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Talking about parenting, first thoughts and feelings lead us to one of the most important roles in the lives of men and women. That is exactly why that role and the time of parenthood, apart from positive experience, is a time of conflict, dilemma, insecurity, drop in satisfaction in other areas of life, in other words, it is a tough period in life. In addition, there is stress in other various areas of life: stress at work, stress due to changes in life, stress in everyday situations…
More knowledge about parenting – less stress
Stressful events inducing a state of stress and anxiety are those we see as threats, possible loss, but as a challenge, too. The stress of the parental role and parenting stress belong to such situations, but it is still of a quality different from the stress in other life roles. Parenting showed to be more stressful for those parents who have less knowledge, who see themselves as less competent in the parental role, who have less emotional and practical support in life, but also who have a child suffering from certain health and behaviour issues.
Parenting stress is described as an uneasy feeling towards oneself and the child, and such uneasiness and parents directly attribute such displeasure to the demands of parenthood imposed on him/her.
While parenting stress was once believed to appear only in exceptionally difficult situations (e.g. in cases of severe health or other concerns about children), today, it is known that parenting stress follows everyday, less “extreme” parenting situations. Some psychologists name it “normal parenting stress”, reckoning it is possible to appear in many parents because the majority encounter everyday difficulties – stressful events in their parenting. While these seem to be everyday situations, it is important not to underestimate them, since they can be important enough to require help. The reason is that, apart from helping the parent, the child receives indirect help, too. In other words, parents who are under intense parenting stress, more often see their children less positively and are more inclined to inadequate parenting practices which are related to later difficulties in children.
Sources of parenting stress are not the same for all parents, they are related to several aspects of parenting.
Stress related to the characteristics of the child:
• child’s demands,
• child’s health,
• unfulfilled expectations.
Stress accompanying parent – child interaction:
• Parent’ co-dependency,
• Disciplining the child,
• Communication with the child,
Stress related to the characteristics of parent and their social network:
• Lack of support
• Parental role conflict
• Spousal relationship
• Socio-economic status
• Demands imposed on the parent in his/her other roles
Mothers and fathers: the same intensity, but different sources of stress
Both internationally and in Croatia, several studies of parenting stress have been conducted, especially since psychologists, besides parental practices with the child, directed their attention to how parents were feeling. The majority of mothers and fathers are under a moderate parenting stress. It has been found that there were no differences between mothers and fathers in the intensity of parenting stress, but there are differences in sources. E.g. mothers are more often under stress due to role conflict, while fathers are under stress due to the demands imposed on them in their other roles. It is so with some other sources of stress, too (disciplining, co-dependent parenting…) The findings, expectedly, show that parents with chronically ill or with children who have some other health or developmental issues, are under more parenting stress.
Parents often seek professional help for the difficulties they perceive in their child. During the counselling, parents realize that they need help, too, because of their own anxiety. What helps the parent who is under stress is self-care, because it is important that the parent learns to take care of his/her needs in order to elicit his/her own coping mechanisms, need for help and build support. It is then that the parent can focus on the child’s needs. Furthermore, with professional support, the parent can better understand himself/herself and the child at various developmental levels. The child changes, and so does the parent because adulthood also follows a series of developmental crises, as well as the childhood. Better understanding of oneself and the child will lead to a decrease in inefficient conflict resolutions, which is a reason why parents often seek help.
Ways to help
The parent under stress needs: time, support, patience, a feeling that others understand and want to help. The parent needs respect for his/her and the child’s characteristics. Similar to other stressful situations, each individual needs respect for his/her specific opinion on how much some situation is disturbing. Let us have in mind that something that is not disturbing for one person, can be disturbing for another!
These are the reasons why it is important to seek help in situations of pronounced parenting stress. Counselling and mutual assessment of various parental situations enables parents to see them in a new way which helps to establish better control over them leading to higher self-confidence in the parental role and activity.
Similar to other stressful situations, in the situation of parenting stress it is good to apply everything that usually helps us: activate creativity, express emotions, use relaxation, remember one’s own efficient ways of coping with stress (we may have forgotten them), try to find new ways of coping… And it is the most important to seek help and support in the process!
Support from close persons is the most important protective factor, and if insufficient – seek professional help.