“Parents only enjoy their children after they leave home.” A shocking statement on a recent the local radio programme.
Okay so parenting is hard work and can be stressful at times – but do parents really believe that we only enjoy our children once we don’t have them in the home! What if it is the stress we’re under that is the culprit, rather than our kids?
And what impact can our stress have on our children? Sadly, parenting stress can damage child well-being!
It makes sense that parents are stressed right now, but often our stress becomes a ‘distress’, and we lose sight of what really matters.
How many times do we caution our children about the fragile things in life. ‘Don’t touch. Be careful. It will break!’
But do we sometimes overlook the fragile precious beings our children are? Do we forget to handle with care the young people in our lives?
‘Of course I care for my kids!’ is our automatic reaction. But perhaps there are times when we have so much on our plates that we can’t see that our stress is negatively impacting the relationships that matter most to us. A careless action or word can dent our children’s self-esteem. Our parental stress can cause us to forget we are the custodians of their emotional well-being.
And then we have the challenge of becoming stressed about our stress! So what are some of the ‘handle with care’ cautions we need to remind ourselves?
3 Ways Our Children Are At Risk
#1 Giving the message that parenting is exhausting and a pain
Okay, parenting isn’t always easy. But how much do the stresses of the rest of our lives overflow into the home – and it’s the children that take the brunt of it. Whether we yell at them, scold, roll our eyes, nag, or talk about how hard it is to be a parent, children sense our attitude. Think about how some of the favourite comedians, like Michael McIntyre often play the “parenting is a pain” line. The audiences love it because they identify with it!
But imagine if you regularly overheard your life partner talking about what a pain it is to have you in their life. And you notice how the listener agrees or nods knowingly.
What would that do for your self esteem?
Do you really think that relationship would last?
Or if you did stay in that relationship can you imagine how it would undermine your confidence and sense of worth?
Some parents are stuck in “Oh, it’s so hard /draining/ depressing to be a parent!” This message may be directly spoken or not-so-subtly conveyed but the thing is, children don’t have anywhere else to go! If you had a life partner who thought so little of you, you’d probably move out. But children have to live with it and they get to believe this is the truth about them:
And when children believe they are a pain they are likely to behave that way. We create a self perpetuating downward spiral, unless we consciously choose a different route. If we want to nurture our children’s well-being the best place to start is with our own attitude and actions.
#2 Calling children names
Some labels we hurl at our kids are outright unkind and can dent a child’s self-esteem – ‘stupid’, ‘selfish’, ‘brat’. When we refer to our children as ‘princess’, ‘madam’, ‘his lordship’ it may seem to make light of challenging behaviours, but perhaps that’s like casually mishandling a precious Ming vase.
What part of our child’s innate value is shattered when we carelessly knock them? And seemingly innocuous titles can damage our perspective of the child we are here to raise. These insults distort our vision so that we see stupidity or entitlement instead of our children’s vulnerability and their human struggle. It’s not always easy to be a child. And it can be even harder to be a teen. It’s a time when their sense of self can be very fragile and needs to be handled with sensitivity. Careless words hurt our children, and they hurt us too. They hurt us by causing us to expect negativity and resistance; by focusing our attention on the slight scratch or imperfection on who our child is, so that we forget the innate value and beauty of who they truly are. Careless words can cement a negative mindset within us, so that we treat our relationships as something cheap and shoddy, instead of the precious gift they are. If we mishandle interactions and toss words around that can damage relationships, similar cutting words and attitudes may boomerang back at us. It’s time to rethink our attitude because it will be reflected in our actions.
#3 Being impatient
‘Hurry up. We’ re going to be late! Pick that up – now!’ We give a message that objects are more important than people; that our agenda is the only one that matters. How often do we rush carelessly in relationships. Today stop and assess whether you are giving the urgent priority over the important. What really matters?
A More Helpful Way Forward
So I ask you, what does a mindset of “Parenting is draining” do to our children and our families?
Do you sometimes see parenting as exhausting or a pain?
How is this impacting your own perception of life?
How does the impact your interaction?
How might your attitude and behaviour dent your relationship with your child?
How might your attitude and behaviour dent your child?
I love browsing in antique shops, seeking some beautiful treasure others may have overlooked. My husband often cautions me to be careful with my handbag – concerned that I could bump some delicate object and cause damage. He reminds me to be mindful. The same holds true in relationship.
Here are some thoughts from that analogy that can help us shift our mindset and way of being with our children.
- hold in awareness that there are things in close proximity that are fragile
- be present to whatever is before you in this moment
- avoid unnecessary speed; take time to notice
- be aware how you hold yourself in that space, physically and emotionally
- be conscious of how you interact and move
- be aware of where you are focusing your attention
- look for the beauty – it may be hidden by clutter, tarnish or dust
Life is Fragile
These days that we have with our children are precious and irreplaceable. Let’s handle with care. Child well-being is impacted by how they perceive themselves being perceived by others. Let’s not forget parenting stress can undermine child well-being! What underlying message do our children read from the way we communicate with them and about them?
Getting stressed about stressing our children is obviously only going to add fuel to the fire. I believe we can find a better way forward.
Are you concerned about how your stress might be affecting your child?
It makes sense that, in the present circumstances, stress can leave us feeling so shattered that we can’t even pick up the pieces.
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I’d love to support you to regain your joy and be the parent you want to be.
Blog post by Val Mullally
Activating your Inner Wisdom in Work, Parenthood and Life