Many new parents spend the greater part of the 9 months of pregnancy dreaming and romanticising about their new family constellation and the “bundle of joy” they are about experience. Often the reality of having a baby is very different to the idea, and many parents find themselves somewhat overwhelmed by the adjustments and demands being placed on them in the first few months of caring for their new baby, and during periods of the years that follow when new challenges arise.
In fact, a new study on parental happiness (or the lack thereof) has found that, while anticipatory happiness rose in the year preceding the birth, a significant percentage of parents reported a drop in overall happiness once baby had arrived. Then, each additional child introduces a new level of stress to the family dynamic.
Parental stress, while inevitable and normal, certainly has an effect on baby. Children are well aware of their parents’ reactions and attuned to their emotions. Many studies have indicated that when mum is stressed, the baby is likely to experience stress too. So while some of this stress is inevitable, managing parental stress becomes a priority – not only for the children’s sake, but for your own mental health as well. We all have ideal notions about what family life will be like but, unfortunately, daily demands of parenting, job requirements, running a household, financial stressors, and other responsibilities can tend to drain our mental and emotional resources, leading to stress. However, there are a few simple things you can do to alleviate some stress in your life and take the time to enjoy the family you have created.
How to manage parenting stress
The first step is to ensure that you are looking after yourself. It is very easy to forget about your own needs, or at least bump them to the bottom of the priority list, when you have children. However, it is really important that you prioritize your own needs as well. That means ensuring that you follow a healthy diet, get enough rest (wherever and whenever you can) and exercise. Taking out 30 minutes for a brisk walk by yourself can do wonders for your mental state not only does it get the blood flowing, but it gives you some valuable time to yourself. Other self care activities can take a few seconds and may seem more doable if you feel strapped for time:
- breathe take a long deep slow breath in and an even longer slower breath out
- focus on what you are doing use your senses to fully notice your actions and surroundings, e.g. with a mouthful of food take a second or two to notice the taste, texture, smell, sounds, and sights
- stop what you are doing and sit with silence (for the few seconds that you get) gently stretch raise your arms above your head or out in front/to the sides, look left and right, roll your shoulders, try and touch your toes.
- take a moment to switch off from the outside world read an article in a magazine, check facebook (briefly!!), look through your junk mail.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends and families of new parents will often offer their help by way of babysitting services, or cooking meals for the new family in the early days after baby’s arrival home. New parents may accept this help in the beginning but begin to feel they need to cope alone and refuse later offers of assistance. If you have more than one child, the load becomes even greater and asking for assistance may become vital to the well being of everyone in your family
- Spend time together: Spend time with your family doing something fun. Parents have so many daily demands on them that it is common to feel we don’t have time to enjoy our families. It may seem ridiculous, but consider scheduling in fun time with your family we schedule everything else and those things that don’t get allocated time often don’t happen. Spending “quality” time with our family members alleviates stress, improves relationships, improves the behaviour of our children, and reminds us why we decided to have kids in the first place.
- Manage mental health issues: Recognise when your own anxieties and worries are playing a role in your overall stress levels. Many parents find they have a set of their own personal concerns regarding their new family that contributes to their overall level of stress. Be this financial concerns, anxiety about raising children or other personal worries that may be contributing it is important to seek professional assistance in working through those issues.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends and families of new parents will often offer their help by way of babysitting services, or cooking meals for the new family in the early days after baby’s arrival home. New parents may accept this help in the beginning but begin to feel they need to cope alone and refuse later offers of assistance. If you have more than one child, the load becomes even greater and asking for assistance may become vital to the well being of everyone in your family.