Parenting Stress Level

How do you know your own parenting stress level? Jessica Valenti, author of Why Have Kids?, believes that if you’ve ever felt like you face an onslaught of constant worries, demands, and sudden curveballs, you’re not alone. Valenti writes, “Nearly every study done in the last ten years on parental happiness shows a marked decline in life satisfaction of those with kids.” Surely parents’ stress levels have something to do with these findings.

Whether you have an infant, toddlers, teens or young adults, psychological pressure is a given side effect. Parenting demands can leave moms and dads feeling utterly deflated. For parents facing a competition-fueled culture of raising well-rounded, successful “star” children, the energy required can compound stress in several ways. This is on top of common worries parents have, concerning their children’s health, education and futures — even down to small things like being upset that they weren’t invited to a friend’s birthday party.

Melanie Greenberg, author of The Stress-Proof Brain, explains how being a parent can leave you in a chronically, unhealthy stressed state. Her solution: “If you understand your brain’s hardwired stress response, you can put your brain on a more calm, focused, and positive track.” There is a way to be the calm parent you want to be.

Determining Your Parenting Stress Level

Dr. Greenberg has a guide in her book to help you measure your stress and it’s adapted here for parents.

I recommend you print out this article to continue through the questionnaire. For each item, circle the number that best represents your answer, where 0 = never, 1 = occasionally or almost never, 2 = sometimes, 3 = fairly often, and 4 = very often.

In the past month, how often have you . . .

Been upset because of an unexpected event or frustration related to your kids?

0   1   2   3   4

Believed that you had more parenting stress to handle than you could deal with?

0   1   2   3   4

Felt irritable and impatient with your kids about small things?

0   1   2   3   4

Felt your heart racing or had kid-related butterflies in your stomach?

0   1   2   3   4

Felt anxious when you woke up in the morning?

0   1   2   3   4

Had difficulty concentrating because of a child’s problem?

0   1   2   3   4

If you circled at least two 2s, 3s or 4s, you’re probably feeling at least moderately stressed. If you circled many 3s and 4s, you’re probably experiencing high stress.

4 Ways to Get a Handle on Your Parenting Stress

Did you get a lot of 3s and 4s? Dr. Greenberg offers these valuable tools to help you monitor and control your responses to parenting stressors. It’s a first step in becoming more resilient in day-to-day parenting:

  1. Interrupt Worry Cycles – Do you find yourself worrying constantly about your kids or your parenting? Ask yourself: “Is this thought true?” “Is this thought helpful or harmful?” If the thoughts aren’t helpful, try not to focus on them. Rather than automatically assuming the thought is true, think of other possibilities.
  2. De-Catastrophize – Take note of when you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Most of the time, kids move on quickly from frustrations while the parent continues to worry. Ask yourself: How bad it really is if your kid gets a B, has a fight with a friend, or has a temper tantrum? Could you and your kid survive? If yes, downgrade it from a catastrophe.
  3. Stop Micro-Managing – Vow to stop solving every problem for your child. Offer guidance, but give your older children the room to figure out their own answers.
  4. Practice Mindfulness – Notice when your mind is busy fearing the future or regretting the past and gently bring your attention back to the present moment. Try to get some distance from your judging mind.

For insight into how your brain reacts to stress and how its different parts function to keep you sane and relaxed during the parenting journey, I recommend reading The Stress-Proof Brain. Less stressed parents are happier, more relaxed, effective parents.