Stressful Parenting.

And the art of not doing stupid stuff.


The problem with becoming a parent is that there is no instruction manual.

It has been said that you need a license to drive a car, but any fool can become a parent.

There is, however, plenty of well-meaning advice that comes from many sources – family members, friends with and without children, acquaintances, random strangers….

There is plenty of advice online.  Some of it is even free.

Even so, this parenting gig is actually quite stressful – hence the Stressful Parenting title of this article.

Actually, purely in my opinion, the “essentials” part of parenting is really relatively simple.

From a baby’s perspective, all they really need is:

  • food and drink,
  • shelter,
  • cleanliness,
  • clothing,
  • warmth in winter,
  • relief from the heat in summer,
  • lots of sleep (preferably on a comfy bed of sorts),
  • lots of cuddles
  • and love.

The same applies from toddlers through to teenagers.

However, as they get older it becomes more difficult as the definition of many of the items listed above changes.  For example, “love” perhaps needs to be expanded to include “guidance”, “tolerance”, “teaching” and “support”.

What is not made clear is the stress that comes along for the ride during the wonderful journey that parents and children go on together.

Some parents struggle with their newborn baby.  How do I get this baby to sleep ?!?  My baby won’t drink !!!  How can one small child produce SO MANY REVOLTING NAPPIES in one hour ?!?!?

Some parents breeze through the baby stage and struggle with their toddler, or tween, or teenager.

In amongst all this there can be feelings of inadequacy, or not being good enough, or smart enough, or selfless enough.  Stressful Parenting !

The feeling of guilt and helplessness can emerge at any time.

“I can’t do what I want to do, because I need to look after my children”.

“I can’t go out today / tonight to see a friend because I have to look after my children”.

“I hate my job, but I can’t leave because I need the money to look after my children”.

The pressure to earn $X per week, per month, per year to provide for your family first (and yourself second) can become overwhelming.

The pressure to make sure everyone else has clean clothes, juggle competing and conflicting commitments or schedules, make sure needs are met for everyone else first (and yourself second) can cause internal stress and tension.  Not to mention a headache.  And a constant desire to eat ice cream.

The children are not a burden – far from it for most parents.

The pure and utter joys in seeing a child achieve a milestone like walking or talking or losing their first tooth, play in a concert, run around the sporting field, get a great mark on the test, being wise and caring to their family or friends, or simply being an amazing human, is impossible to describe.

The feeling of satisfaction and intense pride when a child has mastered a new skill such as walking home from school, making their own lunch, or making deliberate and conscious choices that affect their lives is also wonderfully impossible to describe.

(Having said that, it is my opinion that when a small child masters the art of toilet training it is arguably one of the best moments in a parents life…. Realising that you never have to wipe someone else’s bottom ever again is an enormously joyous and happy feeling).

The stressful parenting then goes up a notch when your teenage children are nearing the end of their High School years.  Exams, peer pressure, ridiculous and counter productive “school rules” that actually hinder rather than help, schools that counteract and undermine the parenting values that you have taken a lifetime to instil into your wonderful child – these all add to the the stress of not only your child, but to you as the parent as well.

Making sacrifices for your children is a given.  And that is ok.

However, it can be quite wearing, day after day, year after year.

Careers endured or put on hold or ended.

Dreams almost casually tossed aside.

Hobbies postponed.

Then, just as you think you’ve got the whole thing under as much control as is possible and there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, your parents suddenly get old.  Once they were a source of strength and stability.  Now they become a major source of stress, tension and consumer of your already limited time.

This can be both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing in that you can take on your new role knowing that they have unofficially (and often unknowingly and usually unwillingly) passed the baton onto you.  They may or may not recognize that they need your help and anyway, deep down you are more than happy to give it unconditionally.

It can also be a curse because they have more time than you do, so they appear to sit around getting tense because you haven’t done whatever it is that they think you are supposed to do…. Then they not so subtly let you know this….. And thus your stressful parenting levels increase yet again….

The fine line between balancing your parenting duties to your children AND looking after your own parents becomes a knife edge.

Then the in-laws also are thrown into the mix, as they too are of a similar age to your parents and also have a competing, but entirely different set of needs and requirements.

Cue the clenched teeth.

