a book. Therapy and letting go of the past may be options. Scheduling a walk on the beach or a picnic in the park on a Saturday morning might be just what your family needs to de-stress. As with most challenges in life, answers are rarely simple. But stress is not your family’s friend. These steps may be simple starting points to reduce stress and raise resilience.