It is normal to have ideals about how you would like to parent. These beliefs can include: never yelling at your children, always playing with them and enjoying them, having a consistent routine, no technology and no junk food. You picture a family life where you all feel #blessed and happy like the photos on Facebook and Instagram suggest that you will be.
What we need to be aware of though is that if there is a significant gap between our ideals and our reality that is too big to overcome, we are likely to feel highly stressed and anxious. To support our own mental health and in turn be a better support for our children there are a few simple things that we can do:
Parenting when highly stressed can cause children to escalate in their behaviour and also puts you at risk of burning out. It is important that you recognise what causes you stress and how you can best look after yourself. A common response from parents when talking about their own stress management is the phrase “I don’t have time”. But if you can make the time you will have more quality interactions and positive encounters with your children which is a win for everyone. A simple way to look at it is with a banking analogy. Parenting children is constantly withdrawing money from a bank account, so if you are not engaging in healthy stress management strategies then you are not depositing any money into the account. This of course will lead to debt.
Some simple techniques to reduce stress include: taking three deep breaths, providing yourself with a positive coping statement or getting fresh air/exercise. If your children are young and even a few minutes to yourself is impossible to attain, include them in the strategies. You are then also role modelling to them healthy ways to look after yourself.
Knowledge really is power
I don’t think anybody warns you that you will regularly have moments where you feel like you have no idea what you are doing. This is totally normal. In these situations, one of the best things that you can do is to increase your knowledge.
Of course, I am going to sound a little bit biased here, but one of the most helpful things that you can do is to meet with a psychologist to increase your understanding of your children’s needs and learn effective strategies. I am aware that there are many books out there on parenting but every child is unique and it can be very overwhelming reading the vast amount of information out there. Each child has a different temperament/personality and unique experiences. It is also important to be aware of the family context. All of these factors need to be considered when developing strategies which is why sometimes books and articles don’t quite support you with the guidance that you are after.
There will be times when your child is going through a challenging developmental stage and other times where they are struggling and would benefit greatly from your support and guidance. When you know how to differentiate the two and how to best respond your confidence will increase with this new knowledge. Not only is knowledge power but it also greatly assists with the ability to have patience.
Stop the comparisons
The final wisdom that I want to share is the importance of not comparing with other parents. As I have mentioned, every child’s needs will be different, so comparing to other parents is not an accurate or helpful thing to do. When we compare to others, we can increase a sense of shame and guilt and believe that we are not good enough parents. We are then likely to minimise any evidence that proves otherwise that we are actually doing a fantastic job.
One of the easiest ways to reduce comparisons is to stop looking at other people’s highlight reels on Facebook and Instagram. The constant message of happiness and feeling #blessed is not accurate and can be very misleading. The reality of life is that we will experience highs and lows. Having kindness and compassion towards ourselves even during our most challenging moments is the nicest thing that we can do. Maybe as parents we need to stop being hypocrites and take the advice that we would give to our kids “I am proud of you for trying and that is all that matters”.