What to do when stress turns you into a “bad parent”
Someone once told me… “Show me a person who claims they have no stress, and I’ll show you a dead guy.” Of course, once I stopped giggling I was able to see exactly what she meant: everyone has stress: children, teenagers, parents, adults, rich people, poor people. If you’re alive, then there is something in your life that you are stressing about. It’s not a question, it’s a given. The only variable is in how people deal with stress — whether they are able to minimize the stress, handle the stress, or if the stress ends up turning them into new people altogether. For most people, stress is a fairly private matter — what bothers one person wouldn’t necessarily have any effect on anyone else. But for people feeling stress as a parent, that stress can easily rub off: affecting parenting decisions, techniques, and even teaching children (or not teaching children) how to deal with stress. So, if you’ve noticed that your stress is turning you into the type of parent you didn’t want to be — here are a few things you can do to help out.
Try to avoid “losing it.”
We all get angry. And the thing with anger is that it can sometimes make us do or say things we wouldn’t otherwise ever dream of. Stress can sometimes make us work through our patience faster than normal, bringing us from calm and collected to angry faster than we would normally make the trip. It can also escalate the angry responses you may have to a particular situation. You can avoid “losing it” at these times by taking a few steps to help alleviate things that would normally add to your frustration:
- Make a quick checklist of things that would normally add stress to your day. This might include things like not being able to find something when you need it, slow internet, tripping over toys, or even finding out at the most inopportune time that you are out of toilet paper. Keep these small annoyances at bay by running through your checklist and making sure they are taken care of before they have a chance to add more stress to your already frustrated day.
- Pretend you’re in public. People have a tendency to behave better when they think they’re being watched by other people. So if you feel the stress starting to pile on, and you need a quick way to bring it down before you lose control, pretend someone is watching you. This will force you to pause and take a breath, allowing you more time to consider an appropriate response as situations arise.
Sometimes, despite our best intentions, stress still gets the better of us and we still lose our temper. So what can we do when that happens? Is it too late and have we scared our children for life?
No, of course not.
Like I said, sooner or later, stress gets to all of us. The steps I listed above can help alleviate and avoid some stress — allowing you to minimize the effects that stress will have on your overall interactions with your children. But they aren’t cures for stress. They won’t completely eliminate the stress in your life. So, you’ll need to learn a few things about what to do after you “lose it” to keep your stress from harming your relationship with your child.
- Forgive yourself. You’re human — humans deal with stress all the time and sometimes that stress wins. And living under stress as a parent comes two-fold because there is often guilt associated with feeling stressed out. We might like to think that becoming parents gave us superhero capes and powers, but it didn’t. We still have the same old crappy teeshirts and no powers. And that means stress is going to get to us sometimes, and we have to be okay with that.
- Apologize. I know this isn’t the most popular answer among parents to apologize for their behavior to their children — particularly when it’s stress-related. But your children need to hear it from you. This will teach them a few things. For one thing, this will teach them that stress is normal, that losing it is normal, and that it happens to good people. They’ll also learn that stress and anger do not replace love and affection; that people who are angry still love them just as much. And it will show them how to be accountable for their feelings as well as their actions.
- Talk to your children about your stress and how you mishandled it. You don’t need to go into detail about all the things you’re stressed out about — they don’t need to hear all that. And chances are they may not even understand all that (depending on their ages). But they will understand how stressful it is when things don’t work out the way they want them to, or when they work so hard for something but still can’t make it work. So talk to them about how you mishandled the stress and discuss ways you could have done it better (and then, next time, try to do it better).
- Remember that your kids are going to have bad days, too. There are going to be times when the stress in their life overwhelms them and they are going to lose it. And when they do, remind yourself that it’s their crisis, not yours. Stay calm, wait it out, and discuss their stress with them after the fact.
What to do when stress turns you into a “bad parent”
Stress can be a killer. It’s been linked to just about every illness and disease known to man, if not directly then indirectly by lowering our tolerance and strength to fight certain illnesses off. But thankfully, it doesn’t have to be a relationship killer as well. When you feel yourself starting to fall under that level of stress, take a few minutes and run through a few steps to help climb out of it if you can. Or at least set yourself up so you don’t accidentally make it worse. And if you do lose your temper, be open and honest about why you lost it and how you can avoid losing it in the future.