Parenting Under Duress

I have had a fairly rough year–really more like the past 7 months. During this time, I have had to manage extreme sadness and stress, while parenting a young toddler.

I think it’s important to talk about how mothers or fathers can handle the stress of a life situation such as death, job loss, money issues, or break-ups while being a stay-at home parent.

One of the benefits to going to work is your child won’t see you as you go through most of your daily stresses and worries during a rough time. Of course, your co-workers will, but that’s for another author to write.

If you are a stay-at home parent or a mostly-stay at home parent such as myself, your emotions are on stage all day. Your child witnesses just about everything. Even though a young toddler may not be able to say, “Hey Mommy…I can tell you’re extremely disappointed today about something,” he or she can pick up on your feelings. 

Kids will say, “Mommy has a boo-boo,” or “Daddy is sad.”

It’s basic, but they totally get it. You as the adult, may disagree with this, but as someone who used to educate and care for young children, I watched as the “played out” the stresses or parental impacts in their little lives at preschool.

That being said, no one under extreme sadness or stress can sit like a still statue, smiling like a damned Beauty Queen, unless of course you’re taking Xanax or other strong drugs. It’s appropriate for children to see emotions such as sadness, shock, etc, as long as the emotions are not violent or incredibly destructive (i.e., if you’re so depressed you don’t want to shower or play with your kid, you need to seek help. Now.)

How can parents find ways to diffuse these strong emotions while caring for their precious little ones?

Here are my tried and true tips. From a fellow survivor!

#1–Get outside. Getting fresh air and sunshine is an immediate boost. Depending on how active or how old your child is, participate in some type of physical activity with them. Exercise or movement is great for releasing feel-good hormones. Take a walk with your infant, play soccer with your 8 year-old, or just climb the jungle gym with your 3 year-old.

#2 If you’re feeling like you cannot hold back your tears or need to scream, find something for your child to do while you go into another room. Kids don’t need to see everything because it scares them and they will start to feel anxious. If your child is an accident-prone toddler, maybe now is the time to utilize the Idiot Box, i.e., the television, for just a little bit. A little Elmo won’t hurt them while you get out a good cry.

#3 Step outside of yourself. Your problems are crucial. Maybe you’re undergoing a foreclosure, or just lost a parent. These are not easy matters, but try to devote 1, 2, or 3 hours to not thinking about anything but whatever you are doing with your child. If you’re getting just as bored as playing with legos as your child is, plan a trip or try to do something different that you’ve never done before with him or her. Exploring something new is exciting for the two of you, and will get you out of your element and routine.  Ask some other parents for some new ideas or places to go with your little ones.

#4 Bond with other Parents

Getting out with other parents in a similar or even not-so-similar situation will be a great break for you and your child/children. It’s an instant play date for your child, and will give you an adult to commiserate or just chat with. It’s crucial that you have a support network, and remember: if you and your child are at home together all the time, he or she is probably a bit bored and needing some other faces to look at for awhile.

#5 Lower Expectations

Stop being demanding of yourself. If you are about to lose your home, lose your marriage, or undergo a major surgery/enduring an illness, recognize that things will not be exactly the same as it once was. You will find a new normal, and in that new normal, there will be new and different expectations of yourself than there were before. 

This isn’t to say that you should throw all of your daily duties away, but to suggest that you are not super human and will need to adapt to either a new situation or new stress with a fresh outlook and some creativity. Be good to yourself!

#6 Take your Child’s lead

Play, play, and play. What’s more fun than coloring? Introduce your child to a old-new activity. Old to you–maybe a game you played as a child…but New to them! A little childhood nostalgia can always make one feel better.

#7 Music, Rest, Eat, Repeat

Music can change the ambiance, so if you’re stuck at home, try  putting on something lively and upbeat like Reggae.

Rest. it’s very hard to get sleep when you’re stressed, so try anything you can to help yourself, other than drugs or alcohol. I’m not against a glass of wine, but this isn’t the time to become a whino or lush. 

Try some meditation, yoga…if you’re not the New Age type, try reading a book. Avoid the computer because that will just keep you awake. Shut off your phone and computer.Try sleepytime tea or maybe some homeopathic remedies to help you get rest.

Remember, kids are very durable…and you will be too once this is over. Enjoy them. Play with them as much as possible…and when you’re feeling really blue as long as you and your child are not obese or very overweight, just grab a bowl and some Haagen Daas, and chow down on some serious Dulce De Leche ice cream, and offer your kid the spoon. Let them lick the bowl, and join in too.



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