So, what can we do about all of this stressful parenting without going completely insane ?

Firstly – try to laugh.

There is no denying that this is difficult.  However, try looking at it from an outsiders view.  Sometimes the stressful parenting reality is much like one of those awkward television shows, where the bumbling male character is trying to go out with three different unsuspecting female characters at the same time and he is trying to keep them apart and not find out about each other.

For a little while, it appears to be working, but slowly it all goes pear shaped.

Perhaps try looking at it from a Monty Python point of view.

“You came in here for an argument”.

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did.”

“No I didn’t.”

Etc, etc, until you wander off down the hall to where they have the Being Hit On The Head Lessons, or the Abuse Room.

Removing yourself from the stressful parenting situation and observing it from above can actually make you realise that this whole situation is actually funny.  It certainly would be if it was happening to someone else !

Secondly – prioritise.

Yes, it appears that everyone needs help NOW, IMMEDIATELY.  And all you really want to do is sit down on the couch with a nice cup of tea or a glass of something and have a relaxed conversation with your wife / husband / partner or talk on the phone to a friend, or read a book.

The Stressful Parenting Reality means that actually making a list and deciding in what order the fires need to be put out becomes a necessity.

Getting dinner needs to be done first.  While you are cooking, can you also help your children with their homework ?

(Maybe you can cook double the quantities – eat half now and keep the other half for tomorrow night, or for dropping off at the grandparents’ house tomorrow for them to heat up the next evening ?)

After dinner can you plan the next few items on your “to do” list ?

Perhaps you can phone your aging parents and assure them that while tomorrow after work you need to take their grandchildren to orchestra practice or soccer training and pick them up again, the day after has a spare half hour where you can take them to their doctors appointment.

Juggling the competing constraints on your time needs to be planned, prioritised and thought about rationally.

Thirdly – get help !!

Do you have brothers or sisters ?  Do they have partners of some description ?  Do you have older children or nieces or nephews, preferably and hopefully with driving licences ?  Are they available to provide some help when looking after your older parents or in-laws ?

Perhaps, if the budget allows, you can organise a cleaner or a gardener to visit your parents (or your own) house ?

Perhaps you can visit the oldies on Mondays, your brother can visit on Wednesdays and you can take it in turns to visit on the weekends ?

Fourth – learn to say “No”.

This is the tricky one.  You want to be able to provide time and effort for everyone who needs it – young people, old people, yourself, your work and everyone in between.

However, the reality as shown in the ideas mentioned above means that physically you cannot be all things to everyone all the time.

Again, purely in my opinion, the order of priority is – babies, toddlers and early primary school children first, then upper primary school and lower high school students, then from there you can try to juggle everyone else.

Of course you can take your kids with you to visit the aging grandparents.  However, experience has shown that toddlers in the waiting room at the specialist doctors while waiting with a sick grandparent is not fun and only adds to the stressful parenting.  NOT. FUN.

You’ve taken the car for a service and a new set of tires.  The moment the mechanic drains the oil and takes the wheels off your father rings to say that you can pick him up from the hospital now.

Say no.  You’ll pick him up this afternoon.

Your 14 year old needs a coloured piece of cardboard for a school project that they’ve known about for weeks (and is due tomorrow) and they need you to get it for them now from the stationary supplies shop.

Say no.  You need to go to the supermarket to ensure there is enough food for the family.  If they have some similar cardboard at the supermarket, sure, no problem, you’ll grab one.  But your 14yo needs to learn that things don’t just magically happen.

The in-laws have requested your attendance at some family reunion on the busiest week of your lives.  And even if you were available, you probably wouldn’t want to go anyway, mainly because there are other more important (to you) and competing items on your “to do” list.

Say no.  They won’t be impressed, but you will retain your sanity.

Parenting is stressful.  Dealing with younger children and older parents is stressful.

However, it doesn’t always have to be.

Doing stupid stuff – be that incorrect priorities, or giving the wrong message, or saying the wrong thing – can be easily avoided, if you pause, stop and think.

Take some time out for yourself, to rest, recharge your batteries and to put things into perspective.

Yes, it’s difficult.

But you will be all the better for it.




P.S.  How do you deal with the conflicting priorities that come with juggling your children, your ageing parents and stressful parenting ?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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