Taking positive action when life feels out of control
Throughout the parenting journey, there’ll be problems with work, relationship changes, and financial ups and downs. You can’t control everything that happens, but you can learn to manage how you react. Learning to juggle work, family, relationships, and being a parent – all without losing your cool – takes practice and time, but can make a big difference for you and your family.
STRESS CAN BUILD UP IN THE BACKGROUND
With more people working from home, many are discovering what researchers have known for a while: family conflict can affect your work, and work worries can impact your home life. Not enough work and rising prices can also add to stress, as the household finances come under pressure.
All of this can impact on parenting. Stress can affect patterns of communication in the family, reduce role-sharing, and increase disagreements. One partner’s stress can increase the other’s. The effects of relationship conflict can go beyond the obvious impact on the parents: behaviour problems in children may also become more common. And if this happens, responding calmly and consistently as a parent also becomes more difficult.
During COVID-19, many families have reported huge increases in both stress levels and behavioural and other problems, such as anxiety, in their children.
So what can you do? Well, it’s not about making a superhuman attempt to be all things to all people. It’s about trying to find a realistic balance, and trying to focus on what you control.
Routines are your friend. Give your kids the skills to be more independent – in getting themselves ready in the mornings, for example. And get kids to help with age-appropriate chores too, as they get older. Triple P can offer positive strategies to make setting up daily routines more successful.
GETTING A BETTER BALANCE TO KEEP YOUR FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS STRONG
When there’s extra stress on your family and household budget, being aware of your emotions and having some positive strategies are more important than ever. Here are just a few tips that can help if stress and poor work-family balance are creating problems.
You don’t have to tackle everything in this list at once. Just keep trying, remembering the whole point is to be less stressed, and not worried about getting everything right all the time.
- Look at what’s within your power to change. Can you organize more flexible working arrangements? If money is tight, can you talk to your bank or a financial counselling service? Can you negotiate with your partner about ways to share family tasks to ease the burden? Can you create fun experiences at home? Taking a problem-solving approach can help you focus on what’s possible, not what’s outside your control.
- Be aware of your own thoughts and emotions, and challenge unhelpful self-talk. For example, thinking “things will never improve” greatly increases your stress. A more realistic thought might be: “things are difficult right now, but this stage won’t last forever and there are steps we can take to improve things.” Research shows the importance of being able to joke and laugh with your kids. Being a calm, positive, engaged parent, as much as you can, helps protect your kids from negative long-term effects of difficult times. And if you feel like you’re not coping and need more support, reach out to friends, family, or your health professional.
- Think about your ‘changeover’ times. Use commuting time to make a conscious effort to unwind, and make family your priority when you are with them. Likewise, don’t dwell on family issues when at work.
IN TWO-PARENT FAMILIES: BEING ON THE SAME PAGE AS YOUR PARTNER
- Look after each other (for partners or other adults who help you care for your child). Share conversations about their problems as well as yours; and expect to be able to share your difficulties with them without it becoming a blame game. Have a realistic expectation of yourself and your partner, but also know that it’s okay to be assertive (but not aggressive) when asking for help.
- If one or both parents are spending too much time and energy on work, try to have a calm discussion about priorities. Decide what’s really important for you as a family. Remember to focus not only on material things but also how much time you spend with your children to support their emotional development.
- Understand that each parent can be responsible for finding ways to manage their own stress, without adding to the other person’s. For example, good ways to relieve your stress may include deep breathing and listening to music, phoning a friend, or going for a walk in the early morning before everyone else wakes up. Escaping problems by spending too much time on your phone, over-indulging in food, alcohol, or even being a workaholic can bring temporary feelings of relief, but creates long term problems and can add to the other parent’s stress. (Likewise, don’t insist on going for that daily walk when it means conveniently avoiding doing one’s fair share at bath-time or bedtime.)