How Resilience Helps Us Bounce Back from Parenting Stress
Becoming a parent is a life-altering experience, filled with highs and lows and everything in between. The wonderful memories created with your children are endless, such as bedtime snuggles, dance recitals, home runs, and so much shared love. On the other hand, there are the challenges such as sleepless nights, toddler meltdowns, financial strain, frequent guilt, and a lack of free time.
The duality of parenthood is what makes it both a beautiful and highly stressful experience. When my twin daughters were born, I had an image of the father I wanted to be and I tried so hard to be that for them. Unfortunately, I was unprepared for the hurt and self-judgement I experienced when that didn’t come as easily as I thought it should. This left me feeling angry, stressed, guilty, and exhausted.
For many parents, the ups and downs of the many stages of parenthood and their unique joys and jostles leaves parents struggling with chronic stress. This stress can leave them at risk of increased depression, anger, anxiety, mood disturbances, suicidal ideation, and decreased feelings of confidence and hope. In the face of stress, it can be easy to forget about your own needs, but this is vital to being able to care for those who count on us. Building resilience is about dedicating time to yourself so you can recharge and become the best parent you can be.
Resilience helps us to shift our perspective on the world and our problems so we can bounce back from stress. Carole Pemberton defines it as our “capacity to remain flexible in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors when faced by life disruption, or extended periods of pressure, so that we emerge from difficulty stronger, wiser, and more able”.
As parents, we try to meet the needs of our children the best we can, and building our resilience allows us to do this in a way that includes us in the process. Dr. Dan Tomasulo says there are three components to building resilience: (1) gratitude, (2) acts of kindness, and (3) meditation. When we incorporate these into our lives it can allow us to embrace a perspective that sees past the stress and find hope, joy, and happiness.
Many people have heard about gratitude journals; however, I often hear clients talk about being frustrated with them. They take time each night and write down a list of things they are grateful for, and while this is a great start, many people can struggle to see benefits. Learning to be truly grateful can be a very effective way for parents to build resilience, but it needs to go beyond the act of listing things in a journal.
To be truly grateful means creating a sense of thankfulness, appreciation, and wonder for life. When we think about our struggles, we go into great detail about the pain, the loss, or the guilt. The hurt becomes tangible. We need to treat our gratitude with the same intensity and purpose as we do our hurt.
A very popular and proven exercise that I have found helpful with parents is creating a gratitude letter. The task is simple; select someone that you feel grateful for (e.g., your partner; a parent; a friend) and write them a letter of appreciation. You can even go as far as delivering the letter or reading it aloud to them. Here is a video showing how it can be done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHv6vTKD6lg.
Engaging in acts of kindness is another way for parents to build resilience through the social connection that it can create. Has the person in front of you at the drive thru ever bought your coffee? It can create such a sense of surprise, joy, and thankfulness. You will probably feel inspired to do something nice for someone else that day, thus creating more connection and happiness for everyone involved. Here is a video showing it in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4ALRY5LyBM.
The last core component of resiliency is meditation. The type of meditation I often find the most helpful for stressed parents is mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present and “in the moment”. It’s about being 100% there and engaged in your experience, and not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness is not about pretending that everything is okay or about dismissing challenges; it is about focusing nonjudgmentally on the moment so you can be present in your own life. Mindfulness-based interventions have been used successfully in helping treat issues such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Here is one mindfulness meditation that parents can try: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation
When parents take the time to build their resilience, it helps them to see past the daily stress of parenthood and be more present for those they love. Through gratitude, acts of kindness, and meditation/mindfulness, parents can work towards becoming the parent they always hoped to be.
Benson, P., & Karlof, K. (2009). Anger, stress proliferation, and depressed mood among parents of children with ASD: A longitudinal replication. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(2), 350-362. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-008-0632-0
Helgeson, V., Becker, D., Escobar, O., & Siminerio, L. (2012). Families with children with diabetes: implications of parent stress for parent and child health. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 37(4), 467-478. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jrs110
Mikolajczak, M., Brianda, M., Avalosse, H., & Roskam, I. (2018). Consequences of parental burnout: Its specific effect on child neglect and violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 80, 134-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.03.025
Pemberton, C. (2015). Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches. New York, NY: Open University Press
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Learned Hopefulness: The Power of Positivity to Overcome Depression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Blog Post by: Cody MacSorley, MSW RSW, Clinical Counsellor