How stress affects your parenting

 One of the best things that can really help with healthy parenting and effective parenting is dealing with your stress.

Because it doesn’t matter what parenting books or DVDs you watch – what parenting podcast or blog you listen to or read- if you’re swimming in stress,  you’re not going to be as effective as you could be because stress will impair you.

These different ways stress can affect you as a parent often overlap and connect and because they’re overlapping and connected stress can easily snowball and overwhelm you. When you add the kids acting out in reaction to your stress – that becomes a gnarly vicious cycle.

1) Stress disconnects you from your best self.  Stress is useful, it creates energy to do what you need to do. Too much, for too long, takes a toll; the rest of this list details how.

2) Stress is distracting and prevents you from being focused and present. You aren’t as attentive. And that can lead to mistakes, inefficiency, frustration, tasks taking longer than you wanted, forgetfulness or even neglect.

3) Stress is draining and exhausting.  It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy when you’re in it so you can’t bring that energy that you need to your kids.

4) Stress makes you vulnerable to resentment and bitterness. Because it’s draining on and that makes everything harder you can start to feel trapped.  When you’re under stress you can be vulnerable sacrificing even more than is healthy for the good of your kids.  In the effort to be a great mom or dad in the short term, things can backfire and fall apart in the long run with undealt-with stress. 

5) Stress makes you reactive and feel out of control.  Stress speeds up your thinking, too much and it can also distort your thinking.  Stress is the triggered fight-or-flight response, it makes you reactive and vulnerable to over-reacting with your kids.

6) Stress makes you vulnerable to inconsistently enforcing boundaries, limits and consequences.  It’s tough to stick to your guns and stay consistent with discipline and consequences. Stress breaks down your resolve and patience. It makes short cuts tempting.

7) Stress can make you feel guilty in a few ways.  Besides feeling guilty for the previous reactions to stress, under stress you may not be experiencing the joy of parenting and as a mom (or dad) you’re “supposed to” have joy as a mom. And what kind of a mom would you be to not enjoy your children?  Now, I don’t believe that and you probably don’t either sitting on the computer or reading on your phone, you can see that cognitive distortion clearly.  But in the middle of a bad day, a nightmare trip to the grocery store or in the middle of another sleepless night that type of thinking seems very real and true.

8) Stress triggers and perpetuates anxiety and depression if you are vulnerable to it or have it.

9) Stress can also trigger self-medicating with addictions or acting out.

10) Stress can affect your sleep and and make you sleep deprived (or even more sleep deprived). And the stress and problems of sleep deprivation are a whole other burden to deal with. I’ll certainly blogging more about sleep later.

11) Stress can make you question your faith. In yourself and in God.  In yourself because it makes you uncertain and unsteady, it shakes your confidence, makes you feel incompetence, feel like quitting or running away.  It can shake your faith because it can make you feel alone and isolated, disconnected and abandoned.

These are some ways that stress makes parenting harder. I’m guessing there are others you might add or are going through. When you are under stress which of the ways above does stress affect your parenting?

Despite all that, I hope this will encourage you to see that often the “problem” isn’t you, or isn’t the kids, often the “problem” is stress. I hope thinking through this list helps untangle the complexity of the different consequences of stress. And inspires you to do what you need to do to address it and take care of yourself.

Remember, sometimes taking care of yourself is not really doing more or adding one more to-do to your already overfull plate; taking care of yourself may mean just giving yourself permission to ask for help, accept help, to let people see your need and let people in to help.

I’ll be posting ways of managing your stress in the future.

In the meantime, a few more questions: what’s causing your stress right now?

Is it low, medium or high?

Getting worse, staying the same or getting better?

What’s one thing you could start doing – something you’re in control of, something you can concretely do differently –  that would help with your stress?


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Licensed professional counselor and health coach in Portland, OR Pre-marital and couples counseling. Individual counseling for anxiety, depression, insomnia, sleep disorders, sexual addiction, porn addiction, career, transitions, grief, burnout, personal growth.

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