Stress and parenting go hand in glove. One doesn’t exist without the other. I mean, you can have stress from other things in life, but not quite the way that you have stress and parenting. In a way, this connection is a good thing.
If nature didn’t make you stressed out by your offspring, you’d be less likely to try and keep them alive. Their ability to push your buttons and capture almost all your attention is just their way of trying to thrive in an otherwise distracting world.
Think about it.
Your phone is pretty fucking rad. But your screaming child can cut through that concentration like a knife through butter. They’re designed that way. But yeah, stress and parenting aren’t always a fun combination to have to actually live with.
The connection can happen from the first moments too, or it can be chronic. When my oldest was born he was rushed to the NICU with breathing trouble. I’ve never had a more stressful single moment in all my life.
But then my youngest was seemingly good to go when he was born.
Turns out that he’s got life-threatening allergies, and will have them all his life. We’ll have to be on constant guard against peanuts, eggs, and basically air. The kid is allergic to life.
See, the short of it is, my kids are trying to kill me.
The stress from parenting is going to help them do that.
I needed some tips on how to both avoid some of the stress and cope with it once I encountered it. Here are some ways I’ve found that work wonders.
Above all, if you’re feeling really low, get some professional help. The internet can be great for a lot of things, but one on one medical care isn’t one of them.
Here are nine tips for dealing with stress while parenting.
1. Work on Your Partnership
You’re in the trenches together.
Your partner in this whole parenting thing is your first and best support network. One of the things that my wife and I really try hard to do is make sure that we’re working on our partnership all the time. Kids come, and hopefully, they will go someday.
When they’re out of the house, we’ll still be there. Parenting is part of our marriage. It isn’t the whole of it. We had a few good years there before kids. I just don’t remember them. I have pictures though. Those kids looked happy.
When we’re doing things together after the kids go to bed, things that don’t involve making lunches or baby food, it really helps deal with the stress of parenting. Connection means I’m not alone. I like that.
2. Try not to Bring Your Stress Home
Work is a stressful place in and of itself. Leave that extra stress at the office door. Of course, if you’re like me, you work from home a lot.
Teachers don’t just work at the school you know. I don’t care what Rush Limbaugh says. For those of us who don’t have a ready barrier for the workplace, it means a bit more compartmentalization to avoid stress and parenting.
On days where I’m watching the boys, I find I’m a lot saner if I’m just Dad. Being a teacher can wait until the next day. Trying to answer student emails, lesson plan, do my son’s learning time, and teach him to ride bike… eh… It’s just too much to handle in one day.
My attention was too divided, and the only consequence was stress. Compartmentalize to keep stress and parenting from ruining your life.
3. Take a Break To Recharge As Often As Possible
Parenting and stress go so well together. But one of the best strategies you can use to combat stress is to take a break. The failure of American companies to provide adequate vacation time to prevent burnout is abhorrent.
That’s out of our hands for the most part; unless I become a billionaire. But what about our own lives? We can make time to take breaks if we rely on our supporters and well-wishers.
Taking a vacation from parental responsibility is a great way to recharge and combat stress. Parenting is essentially working 24/7, 365 for no pay.
Plus, it’s a job you actually care about succeeding at. Don’t you think you’re going to want to prevent yourself from burning out before the kid is five years old? Yeah, you probably should.
4. Connect with Fellow Parents
I find nothing combats stress as much as a connection to other parents. Knowing that other people are going through the same thing I am is such a powerful stress reliever.
It even works if I don’t know the people. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by parenting I head over to Reddit and check in on /r/parenting. I don’t even go for the horror stories or to really seek advice.
All I’m looking for is a little catharsis that there are other people in the world dealing with the literal shitty day. It’s really nice to know that there are solutions to problems I didn’t even know I had yet. I just find the whole thing to be liberating.
Of course, talking with the neighbors about their parenting struggles is a good one too. Plus you get the added bonus of getting to know your neighbors.
One day last week my neighbor asked me if we’d been sick all year on and off too. Yep, we had. It was nice to know that this year’s cold and flu season was impacting all of us together.
5. Physical Activity
Go for a fucking walk.
You know you need to do it. Your doctor keeps telling you to do it. I know you think that saving up your extra time and getting some Fortnight action on counts because your heart rate goes up, but it doesn’t.
Just get out of the house and go for a walk. You can even take the kids with you. Before my oldest could talk I used to pop him in the stroller and go for a walk of a few miles by my house. I’d put a podcast in my ears and he’d look out for our local rooster.
Now I’ll admit since we’ve had the second one, I’ve really fallen off. It’s hard to pile them all together into the stroller. Nowadays I try to get my walks in at work.
It’s either that or I need to buy a bigger stroller. I’ve already got five strollers… I think I’ll try to walk more at work.
Any kind of physical activity has been shown to lower stress. Get out there and make it happen.
6. Enjoy the Little Things the Little Buggers Do
Sometimes we get so caught up in the moment that we forget to enjoy all the little things that the Little Buggers actually do. I’ve started a list on my phone where I’ll write down all the cute stuff that my kids do.
Sometimes, if I can, I’ll attach pictures. This practice has helped keep me really grounded when I’m up to my neck in the day to day bullshit of parenting.
I can swipe right on a little parenting bliss, you know? Hell, that’s why I had the kids. Well, that and the tax breaks.
7. Setting Up Routines
I avoid stress and parenting by setting up routines. I love routines. If the daily grind of parenting is triage and putting out fires routines really help eliminate the issues that pop up.
Control, control, control!
My kids and I have a routine on school days. They get up and have milk with Mommy. When Mommy goes to work, we have an hour before we have to get to preschool. At the end of Word Girl, my oldest son knows that it’s time for breakfast. After breakfast he has until the first break in Sid the Science Kid to put on his shoes.
Should I use the TV as a clock? Probably not, but the shows on PBS have this E/I logo thing, and they kind of suck for adults, so that’s probably a good sign.
Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that we do the same thing in the same order every day. It takes a lot of the insanity out of what had otherwise been a mad dash to check things off of lists in a haphazard way.
Wait, did he brush his teeth? Shit!
8. Breaking Routines to Do The Fun Stuff
But don’t let routines dictate everything that happens in life. If there is an opportunity to do something fun as a family…
A snow day can’t be replaced. Sure, you can take a kid to the mini golf anytime, but every day is new with them. I make sure that I’m flexible enough to break our routines if we get a good offer.
My oldest has gotten to spend time with his aunts at Seaworld, the park with Grandma, the library with me, and a bunch of other places because I didn’t worry that his nap might be thrown off. But you know, don’t go crazy.
9. Get Backup from Family or Friends
No man is an island, right? Hugh Grant learned that in About a Boy (great movie, great book). I admire single parents. But I realized within the first few days after my son was born that if I were alone I’d lose my damned mind within the month.
Thankfully, I had a pretty great support network from day one. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried to grow it though. And it means I’ve had to get more comfortable asking for help from that network.
Sometimes, no matter how much you’d like to, you just can’t be at two different doctor’s appointments at the same time. When those type of issues come knockin’ you have to lean on your network to avoid some stress and parenting.
Being a new dad, especially for the first time, is extremely stressful. Your entire world is thrown into chaos, and you’re probably still surfing a pretty gnarly wave of denial.
Stress is just part of the package. For every cute thing your baby does, they’re going to do something equally if not more stress inducing. Taking care of yourself, repeating some affirmations, and developing some positive coping mechanisms will go a long way to keeping you sane during this time.
What are some of your favorite coping mechanisms? Outside of a stiff gin and tonic?