Parenting in High Stress Situations

Date: April 3, 2020 l Author: Mariana Caro, LCSW

Parenting under normal circumstances is difficult. It is probably the hardest thing that you will do. Then you add a high stress situation, like a family or health crisis, loss of a loved one, a scary situation at school or at work, or a natural disaster, and then parenting can feel like a day-by-day battle.

We all have our own stories that can be triggered in times of stress, which often means we enter into our own survival modes. This can look like our anxiety increasing, our desire to control growing, we might become more rigid and irritable. Or maybe we shut down, we disengage, we feel depressed. It is in seasons of high stress that we need to prioritize self-care more than ever. We can’t wait to find the time, we need to make the time. Even if it’s just 5 minutes to check in with yourself; take a deep breath, say a prayer, and ask yourself what you need in that moment. You cannot pour from an empty cup. So when you’re feeling like you’re running on empty, ask yourself - what can fill me up right now? This may feel selfish, but it’s not. You cannot give your family what you want to give them when it feels like you have nothing left.

So what fills you up? And I don’t just mean what distracts you from what’s happening. Distraction, while helpful, provides only a temporary fix. I’m asking - what fills you up emotionally, spiritually, and physically? This might look like taking a break to stretch and breathe deeply. Maybe you can take a walk around your house. Maybe you can journal, pray, read scripture and content that brings hope in the season of stress. Maybe music brings you peace. Maybe you’re in need of connection – call a friend or family member, ask for help. One of the greatest forms of self-care is simply to suspend judgment and acknowledge the truth about how you feel. Sometimes we’re afraid to acknowledge feelings because it seems like we’ll lose power over them, but you’re actually taking back your power by speaking truth out and shedding light on what you’re experiencing.

By taking care of yourself and allowing yourself to have emotional, physical, and spiritual needs, then and only then can you parent effectively in a high stress situation. By pouring back into you, you can then sit with your children’s emotions when they arise as a result of the stress. Then you can respond instead of reacting when your children have difficult behaviors. We are their regulators; they look to us, the adults, to know how they should be responding to the stress. If our response is one of survival, they, too, will enter their survival modes, which often leads to more stress and chaos. Instead, I encourage you to prioritize your own self-care, and from that place, you can know how to best parent your children in the midst of stress.