Being a parent is unlike anything else.
Knowing you’re making a difference in the life of your little one and seeing their growth can be very rewarding.
But there’s no denying that parenting is also a very stressful job.
Between the amount of care and attention that children require and the constant worrying that you’re not making the best decisions, it’s easy to feel stressed out and overwhelmed.
It’s actually totally acceptable—you might even say, normal.
Keeping cool, calm, and collected 24/7 is for Instagram highlights.
It’s not necessary to be the picture of zen every waking moment, but learning how to manage your stress is essential.
Not only for your physical and emotional health but also for the health and well-being of your child(ren).
When you’re better able to manage your stress, you can show up for your child fully present and functioning as your best self.
Ready to get a handle on your parental stress?
Let’s do it!
In this article: 📝
- Why is parenting so stressful?
- What are the effects of parental stress?
- How do you deal with parenting stress?
Why is parenting so stressful?
Simply put, there’s no manual for motherhood.
Everyone has an opinion, but no one can prepare you for what parenting will look like for your unique circumstances.
Hormonal and physical changes aside, parental stress is a cocktail of external expectations of mothering, baby demands, and the strain on relationships that comes with such a life change.
And let’s not forget socio-economic and cultural factors.
A 2022 study into parenting stress noted that negative breastfeeding experiences significantly contributed to existing parenting stressors.
And research shows that the pressure to breastfeed and the struggle to do so can have a negative psychological impact on women.
In particular, one study revealed that postpartum depression was higher in moms who had every intention to breastfeed but didn’t over those who did—signaling a need for compassionate support.
And yet another study found age to be a factor, with parents older than 37 showing more parental stress.
All of this is to say that just as parenting is a transforming experience, it is by its very nature stressful.
It comes with a unique tension between joyous milestones and frustrations—the ‘parenting paradox’.
At any one time, you can feel challenged, satisfied, afraid, fulfilled, and depleted.
You’re riding the high of discovering a new meaning to your life while shouldering financial strain and discomfort.
And we don’t need to tell you the severe lack of public acknowledgment that parenting can come with negative emotions and struggle.
Plus, all the above research shows that the less support there is, the more stressful parenting can be.
So if you want to know why parenting is so stressful, it’s because you are human—and only one human.
You’re doing great, but it takes a toll.
Let’s take the load off, shall we?
What are the effects of parental stress?
Before we delve into our top tips for how to cope with parenting stress, it’s important to shine awareness on what happens when it’s left unmanaged.
A lot of research points to the impact on the family home and the behavioral issues that grow from it.
For example, a 2020 study found a link between parental anxiety and stress in the home and increased cortisol levels in children.
The results revealed that two to six-year-olds exposed to adult-targeted stressors had higher chances of developing emotional and behavioral problems like anxiety, aggression, and depression.
And another cohort study of preschoolers found a higher chance of mental health problems in three-year-olds whose parents reported parental stress during infancy.
And even chronic stress while pregnant has been linked to a higher risk of anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in infants.
But it’s not all on stressed mothers.
Children are sensitive sponges, constantly soaking in their environment as they grow and develop.
As sponges go, they’re very good at it—naturals, you might say—which means any tension, stressors, or negative emotions in their surroundings will have an impact.
Which is why the parenting stress index exists.
It’s basically a tool for identifying issues that may lead to behavioral problems in the child or parent.
Any parent handling chronic stress for a prolonged period of time will see it eventually spill over into their parenting—the bucket simply gets too full to contain.
This can look like withdrawing affection, being less responsive to their children, and even enlisting a more authoritarian parenting style (all in a bid to cope), resulting in poorer developmental outcomes.
And this creates a feedback loop, with the child’s behavioral and emotional difficulties creating new stressors for both parents.
Blame has no place here, just the awareness that early intervention for parental stress benefits everyone.
After all, the effects of stress on your own body—inflammation, high blood pressure, headaches, trouble sleeping—are enough of a weight.
Let’s just focus on easing it.
How do you deal with parenting stress?
