Tips for parents on balancing stress

It seems yet another sensationalistic parenting story has caught the media’s attention with a vengeance when 45-year-old mom, Madlyn Primoff, had enough and  ditched her arguing daughters, (10 and 12 years old) on the side of the road three miles from home. While the details vary some from story to story, without a doubt it set off a hotbed of debate.
I’ll admit the story of an overwhelmed mom gone berserk definitely caught my attention. As a parent of four children (two bonus, two bio) I totally get how the whole “Stop touching each other” can easily bring any rational parent to the brink of snapping.
Yet what really caught my attention wasn’t the story, it was the reactions of other moms. The spectrum of opinions seemed to range from the “holier than thou” crowd chanting, “How could you be such a horrible mother?” to a resounding sympathetic chorus of “I know just how she feels.”
And by the way, am I the only one who noticed there’s no mention of Dad in the headlines?
While the judging battle wages on between those who would and those who wouldn’t, I can’t help but think we are missing the big picture here.
To me, this story is more than a segment about a Mom’s lack of judgment. It’s not a platform to engender sympathy for overwhelmed parents. It’s not a chance to wag fingers or slap the wrists of those parents who act in a moment of desperation. Nor it is a forum for a political debate regarding the role of child protection services. My guess is there’s a whole lot more to this story. Regardless of what your views are, in my opinion, any self-respecting parent has had moments where frustration trumped good judgment.
Instead, I would argue this story is a wake up call for all parents. It speaks to the tenuous state many families find themselves struggling with daily. Parenting children well with less time, fewer resources and limited support.
Let’s face it, today’s parents work longer hours and have more demanding jobs. These days many families depend on two incomes to keep up with growing debt and insurmountable economic hardships. Of course, for lots of parents the day doesn’t end once they’re home.
Technology has made it possible for us to take work with us wherever we go. Between texting, posting, taking calls on the fly and keeping up with our status, we have become a society that is twittering our lives away in a state of constant distraction. Marriages remain fragile and divorce rates are steady. The number of single parents is on the rise with researchers telling us that those who live together usually don’t stay together. The days when you used to live across town from your parents have all but vanished. Now grandchildren and grandparents consider themselves lucky if they get to see each other a couple times a year. Fitting in family time quickly takes a back seat to a host of other demands. Our ambitious, fast paced, overly technological lives are leaving us with less and less time to connect.
So what’s is it all for again?
Is the end result a new breed of overwhelm and stressed out parents who push themselves to the point that leaving children on the side of the road suddenly seems like a stellar parenting technique?
What I know is this.
Good relationships take work. Not some relationships, all relationships. You reap what you sow. Whether it’s your relationship with your spouse, your partner, your children, your family, your work or yourself. Relationships take time and require your presence. Physically sharing space and being in the same room together isn’t enough, we need to give our full attention to the moment.
I have no idea what kind of mom Madlyn Primoff is. In all honesty, as another mother who has had her own berserk moments, I don’t think it’s my place to judge her. I can’t help but wonder given the growing number of challenges families face, if situations like this will become more frequent. Rather than plunging myself into becoming overly sympathetic or jumping onto the “flog the bad mother” bandwagon, I’ve decided to use this media frenzy as my reminder about how I am investing my time as a parent.
Maybe if we all invested little more time into our children, our relationships and ourselves, we would have fewer moments where we felt like parking our kids on the side of the road.
Tips for parents on balancing stress
• Pay attention to your needs
One of the key factors in successfully managing stress is self-awareness. This means that you are paying attention to your own feelings, thoughts, reactions and needs on a daily basis (not just when you can schedule it in.) When you increase your level of self-awareness it puts you in a better position to respond your children’s needs and parenting issues.
Take time to identify your own stressors. Has the job got your stomach in knots? Finances overwhelming? Your relationship with your spouse strained? Ask yourself, what about my day-to-day life is most challenging? Then brainstorm what would help you manage those challenges in a more constructive way. While you may not be able to eliminate certain stressors from your life, you can limit the impact they have.
Feel stuck? Consider talking to someone you trust and come up with some new ideas.
• Disconnect from technology and connect with your kids
Technology can be a blessing and a curse. Do your best to use it wisely. Put a limit on things that distract you from being fully present. Examples can be limiting the amount of time you spend checking email, programming your phone to cut off at a certain hour, leaving your Blackberry in the car while you go to the park with your children. Implementing a no answering the phone or texting during dinner rule.
• Make the time you have count
If you live by the calendar and your “to do” list, consider scheduling differently. Although you may not have an entire day to devote exclusively to your children, think about how you can carve out some quality time everyday. Keep in mind quality time does not mean doing homework, running to soccer practice or talking about the day while you unload the dishwasher. Quality time can be as simple as scheduling a family night once a week and cooking dinner together or reading a book, coloring or drawing with your children before bed every night.
• Change your routine
While having routines is important, occasionally everybody needs a breath of fresh air. Think about giving your family a break from the usual. Plan to do homework at the park, drive a different way to school, have pizza night on the porch or consider ditching your normal bedtime and playing outside with your kids till dark. What can you do to shake things up a little?
• Get personal
While email, voicemail and texting are very convenient ways to communicate with others, they don’t replace the value of face-to-face personal contact. Throughout your day make a point to acknowledge people you come into contact with on a daily basis. Consider making eye-to-eye contact and exchange a few kind words with everyone you meet. You might be surprised by the difference it makes.
Thanks for checking in!
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