So research shows when parents are stressed, kids are adversely affected. The reason for this seems to be that when parents are stressed, they are not as attentive to their kids and so they don’t spend as much time with their children, or at least, if they still spend lots of time with their children, that time is not engaging and interactive. In other words, stressed parents may be there in body, but not so much in mind and spirit.
Of course, as kids grow, they encounter stressful experiences on a minute by minute basis and the simple reason for this is because as children grow, everything they encounter is new and creates a perceived survival opportunity or threat. This interpretation may seem a bit extreme, but the limbic brain (the middle part of the brain that processes motivation, emotion, learning, and memory) doesn’t care if people think it’s being reasonable or not.
The limbic brain only concerns itself with two things – survival or not. So even though the human stress response system is very complex and very powerful, it’s really not all that smart and it certainly hasn’t kept up to date with trends in modern society. It also doesn’t know what’s trending on Twitter.
The Human Stress Response System is Not That Smart
For example, the human stress response system cannot tell the difference between your child having a life threatening encounter such as falling out of a tree (possible consequence = death) and your child getting a bad report card (possible consequence = getting grounded). Now, I know these are slightly larger examples, but this interesting dynamic applies to all the little stuff as well.
And because of this, no matter what the nature of the stressor (good, bad, big, small, silly, complex, etc.), your child’s body will start producing a huge amount of stress response hormones and it will prepare for the worst possible outcome… just in case death is imminent. At least, this is what happens if a parent or other safe adult is not around to quickly reassure the child and direct the child to use effective stress coping skills.
And this can also be the way, if the child is challenged by an anxiety disorder or other mental health issue, which can make seemingly small things feel very large indeed.
Why Staying Engaged is Better
On the other hand, if mom and/or dad is around in body and if mom or dad has the presence of mind and spirit to stay engaged at the moment a stressor occurs, then something entirely different happens in the brain of the child. Instead of a blast of Cortisol and Adrenaline, the child gets a healthy dose of special neurotransmitters such as D.H.E.A.
And, when it comes to lifelong stress management ability, it’s far better to get lots of D.H.E.A. in childhood, and other healthy hormones, than Cortisol.
This is true because a regular supply of D.H.E.A. and other healthy hormones in the brain of a child lead to emotional intelligence (stress hardiness and resilience); whereas an oversupply of toxic Cortisol makes kids feel bad and leads to a lifetime of trying to get away from the bad feelings, which, then leads to destructive stress coping strategies, such as addictions.
But Parents Have to Work… Don’t They?
So, of course, we all know that mom and/or dad have to earn a living and may not be able to be around at every moment of every day, to deal with each and every stressor as it occurs in the lives of each one of their children. It’s no secret this could be a big problem for a family with more than one or two kids and it’s even a challenge in a family with an only child.
So what can parents do to create a lifestyle that allows them to spend more time… much more time with their children and what can be done to make that time as engaging and constructive as possible for both parties?
For me, answering this question and creating this reality for my own children has been the greatest challenge and the greatest joy of my parenting experience. For me, it seems too simple to to just say that parents should spend more time talking to their children after work or on the weekend. First and foremost, it’s simply never going to be enough and second of all, the goal is not just to be there in body, but also in mind and spirit. And tired, worn out parents are not really there in mind and spirit.
Now is Not the Time for Self-Sacrifice
And I do not believe for one second that moms (or dads) should have to sacrifice everything about their lives and careers to be the ultimate stay at home parents. Conversely, I feel parents can only become the real life coaches and mentors their children need if they are living very fulfilling lives with their own sense of purpose.
If mom is compromising her hopes and dreams for the sake of being with her children as a stay-at-home-mom (s.a.h.m.) or if she is doing it to save money on childcare because her former job doesn’t pay enough to cover exorbitant childcare costs, then she is doing a disservice to herself and as it turns out, a real disservice is being done to her children as well.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that unhappy, unfulfilled moms cannot really be GREAT or AMAZING mentors and life coaches to their kids. She might do a “good enough” job and she might raise her kids to a point of being able to ‘survive’, ‘get by’ or ‘make ends meet’, but it is highly unlikely that an unhappy, unfulfilled mom will be able to raise her kids to thrive, flourish and prosper.
