Parental stress was the topic of the interview conducted by journalist Elma Katana with the psychologist of the Center, Assist. Prof. Bruna Profaca, Ph. D which was published on April 1st, 2019 on T portal:
Many will agree that being a parent has never been harder, modern parenting is filled with traps that are often not easy to resolve. Because of the accelerated way of life, the balance of family and professional life is often a mission impossible, so many parents and children complain that they are under tremendous pressure. Bruna Profaca, a psychologist from the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb provided tportal.hr with several useful tips that could help those who feel the consequences of parental stress.
Today, we often hear parents complain that they are under tremendous pressure due to growing demands that are ahead of them, such as constant dropping off of children to many activities or responsibilities after school, or homework and studying.
The period of parenthood is filled with countless positive experiences, but it is also often marked by conflicts, uncertainties, tiredness, stressful situations… Experts warn that this feeling of dissatisfaction and frustration further deepens changes in other aspects of life such as everyday tasks and family responsibilities.
Before it was considered that so-called parental stress occurs only in extremely difficult situations (eg. following severe illness or special needs of a child), but psychologists today feel that it is also present in everyday parental situations.
The pressure of society and parents is directly and indirectly transferred to children
“When talking about parents who are under pressure because of their children’s excessive activity, first of all, I think about the children who are in all these activities. Parents are offered a lot of content for children, but at an age where it is not even the child’s need or the child’s best interest. Pressure from the society and parents is then directly and indirectly transmitted to children. To whom can the parents trust? The media? Other parents from kindergarten and school the child goes to? Psychologists, pedagogues? Experiences of others from social networks? Parents are surely confused, and early childhood education and overfilling their schedule with activities is not good for children”, says Bruna Profaca, a psychologist at the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb.
An additional source of pressure may be a child’s statement that he is “bored”, she added.
“I often hear from parents that children’s statements about being bored are really difficult for them to tolerate. While describing these situations, many parents say they feel as if they are ‘bad parents’. They ask ‘how can I help my child not to be bored’, ‘why is he bored, while other children have numerous interests’ (though they do not know it with confidence). In the time we live, surrounded by constant stimuli and the imperative of various successes, the thought of their child being bored brings parents to making their child’s time more and more structured. This is the reason why children and their parents are overburdened. Then, of course, the most important thing suffers, and that is the relationship between the child and the parent”, she said.
Even though we adults are longing for leisure time and we remember the days when we had it, she says, we do not allow children to enjoy it.
“Instead of encouraging natural forms of movement, free games where peers or adults would be teammates, fantasies, getting dirty in the sand, and exploring what’s in the grass or hiding in grandma’s closet where she keeps her scarves and bags, today’s kids already in a young age have a series of predetermined activities and overfilled schedules. It is not unusual for a girl or a boy of four or five years old to have several activities after a full day in kindergarten. Too many perceive boredom as a disease to be prevented when it is not. Unstructured time is an opportunity for children to do what they like and to develop their small passions which will motivate them later in life, as well as to learn to tolerate boredom”, she says.
If parents are having a hard time because they feel “like slaves,” she adds, it is important to put things in perspective and at least not to blame their children.
‘It is the responsibility of a parent to say ‘I think this is too much’ not just for a child but also for our family. Parents are the ones responsible for leadership. And if kids are bored – you’re not a bad parent! Relationships in the family are the most important, no matter the type of family – whether there are many members and you involve the grandparents or you are alone with your child. For example, we hear that a child whose parents are separated cannot often see a parent with whom he does not live because of the many activities he is involved with. It is important to set priorities, which are always the relationships between family members”, Bruna Profaca said.
Playing is the basic activity of a child
Furthermore, the child’s need is to socialize with peers in the way they want, she adds.
‘Playing is a basic activity of a child, and not just in pre-school age. In interaction with family and friends, physical activity is important. And by that, I don’t mean organized sport, but everyday physical spontaneous activity, play and movement … If a child has everything mentioned, he can talk to his parents about “free activities” with freedom to choose it himself. Because that is what free activities are, right? Before assessing whether a child has achieved a balance, it would be good for parents and adults who live with the child to think whether they have a balance between different obligations and relationships with close people in their life. Remember, when we have every moment planned, we look forward to moments without pressure and wait for time without schedule. Perhaps we need to slow down ourselves first“, she explains.
It has been proven, Profaca says, that the children of overloaded parents are too often overloaded.
‘Think about yourself, your values, and priorities, what kind of a model you are to your child. There is no better model for children than parents who have the time during which they are dedicated to work, but they also have “their own” time and the people around them with whom they want to be, their children among them. Being next to a child does not always mean being with a child. Constant moving from one place to another and rushing around results in a lot of pressure. Of course, we can talk to a child, both in a car and on a bus, on the way to the house or the shop. But time is necessary for a child and an adult to really be together. A child needs the presence and availability of an adult, a parent. In order to show interest for him, to develop trust in relationships, it is important to be with a child during time when there is no external pressure, when nothing seems to be happening and which is not overwhelmed by the activities. I heard one mom saying that her child had four activities in five days of the week, and she was seeing a parent she did not live with. The child shows frustration, anger, fatigue and then adults easily conclude that it is because he has to go to another parent. After encouraging her to reduce the number of activities, the mother surprised me and said, ‘But what will he do then?’, said the psychologist.
