Few things in life can lead to chronic stress as readily as parenting. But it need not be so. While raising children definitely requires more patience than any other activity, over a wider range of circumstances and for longer periods of time, it need not be a source of chronic stress. Challenges, yes. Stress, no.
Stress is a mental and physical condition that occurs when there is an unresolvable conflict between “I can’t” and “I must”. Neither of these two components is inevitable in parenting. There are many circumstances in which a parent will want very much to achieve a particular outcome. That’s the “I must” part. And, there are certainly many situations in which you throw up your hands and say “I can’t”.
But very few goals are so fundamental and so long-term that they should be regarded as overwhelmingly important. If they’re not overwhelmingly important, it isn’t necessary to be overwhelmed when striving for them.
Neither do the two components have to occur together. Sometimes, in fact, it will be true that you can’t achieve a particular goal. Realism is essential in parenting, just as it is in every other aspect of life. It’s also true that there are truly very few ‘musts’ in parenting. A great many goals are desirable, even worthy. Some are even noble. But very few are mandatory.
Educating children, for example, is difficult and hugely important. But no single school, at any age, is essential to a successful life. There are always options. Sometimes those require making difficult and unpleasant choices. It may require relocating, looking for alternative schools or even homeschooling.
But those choices need not lead to stress. Taking choices seriously doesn’t have to lead to chronic worry, insomnia, feelings of helplessness or continual irritability – all common signs of stress. It’s possible to regard a goal as important without concluding that one doesn’t have the resources needed to achieve it. Even when you don’t, you can often acquire or develop them.
Using education as an example again, many parents worry over how to pay for a good college for their son or daughter. But there are more ways to finance that now than there are methods for financing a house. Though, admittedly, the two are becoming about equal in cost!
Few parenting dilemmas are as potentially stress-inducing as a child who simply will not listen, particularly when their behavior is unruly or even violent. Here, too, there are rarely any quick fixes. But, as with any thorny problem, an attitude of confidence in one’s ability to find answers, and a view to the long-term, will go a long way toward minimizing stress.
When the resources for solving that issue aren’t immediately at hand, a confident parent will look for them wherever they can be found – friends, grandparents, counselors, Internet sites. You’ll find others have tackled the same problem.
Stress need only come into the equation when you come to believe that there is simply ‘no way’ to solve a problem you ‘must’ solve. Tossing away both those false alternatives leaves you still with a problem, but not that which only adds to the burden – stress.