If you don’t have kids, I’d like to tell you that parenting is scary. I’m constantly second-guessing myself and comparing myself to other moms. Am I pushing the girls too hard in school? Am I over-scheduling or under-scheduling their week? Where are they developmentally and where are they supposed to be? What high school will provide them with the best education? How will I pay for college? Do they get enough social time, media time, homework time, exercise, one-on-one time…? The list goes on.
People who know me may be surprised by this. I get compliments on how well behaved my kids are all the time. Teachers gush over how helpful and kind they are. Friends who aren’t ‘kid people’ don’t mind babysitting. Acquaintances that we run into in public, like the waitress at our favorite restaurant, comment on how polite they are. My youngest actually received the “Good Citizenship Award” at her third grade graduation, an award that goes to one kid who displays exceptional helpfulness and kindness throughout their entire time in the school – in her case, K-3. That says something, right?
Positive reinforcement from all of these sources doesn’t stop me from stressing out. It takes a conscious effort to prevent somatization, which basically means that mental or emotional stress manifests itself as a physical symptom. For me, emotional stress settles in my shoulders and neck, making me stiff, sore and irritable. This in turns can inhibit my physical activities, which increases irritability, causing more pain and now there is a downward spiral. [The next blog will talk more about the pain cycle, with links to research.]
Things I’m actively working on to reduce my child-rearing stress:
- Stop comparing myself to other parents. Everyone has a different life story, with different strengths and weaknesses. Everyone’s moral code and value system is different, which means everyone’s idea of good parenting is different. Each child is also different. If I play to my strengths and work with my child’s personality, I should do fine.
- Age has nothing to do with parenting. I had both of my children before I turned twenty. Despite what I’ve been told directly and indirectly, my age does not make me a better or worse parent than someone who had kids later in life. There are pros and cons to both. Younger parents are more likely to live longer to meet their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Older parents are more likely to be stable in their relationship and financially, which provides a good foundation for their children. The people who make snide remarks about my age aren’t my friends and aren’t worth stressing over.
- Not every day is a good day. If I have bad days, chances are the kids will have bad days too. They’re human. Sometimes they want a hug. Sometimes they want to talk. Sometimes they just want to be left alone. Respecting their wishes will show them that I trust their ability to make a decision and encourages a reciprocation of respect for others. It also allows them a little independence, which I’ve noticed goes a long way towards keeping the peace in our home.
- Teach them to fish. An old adage says that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life. I feel like a bully making them do chores sometimes but in the long run, they will have those skills down by the time they need them. Basic cooking skills, how to do their own laundry, dishes and other not-so-fun chores are required life skills. Eventually, they will move out. Maybe they will go to college. Maybe they’ll go on a cross-country adventure. Maybe they’ll just move down the road. Regardless, they will leave and they need to have certain skills by that time. I am adamant about this in part, I will confess, because I have no intention of allowing my college student to bring her laundry home on weekends for me to do.
Pain Cycle Image