Stress isn’t a competition. Newsflash: We’re all stressed out of our minds!
Adulthood is stressful. Work is stressful. Marriage is stressful. The state of the world is stressful. Life is stressful!
And, of course, parenting is stressful too, in more ways than one. But parenting stress is a little different, because being a parent is both stressful in and of itself and because the presence of children adds an extra layer of stress on top of everything else. It’s fun!
Parenting isn’t necessarily *more* stressful than other things – there are plenty of non-parents out there with stuff going on that is just as intense, if not more intense, than the stuff we parents deal with every day.
Every single one of us has things going on in our lives that keep us up at night and bog us down during the day, and we’re all doing our best to handle them. We’re all trying our best to survive those stressful details and occurrences, some of which are obvious to outsiders, some of which aren’t. Everyone is fighting some kind of private battle, whether it’s as insidious and crippling as depression and anxiety, as commonplace and unnecessary as self-consciousness and self-doubt, or as unique and fictitious as being possessed by a Demogorgon. (What? You don’t know my life!)
But parenting is unique in the way that it takes all of your existing stress and gives it a boost. Then, to make matters worse, it forces you to keep it to yourself.
When it comes to being overwhelmed with stress, it’s typically a good idea to talk to someone about it. To let it out. To get help, if necessary. Mom and Buried likes letting it out when we’re lying in bed and I’m about to fall sleep, which doesn’t exactly do wonders for my stress level but that’s not the point!
Unfortunately, parenting makes hiding your stress necessary, at least when your children are around.
I already tend towards the dark side, personality wise. The last thing I want to do is make things worse by letting my adult anxieties and fears bleed into the way I interact with my kids.
I should ask my mom and dad how they did it.
When I was growing up, I was lucky. I was rarely aware of any of the stressful things my parents were surely dealing with. In fact, it wasn’t until I was older and out of the house – and out of my bubble, and out of my own head – that I really started to clue in, and it was a bit of a shock to realize that not only are my parents fallible human beings, they’re also dealing with the same shit as everyone else!
To their credit, they did an extraordinary job of shielding me and my older brothers – not just from whatever the daily, monthly, yearly concerns that were roiling around in their brains all the time, but that they even had any concerns! Because if their stress altered the way they interacted with us, I had no idea. At least none that I can remember now.
What’s most impressive about that magic trick is that it had to be accomplished on two levels:
- They had to keep their kids from catching wind of whatever concerns were causing the stress, which probably wasn’t all that hard; we all know how clueless and self-centered kids are! But it still requires a lot of effort, and;
- They had to prevent those stresses from impacting their behavior, their moods, and their parenting.
That’s the rub. That’s the hard part. And that’s the part that I struggle with. Unfortunately it’s also the part that is most important.
I don’t want my patience to be thinner than usual, my voice to get louder more quickly, my mood to be grumpy more often. Because while they may not know why – or worse, they may assume they’re why – they can definitely tell when Dad’s unhappy or on edge, and that’s okay once in a while, but not when it’s the norm. Not when it causes them to be scared of me.
It’s not my kids’ fault that money is tight (I mean, it kind of is with all their stupid clothes and diapers and food, but I’ll allow it), it’s not my kids’ fault when Daddy’s job is frustrating and precarious, it’s not my kid’s fault when Mommy doesn’t feel great, it’s not my kids’ fault that politicians are killing the country or that January has inexplicably lasted six years or that the new season of Game of Thrones won’t even be out until 2019!
Besides, even when something is my kids’ fault, that’s usually the last thing they need to know. They’re children, they don’t deserve to be saddled with adult problems. They deserve as carefree a childhood as they can get. They’ll have plenty of stress of their own to deal with when they’re older.
Until then, it’s my job to protect them from stress for as long as I can, and that mostly means protecting them from mine. Hopefully I’ll get better at faking it. I’m a terrible actor, but I do like bourbon, so that should help.