Parental stress is a real struggle with most parents whether one expresses it or not. As soon as we become parents, the focus shifts from ourselves towards that new addition in our life. Parents are so much focused on raising, nurturing, financially and emotionally supporting the child that they often forget about their own needs. Parental stress disrupts positive child development. It is now considered a grave concern among psychologists. This article aims to build up on the issue of parental stress and its negative effects on children by suggesting self-care tips for parents from experts. To promote positive parenting and save children from delays in cognitive, emotional and psychological development, parents should learn to put their emotional and physical health in place first.
Parents are constantly building up their stress levels with frustration and depression of not being able to cope up with added responsibilities. What parents often forget is that this lack of attention to themselves is actually creating a downward spiral resulting in several bad parenting problems. This is why most parents lose patience with their children or become less empathetic starting from young age.
Why Self-Care isn’t Selfish?
People in Pakistan have a very conservative stereotype regarding parenting. After becoming parents, society expects couples to focus on children solely. Parenting is a momentous responsibility. While it is true, it is also important to understand how this concept, in general, has negatively affected brought up of children in Pakistan. The act of dedicating life to children without self-care results in higher expectations and even selfish attitudes by parents in future. Without meeting the psychological and emotional needs of children, parents expect them to accept helicopter parenting or disgruntled parenting. This in turn makes children less open to their parents, disgruntled, unable to take challenges in life and less open to change.
Psychologists suggest that positive parenting can be done with a certain mindset. A calm, more open, satisfied and confident. approach. A stressed, frustrated, discontented or depressed parent cannot be expected to be an empathetic, positive role model. Given the recent awareness in our society regarding emerging psychological issues in children, there is a growing recognition for mental health of parents as well. National Institute of Mental Wellness (NAMI) defines self-care habits under six major categories:
Without considering self-care as selfish or self-indulging, here are some important self-care tips that every parent should understand and choose for themselves.
1. Make time for your body
This often makes parents laugh considering they are already whining about lack of time for anything besides children. However, whether it is 1 hour or 10 minutes, any routine involving physical exercise does wonder for parent’s mental health as well as physical health. You have a variety of activities to select from, starting from walking to skipping, to exercise or yoga or just simple dance on one or two songs. Squeezing out some time daily for physical activity can rejuvenate the mind and body. It gives you an assurance that you are being taken care of. Once a routine is established, one can gradually increase or decrease time, based on schedule.
2. Value the Routine/Schedule no matter how difficult
Scheduling with young children is obviously a difficult task. However, research shows that keeping a schedule or routine can carve out a lot more time for oneself. A list of tasks-to-do can reduce significant amount of time and exhaustion from remembering things with children at hand. One of the main reasons for parental stress is constant feeling of not being able to physically or mentally cope up with daily chores, self-time and kids’ demands. When you have a list of important things to do in hand, you can be more mentally prepared or can ask for help. Schedule time for important things like meal times, main house chores, prayers, physical activity time, and some alone time. In addition establish a night time routine instead of allowing children to stay up late.
3. Take time away from screens
For most mothers, screen time on social groups or random browsing is their relaxing time. In reality though, additional screen time is equally hazardous for mental health of adults as it is for kids. Not only this wastes your precious time for selfcare but also affects your relationship with children. Same time can be used for regular exercise, family play time, reading or catching up with friends. You can start some activity that can relax you, even when kids are too young or infants. It can be painting, carving, baking, music selection, some unfinished project, or anything. Start with whatever time you have on hand and increase as child’s routine adjusts with time. To reset and recharge, make sure to cut back on unnecessary screen time during the day and before bed.
4. Schedule time with family or friends
It is widely researched that socializing with friends, family or other parents greatly reduces parental stress. Sharing your experiences with someone who can relate to it, sympathize with you or give great advice, can be good for your emotional health. However, it is important to understand the difference between sharing and whining. Most parents especially mothers develop a habit of making emotional judgements about their stress, efforts or lost time. Not only is self-pity toxic for oneself but also causes a downward spiral in increasing emotional burden. Learn to absorb the positivity from your support group. This goes for both mothers and fathers. Men in our society generally do not talk about the additional burden or responsibility they feel after kids. Stress about financials or changed marital routine can be discussed with sincere friends and family members for emotional support.
5. Get Professional Help if Needed
It is not unusual for parental stress to get more serious especially for women who have less of a social life than working men. Commonly known as postpartum depression, is now a widely recognized psychological issue in Pakistan. However, if unnoticed, this depression along with parental stress can have devastating effects on mother’s mental health. If you feel yourself sinking into such depression, do not shy away from getting professional help. Owing to the Covid-19 wave, there are hundreds of professionals online who are providing this service from home and can allow you to get help without bringing everyone on the bandwagon of judgements with you.
Having children is a huge responsibility without any doubt. However, in order to effectively become a good parent, parents need to practice self-care first. Parents who are more physically fit, content, self-assured and confident raise emotionally intelligent and empathetic kids. Remember kids are like sponges. Whatever they absorb from parents and environment, it is reflected in their personality. Therefore, it better be a physically, psychologically, socially and emotionally positive input.