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Everyone jokes about parenting and how hard it is. The truth is, even though I babysat more times than I can possibly count, I never expected parenting to be this stressful. How did I create a tiny tribe of people who cry, simply because I put a shirt on them?
We do not spank our kids. Spanking a child teaches fear over wisdom, and is far too easy an out that allows parents to express their own frustration and negative emotions by hurting their children. There are plenty of studies that show how spanking negatively effects children, even as adults, and we agreed to never allow it in our home.
Because we were both raised in “spanking” homes, this commitment to gentle parenting takes an incredible level of calm and self-control. I will admit that I’m not always the calm parent. There is only so long I can hold it together when I have a tiny tyrant whining, asking the same question 50 times in a row and crying before he even hears the answer.
The other day, after my toddler had done a lap around the living room, intentionally destroying everything in his path because he was so tired you could almost see his brain shorting out, I put him on the couch and told him to stop. In a split second, his eyes broke my heart and changed my entire parenting. His eyes told me he was experiencing stress and didn’t know how to control himself. He looked so helpless. I turned off all the lights (except the Christmas tree), turned off the tv, and held him on the couch. He fell asleep within the minute.
It is absolutely not always easy to control my emotions. As a parent, you have little sleep, constant noise, and no alone time. It’s like a lesser form of torture. It can drive a sane person a little batty. It’s definitely stressful.
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Setting boundaries for yourself as a parent is just as important for your mental health as it is the mental health of your children. Children learn how to interpret and react to the world from their parents first, so it is important to emulate emotional maturity and how to deal with stress.
Although it sounds silly, setting boundaries with your little people isn’t that difficult. It just takes consistency. Here are a few healthy boundaries:
Respect your children
Children are people, just like their parents. They experience stress and don’t know how to handle it. As a young child, I heard the definition of stress and off-handedly remarked to my mom that I was “so stressed” and I was told I didn’t know what true stress felt like. While I didn’t know the stress of balancing bills and keeping humans alive, I remember feeling the weight of living up to expectations placed on me, learning so many new things, and learning how to balance the discipline of completing my work when I just wanted to go play with my friends.
Children don’t reach a magical age where they all of a sudden “get it” and become an adult. It’s a process that everyone goes through. Respecting their journey is the foundation of understanding and helping them learn to work through their experiences.
Count to five
Kids go nuts. They just do. They experience big emotions and aren’t able to fully express them, so they just kind of explode from the stress. Count to five before you respond so you don’t respond in anger.
Change the focus
My toddler is the King of the Target Meltdowns. We are that family that you can hear across the store. Before kids I was making faces in the aisles, wondering why the parents couldn’t control those noises. Heh….heh….yeah. In those moments, rather than get upset by my son embarrassing me (because it’s not like he cares anyway, nor do I want to train him to behave in a way that makes *me* look good), we change the focus. I have been known to lead Tristan in sun salutations (yoga poses) with Dean strapped in my baby carrier in the middle of the shampoo aisle. This helps Tristan take a few deep breaths while doing something he thinks is silly (which helps him calm down). It also gives me a minute to stop, breathe, and recenter.
Did you know that your gut health directly influences your mental health? Most of your brain hormones are actually formulated in your gut, so eating healthy actually helps stabilize hormones and facilitate mental wellness. Eating foods rich in probiotics and probiotics and limiting processed foods are ways you can nourish your mind and maintain your calm.
Occasionally, mental health as a parent requires extra help. In those cases, look for a therapist or a doctor with a holistic mindset, who will provide you with a toolbox of aides like recognizing and responses to triggers, nutrition suggestions, and therapy if necessary (with or without medication).
The important thing to remember is that parenting children will effect them for their entire lives. Raising the next generation of world leaders isn’t just a cutesy saying, it’s a reminder of the heaviness of the reality of parenthood – these children, who ask 50 times in a row if they can watch Teletubbies and eat M&Ms, will one day be adults, and they will learn how to be adults from their parents. These adults will vote, interact with other people in the world, and create their own families. It is our job to help these children master the big challenges (like self-control and inner strength) so they can focus on their gifts to create a better world.
For more ideas on stress-free parenting, be sure to check out the Parenting Super Bundle, with tons of ebooks, worksheets, and more to help you be the best parent possible.