Happy Parents = Happy Kids
By Shannon Philpott
Too often, parents get caught in a constant whirl of kid-friendly activities, scheduling mishaps and drive-through dinners to meet the needs of their family. A 4 a.m. feeding or daily carpool can drain even the most energetic mom or dad.
But, according to Dr. Robin Siebold, a Florida-based psychotherapist, becoming a parent does not mean you should give up on your own personal goals and your pursuit of happiness. “The stronger we are as persons, the stronger we are as parents and as a couple, and the stronger, more self-reliant children we raise,”? she said.
Parents who are happy ultimately teach their kids how to be happy. Finding a secure mental and physical balance that includes much-needed mom-and-dad time may help parents find the energy to share the joys of life with their children.
Facing the Changes
Children bring love, companionship and undeniably precious moments into our lives. The look in your infant’s eyes when he sees you or the gentle hug of your toddler can provide the greatest joy. Children do, though, bring about changes to the household.
The introduction of a child dramatically alters the dynamic of any couple’s relationship, according to Dr. John Duffy, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist. Often, the needs of a child trump the needs of the partner.
“I’ve had many an ashamed husband or wife on my couch admitting to a modicum of bitterness at the loss of attention and affection from their spouse,”? Duffy said. “I’ve heard more than once the fear that the child will 'take my place in the heart of my partner.'”?
Balance is critical, Duffy warned. “The more the relationship is tended to, and the more solid the foundation is, the smoother and easier the parenting process will be,”? he said.
Addressing the added pressures of parenting is also necessary to achieve balance. Decisions about child care, school activities, financial obligations, vacations and work scheduling can easily overload even the most organized parent.
Ideally, parents should anticipate these changes and discuss plans of action before their first child is born. “With both parents usually working today, it is important to talk about the roles each party will play in raising the child,”? Siebold said. “Parents need to continue talking to each other openly as they experience their frontier of parenting so adjustments can be made as they go.”?
The Downward Spiral
Depression and anxiety are often the result. Early signs of stress may include headaches, stomachaches, decreased energy, sore muscles and lowered immunity. In addition, parents might notice changes in appetite, disruptions in sleep patterns, moodiness or irritability, said Lanea Miller, licensed marriage and family therapist.
“When there isn’t enough positive self-care that occurs in someone’s life, they can become overwhelmed, and burnout can happen,”? she said. “It is easy for parents to get into superhero roles, where they feel as though they have to do everything, and be there for everyone else.”?
When the daily grind feels like a never-ending downward spiral, it’s time for parents to act as a team, Siebold advised. “When one is needing a break, the other takes over,”? she said. “If one made dinner, the other gets the children ready for bed.”?
Tackling parenting tasks together can ease exhaustion and frustration. “Know when you are already upset and ask your partner, family or friends to step in and help when you get to that point,”? Siebold suggested. “Parents can give themselves ‘time outs’ when they realize they need the break.”?
The Upward Slope
Climbing upward from a downward spiral requires parents to manage self-care strategies on a regular basis. “When we take positive self-care time, whether it is a 10-minute walk or a lunch with some friends, we are helping to release the stress from our bodies and allowing ourselves to better focus on our children and being the parents that we want to be," Miller said.
Prioritizing tasks and creating a sense of community within the family will also help ease the pressures of ‘superhero’ parenting. Miller suggests creating family team to-do lists to maintain household chores and responsibilities. "This will not only help set up the family as a team," she said, "but helps children feel included and successful when items are accomplished.”?
It’s also important to let go of the vision of perfection. “Let go of little things like cleaning and laundry -- nap if you need to,”? said Tammy Gold of Gold Parent Coaching. “It is crucial for parents to force themselves to get the same care their children get because they are often overlooked.”?
Making time for your relationship with your partner should be at the top of the priority list, too, Siebold said. “Parents always have to have date nights and time with their friends doing the things they used to do before the children,”? she said. “Otherwise, you begin to feel like less than a human, and resentments will build toward the children, your spouse and life in general.”?
Unfortunately, though, many parents battle guilt when taking care of themselves, Duffy said. “It’s astonishing to me how reluctant and often ashamed parents feel at the wish for ‘me time'”? he said. “But it is important for recharging the batteries so that parents can recoup the energy to parent.”?
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