It is extremely important that parents and children are present for each other
She added that moments of peace with little conversations about big or small child’s troubles and joys, exchanging feelings and impressions, telling stories from parents’ childhood – this is a time that cannot be easily compensated later.
“It is extremely important that parents and children are present for each other. I often see at the time of giving an English phrase on social networks: ‘Your child needs your presence more than your presents’. It’s good to consider how that relates to us! Lack of time for yourself can really be a source of dissatisfaction and affect all relationships – both with partner and children. No matter whether or not children are living with parents who are together or are separated, they learn by looking at adults and how they treat themselves, how they behave towards each other and the society they live in”, she said.
Along with the pressure of everyday life, obligations and often under the pressure of meeting the child’s wishes, she points out, we can forget about their needs so this becomes a bad model.
’’We often talk about separating child’s wishes from their needs. Parents can get confused in satisfying the child’s wishes and forget about not only child’s real needs but also their own. One of the child’s most important needs is to have grown-ups who are a ‘safe place’ for him – adults who are respectful to each other’’, Profaca said.
Life is not a Hollywood movie
It is important that parents, as much as they can, take care of their own needs in partner relationships, which is not always easy.
“Just as with finding time for a child, the same goes for time with your partner. If it does not exist, the relationship cannot be realized. Communication among partners about what they want can make it easier, and two adults share the responsibility for their common time and relationship. In some phases of parenting, which are very intense and can burden us, the strengthening of partnership can also be telling each other how difficult it is to have no time for each other and what we are missing, even if it means that nothing will change for some time. When we talk about taking time for a relationship, we often have an idealized picture of American films when the nanny comes, and a couple goes to dinner and to the cinema. Life is not a Hollywood movie. Cooking lunch together or a short walk also counts”, said the psychologist.
If they do not find themselves together on the same path, it helps when one begins to talk to each other, to discover (perhaps over and over again) something about yourself and boldly express their need to understand each other seriously.
Stress, she explains, depends on an individual’s assessment of how disturbing circumstances are, the characteristics of a person and the support that an individual has.
“However, as we often talk about stress at work or in some other circumstances, family circumstances may be a source of stress. Family stress is a result of the cumulative effect of different life events, economic difficulties, changes in working status, unemployment, marital problems, losses, etc. When talking about parenting, today we recognize and accept parental stress, i.e. disturbing psychological response to parental requirements, negative relationship with yourself and your child and/or children, which is directly attributed to parenting requirements. Psychologists attach special importance to it because it has shown that parental stress is associated with inadequate parental behavior, and inadequate parenting is associated with poor adaptation of the child and worse well-being of a child. In the early researches, parental stress was more frequently analyzed in parents at risk, those in specific social and economic conditions, etc. However, after 20 years, there is an interest in the so-called normal parental stress (in everyday situations) in both parents”, said the psychologist.
How to deal with stress?
Identifying parental stress, she says, has enabled a different approach in conversations with parents about their child’s behaviors.
“It is not enough to talk about what parents are doing, but how difficult or disturbing it is to them, how they see themselves in parenting roles. As in other stressful circumstances, it helps if a person feels that he or she can control the situation in which they live and if he has the support. A stressed parent needs time to take care of himself, support and feeling that others understand. As in other stressful circumstances, relaxation that suits the individual can help, encouraging the coping skills we have, but also learning new skills and strategies”, she said.
Mothers experience greater stress because of child discipline.
There is a number of researches that investigated the sources and the intensity of parental stress among parents of preschool children of different characteristics, both for mothers and fathers. There was no difference between fathers and mothers regarding the intensity of parental stress, i.e. fathers and mothers of preschool children experience the same intensity of parental stress and it is generally gentle towards moderate. However, mothers experience greater stress because of child discipline if they perceive insufficient support and because they sometimes feel “just like moms and nothing else “, ie they often perceive the limitations of parenting. Fathers experience more and more stress because of other role demands when they don’t spend enough time with children. Such differences in sources of stress can be linked to gender roles and societal expectations, but considering strength, or the intensity of stress – they experience it equally, Profaca explains.
Support from family and friends is important
It’s important to look for support from your close circle (family, friends), she adds, and if needed – the help of an expert.
The biggest help would be if they receive support and appreciation of their specificity, but also of the specifics of their child as a unique person. It is important not to forget that what is stressful to us doesn’t have to be to others – everyone has their own assessment of the importance and significance of a particular source of stress. And this just makes it difficult for everyday communication, if we imply that we are worried about the same concerns or diminish others because they are not a problem to us. There is a difference between natural and professional helper “, says the psychologist.
Support is paramount in families where parents experience intense stress, either because of their own or their child’s characteristics.
‘Support can prevent difficulties in relationship with a child and alleviate parental stress in a state of general stress. So, think about who and what helps you when you have a problem, in which situations you feel good and apply it. Perhaps from these old ways a new one is born’, she advises.
Photo: Matej Grgić / T portal