So, how do you as a parent take care of yourself when seeing to the needs of your children takes up so much of your time?
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Here are 14 ways to cope with parental stress:
1. Don’t try to ignore your stress
The first thing you need to do to manage your stress levels is to acknowledge them.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed, and it certainly doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ parent if you are.
Regardless of whether you have one child or four, work full time or stay at home, are a single parent or have a partner, raising a child is not an easy task.
Plus, there could be other areas of your life contributing to your stress as well.
So, acknowledge your stress and allow yourself to address it.
As you become more self-aware, you may also begin to notice when stress is setting in, which could allow you to manage it before it becomes too overwhelming.
2. Give up trying to be perfect
Often, we cause ourselves unnecessary stress because of the pressure we place on ourselves.
It’s OK not to be perfect, and you should never expect yourself to be all the time.
Again, you’re a human, and parenting is a challenging job.
You will inevitably make mistakes or wish you had done something different, and that’s OK.
In today’s social media-driven world, it’s really easy to compare ourselves to what others post.
It’s important to remember that what someone posts is just a snippet of one day, not an entire picture of how their life always goes.
Do the best you can for your kids, and don’t try to compare yourselves to what (you think) others are doing.
3. Find time to have fun with your family
Even if you have a busy schedule and don’t have much extra ‘free’ time, set some aside to have fun and unwind as a family.
This doesn’t have to be a huge vacation or even a full-day event.
Think a few hours playing a game together, going for a walk, visiting a museum, shopping, seeing a movie, or something else your unit will enjoy.
Having fun and laughing together can give you a much-needed break from the stresses you’re experiencing.
And it may even help put things in perspective and remind you what is (and isn’t) important.
4. Set priorities
Having clear priorities is another thing that can help with parental stress management.
If you’re doing so much that it’s completely overwhelming you, maybe take a step back to assess whether everything on your mind actually needs your immediate attention.
Identify a few things you can take off your plate that aren’t necessary.
For example, if you feel that going grocery shopping is taking too much time every week, consider signing up for a delivery service.
Similarly, feeding your children is definitely important, but cutting their food into cute little shapes might not be worth the additional time it takes you.
5. Take small steps to be more organized
Sometimes our stress can be related to having so many things to juggle that we can’t get anything under control.
One thing you can do to combat this is to get as organized as possible.
Create a weekly planner and write out all the important events or deadlines.
Next, set aside some time to plan meals for the week and make to-do lists.
When you see things written out in front of you, it can be much easier to know where to begin and make sure something important doesn’t get overlooked.
6. Eat nutritious foods
Who has the time?! We hear you.
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to turn to comfort foods.
However, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is one of your greatest allies for staying sharp and well as a stressed parent.
Nutritious foods give us more energy, which can help get us out of a slump and start taking the steps we need to address stressful situations.
Choose fruits, vegetables, and wholesome carbohydrates over foods with lots of fat and sugar.
And as tempting as they are, try to limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
7. Exercise Daily
Even if you can only fit in a few minutes each day, finding time to exercise is a key stress management technique.
And we’re not talking intense weightlifting sessions or HIIT workouts.
If you’re pressed for time, short 30-minute cardio sessions can be enough to help reduce tension and provide you with an ‘escape’ from the stressors.
Exercising can help you clear your mind and allow you to focus on what is most important.
But it can also serve as a much-needed release for stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline while boosting your endorphin levels. Nice.
You could always try sexercise…
8. Get your sleep
Easier said than done, right?
The thing is, our bodies need sleep to function properly, so making sure you’re getting enough is kind of essential.
It’s what we need to process information, handle challenges, and focus on the tasks at hand.
Without it, you’ll feel more rundown with little energy to address some of your stressors.
Plus, not getting enough sleep can also make you more irritable, making certain situations seem more stressful than they actually are (we’ve all been there).
How much sleep you need is subjective, some people thrive on six, but most need seven to nine hours.
The point is to aim high, especially in quality.
