Parental stress harms your well-being and can change your baby's development. How does stress affect parenting and what can we do about it?
What is “parental stress”? What do psychologists mean by this term?
According to psychologists, parental stress is the anxiety you feel when you feel you can’t handle it as a parent. The demands placed on you are too high. You do not have the resources to meet them
So what causes parenting stress?
I could give you an antenna response and say, "It's caused by your mental state." To be honest, it's not bad at all.
There are a number of proven stress management techniques to help you manage stress. If you practice your thoughts, you can find real relief. This is good news and you can read more about it in my evidence-based tips for parental stress management.
However, Oh mom. Let’s not let stress come from a parent or that every parent has the same problem! That is not true.
Take, for example, metadata results made by S. Katherine Nelson and her colleagues
Researchers have looked at more than a hundred published studies on parenting, child deprivation and well-being. What did they do?
Parents sometimes report higher fitness levels than childless adults. Except when their load is relatively light.
Parents in particular tend to be happier than childless children if their children have grown up and left the nursery.
Parents also report greater well-being if they have high social support and / or children who have no problems: Easy-to-develop children with good physical and emotional health.
But the opposite? It takes laundry or parents usually feel worse. And what causes the worst? All of the following conditions:
- having at least one child with a difficult temperament;
- having at least one child with medical, emotional, or behavior problems;
- having only low levels of social support;
- being a single parent;
- having a young child.
Economic conditions are also important. When Jennifer Glass and her colleagues looked at life in 22 Western countries, they found significant differences in reported parental well-being.
Compared to childless children, parents fared worse in countries where parents receive less benefits and do not have a family-friendly employment policy.
Where were the most disadvantaged parents? The US was the worst, followed by Ireland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
So it depends on external factors. Great. Can kids stress you out? Of course they can, and they usually feel that way.
Can financial problems cause parental stress? Of course.
Could social isolation or an inadequate support system? You bet. Exposure to hostility, crime, discrimination, corruption, crowded traffic? Yes.
If it impairs your ability to care for your children - if you are concerned about keeping them safe, healthy and successful - then it can contribute to parental stress.
It is true that this is not the most tempting news. It is more pleasant to pretend that parental stress is just a state of mind. Find the right ideas and your problems will disappear.
However, I believe it is more useful to face reality.
First, it will help us put things right. Parental stress is largely caused by the structural characteristics of society. Compared to our ancestors of early hunters and collectors and farmers, we do not have the necessary support systems to raise our children.
Family-friendly government policies can help bridge this gap, but what if you're not lucky enough to live in a country with family-friendly policies? You have to fight for change in the whole society and, in the meantime, you will scratch as best you can.
But whatever you do, you must make sure that it does not reflect your dignity or ability.
If you feel overwhelmed, it doesn't mean you are an inferior parent. You have too much on your plate. It is important to remember this because feelings of inadequacy, protection, guilt contribute to these feelings of parental stress.
Another valuable thing about relying on reality is that it helps you identify specific sources of parental stress.
Are you stressed because your child has colic (excessive crying, unbelievable)? Why does your child often get angry? Go crazy about lack of sleep? Why do you have a child with special needs? Why do you want to work from home and take care of a child at the same time?
Once you reset a specific problem, you can start working on solutions.
But first you have to identify the goal. You have to admit that your feelings are worth correcting.
It’s not something you should refuse to put aside while you’re a soldier. It is extremely important not to be overly anxious, tired or exhausted. Not just because your welfare is fundamentally important. But also because it affects your parents and children.
How does stress affect your parenting?
The quick answer is that stress can make us more sensitive to our children - less ability to tune in to their thoughts, feelings and needs.
And the results can be seen on our brain and on our behavior.
Brain study: Parenting stress undermines “brain-to-brain synchrony” between parents and children
As I explain, parents and children tend to experience a kind of “mental meltdown” during face-to-face social interactions.
Their brains synchronize, as if they have similar thoughts and mental states. A particular area in the child’s brain settles and shortly afterwards the parent experiences the same thing: increased activity in the same specific area of the brain.