Of course, if a particular mom really does find the work of being a traditional stay-at-home-mom (S.A.H.M.) to be fulfilling and rewarding, then she should do exactly that for as long as the experience remains fulfilling and rewarding, and her children will benefit immensely from her endless comprehensive time and attention.
If Mom is Not Happy and Fulfilled, It’s Time to Act… Time to Make a Change
However, if mom does not feel fulfilled in her stay-at-home role, then she must work very hard to pursue what gives her life meaning and rather than find ways to work around her children or find ways to sacrifice her own needs for the sake of her children, she should find ways to include them or even build her life passions around them, so they may still enjoy her love, care and mentorship, while also learning about what makes her tick and what makes her feel happy and fulfilled.
The reality is that kids are made much more stress hardy and resilient, when they feel useful and when they feel they are helping mom, so moms should never be afraid to expect (even require) her kids to adapt to her needs just as she adapts her life to her children’s needs on a daily basis. In fact, kids really thrive from this type of interdependence.
And the reciprocal nature of this relationship will keep mom far happier and at the same time give kids the support they so desperately need in effectively learning to navigate stress simply because mom is there to help. It is the perfect cocktail of parenting. Mom gets to pursue her passions and her kids get a happy, fulfilled, engaged mom.
Kids Get the Best of All Worlds…and Mom Benefits, Too!
Actually, kids get a lot more than that… they get constructive and controlled (healthy) stress, along with needed love and support for navigating that stress, and they are also given an opportunity to develop that ever critical sense of purpose for their own lives that can make or break their future and this formula leads to extreme emotional intelligence which will serve them throughout their lives.
Mom, on the other hand, gets to keep her skills relevant and up to date, in case she ever wants to start a business or return to the world of work, she will also have social interaction with other adults to help her maintain her sanity while raising toddler sand young children, and maybe she can even access a source of income (perhaps just a little or even a lot) that could help her family solve various financial challenges in the present or for the future.
Best of all, instead of being blasted daily or hourly with the toxic Cortisol hormone because she is so depressed or riddled with anxiety from being lonely, miserable and unfulfilled, she will be getting the 4 happy brain chemicals in regular doses.
Stop Entertaining and Start Parenting… You Will Be Far Better Off and So Will Your Kids
In modern times, there seems to be considerable focus placed on entertaining children, but in my opinion, this is the worst idea yet in the history of parenting. Instead of constantly trying to entertain children or “keep them busy”, the goal should be for moms and kids to work together on common productive projects as their main form of daily interaction.
Instead of trying to find time to fit in your workout, have your children workout with you. Instead of trying to find time to do the gardening, give them their own little garden plot or pots and train them with age appropriate tasks how to be a gardener. Make up gardening games if you have to and make it fun, interesting and even educational. Given them gardening challenges, for example.
Instead of trying to find time to clean up once the kids are napping, make clean up time a primary activity and make playtime the add on. At the very least, do a 1-2 minute tidy up time every 30 minutes and a 5-minute workout time every hour. It’s good for everyone. There are many more examples than this.
And when it comes to more traditional work or business (the kind that doesn’t seem to match the developmental level of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and elementary school aged children), if you are office based, find tasks that very small kids can do, give them a safe work space (not play space) in the same room with you and then create very firm rules for work time and ensure kids know it is very different from play time. Again, if a child’s physiological needs (food, water, toileting, pain, sleep) are attended to and if that child feels useful and close to mommy, then he or she will not really care what the task at hand is. My kids never did.
Parenting was never meant to be just about entertaining children anyway, it was meant to be a life-giving experience for both children and parents. Isn’t it time to make it into what it was always meant to be?
What To Do Next
If you want some amazing tools for parenting children to be GREAT at stress management, sign up to receive my four FREE slideshows about kids and stress as well as a whole bunch of FREE tools from my #MomsEndStress Program and my Stress Optimization Project designed just for moms. One of the tools is a Bullying Prevention Kit for families. All together you get 4 slideshows, 4 videos and about 10 other optimization tools.