8. Find Time for Yourself
Finding time for yourself was likely challenging enough before kids, but now it may seem like a pipe dream.
Still, setting aside a little ‘you’ time each week is another essential tool for coping with parenting stress.
And it works best with zero mom guilt attached—it’s unnecessary.
Especially when we tell you that getting away, even for just a few hours, can help you unwind and better prepare to tackle the stressors when you return.
So, ask your spouse, a friend, or a family member to watch your kids for an hour or two each week.
And if this isn’t an option, try fitting in some time for self-care after the kids have gone to bed or when they are at daycare or school.
9. Learn How to Say “No”
And speaking of self-care tips, it may be time to start getting comfortable saying “no”.
If you’ve taken on too many tasks to help other people, and it’s starting to impact your quality of life and raise your stress levels, then it’s really time to place a boundary.
While it is nice to help others out, you have to make sure you’re not overwhelming yourself or taking on so much that you can’t attend to what is most important: you and your family.
Repeat after us: no is a full sentence.
You’ve got this.
10. Get yourself a support system
Research shows having a support system you can turn to for help, ideas, or just to vent is vital for coping with parenting stress.
It can be hard for friends and family members that don’t have their own kids to truly understand what you’re going through and feeling.
And it’s equally hard for them to lend you the support and guidance you really need.
Try to form friendships with other parents with children who are close in age to yours.
They’ll be dealing with many of the same challenges you’re facing and will better understand what you’re going through.
You can also schedule playdates, giving you access to coveted adult conversations while tiring out the kiddos—win!
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11. Sign up for a parenting course or support group
If your stress stems from feeling overwhelmed with caring for your children or not knowing how to best deal with behavioral problems, consider signing up for a parenting course.
You can learn new strategies from an expert that could help you address your concerns.
So, if an unruly child is one of your main stressors, learning strategies to help reign in their behavior could do wonders for decreasing your level of stress.
There are also parental support groups you could join.
This would be another opportunity to share your stresses and feelings in a safe environment with people facing similar challenges.
Here’s some tips on finding mom groups to get you started.
12. Talk with your spouse or partner
You shouldn’t feel alone in your parenting journey.
But it doesn’t always mean you need to search elsewhere to find connection.
If you have a spouse or a partner, sharing your feelings with them is one way to help you manage your parenting stress.
You can also share some things your partner could do to help you lower your stress levels and open the door for them to do the same.
And research shows that learning how to better communicate stress to each other can help couples manage how they perceive and receive conversations about each other’s stress.
No shame in sharing—your relationship may even be stronger for it.
13. Learn Relaxation Techniques
Most of us don’t know how to actually relax, and taking time to learn some strategies can help with stress management.
Below is a brief summary of two relaxation techniques: progressive relaxation and deep breathing:
Progressive relaxation is when you go through a series of motions to tighten different muscles in your body and slowly release the tension.
Starting with your feet and working your way up, you tighten each muscle, noticing how the tension feels, before slowly releasing it.
After you’ve relaxed each group, your breathing will be deeper and slower.
And if you practice this technique each day, you’ll soon be able to relax your muscles without tensing them first.
Deep breathing is much better for our bodies than the fast and shallow breathing we often do when feeling stressed.
To practice this technique, lie down and put your hands just beneath your ribs.
Take some slow and deep breaths, focusing on expanding your abdomen before your rib cage.
Take a few minutes each day to practice breathing this way.
As you practice more, you’ll start breathing deeper daily.
14. Talk with a Professional
Finally, if you feel like parental stress is getting the best of you and you just can’t seem to get it under control, consider speaking with a professional.
Therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are well-trained and can provide you with tools and strategies to get your stress under control.
Plus, they can offer a new perspective that you might not get from chatting with your partner or a friend.
There’s no shame in seeking help from people trained to provide it.
Now, that’s peak self-care.
Parenting stress is completely normal.
And it doesn’t need to stay in the driver’s seat.
Implementing healthy ways to cope with your parental stress can help you feel better, keep you healthier, and strengthen your relationships with the people you love most.