One of the main life changes that happen with parenthood is the addition of a boatload of stress. This pressure is added because you now have the additional responsibility for the welfare of your child. Right from infancy you worry about our baby’s health and development. You are anxious about keeping her safe. As your child grows, new problems and behaviors may crop up to add to that stress. Your baby may be colicky, your toddler may be strong-willed, or your school-aged child may be disrespectful to you.
In most cases, by the time you have more than one child, or by the time your child is school-aged, you will find that your stress levels have more than doubled since before you had kids.
There are several reasons why it is important to keep your stress levels under control. An important one is your health: stress, anxiety, and anger are contributors to gastro and heart disease. Stress also impairs your ability to think clearly and make sound decisions about your child’s care. It also reduces your ability to behave as a role model when it comes to desirable behaviors.
So how do you reduce stress and improve your peace of mind, health, and ultimately, your ability to be a good parent?
By identifying the source of the problem; what I call Fantasy Parenting. A lot of stress amounts when we parents create fantasies for how things should be and then are greatly disappointed by the reality. Parents are operating and think off a model of how things should be rather than how they are. To demonstrate this, I’ll share an example from my life, hot off the back-to-school press:
- The fantasy: I need things to run smoothly in the morning so that the kids will make it to the school bus on time. I’m going to set their clothes out near their beds. That way when they wake up in the morning, they’ll get dressed right away before coming downstairs for breakfast. Our morning will run smoothly because everyone will already be dressed bright and early.
- The reality: I set each child’s clothes out at night and reminded them to get dressed first thing in the morning. The next morning, one child came downstairs without getting dressed and started reading and playing. When I insisted he go back up and get dressed before breakfast, he got very upset, saying he can do it later, and he’s hungry NOW. Then I got upset, saying he never listens nicely, and if he had gotten dressed right away like I said, he wouldn’t be having this problem now. Meanwhile, another child was calling me from upstairs, insisting that I stay with her while she gets dressed. Lunches still needed to be packed and the bus was coming in twenty-five minutes. AAAAAAAAuuuuugh!
The reality alone was stressful but manageable. Twenty-five minutes is enough time to settle these problems and still make it to the bus stop. The problem was that the fantasy was still there in my mind, crushing my spirit and provoking great anger. The fantasy was sending messages of disappointment, messages that this is not how things should be:
- I had everything worked out, and these kids just messed it all up.
- What is their problem??!!
- I can’t believe how they have to make everything into such an issue.
- Why can’t they just be normal?
The reason I’m sharing this is not to unload my hectic morning on you. Rather, I am trying to demonstrate the damage that fantasy parenting does. Creating expectations for yourself and your children that are not based on reality doubles the stress and negativity when things do not run smoothly (and, with kids, they almost never do.)
So what’s the solution? A strategy called Reality Parenting. This approach is not intended to alter your child’s behavior in any way (for that, see my previous article on behavior modification). Rather, it is a method to help parents reduce stress and create greater peace of mind by parenting with reality rather than fantasy. I’ll lay out the full plan next week in this blog.
Until then, stay in tune with your thoughts. Are you engaging in Fantasy Parenting? If you are, make sure to read next week’s article!
By Chaya Glatt