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The Invisible Load: Dealing with Mental & Emotional Stress of Parenting

August 11, 2023
A beach scene showing a father and child running in the distance, their sand covered shoes left unattended in the forefront, implying stepping away from the mental and emotional stress of parenting.

Every step in the parenting journey is laden with love, duty, and sacrifice. The mental and emotional stress of parenting is an invisible load we bear, but it’s vital to recognize and alleviate this burden for our own well-being.

Parenthood is a mosaic of moments, both radiant and raw. There are those picturesque scenes, like peaceful picnics at the park, the proud cheers during a T-ball game, or the sweet innocence in a child’s eyes tasting their first ice cream. It’s the pure joy in their laughter, the tenderness in a goodnight snuggle, and the resilience they show when they put on a brave face while holding back tears on the first day of school.

Yet, in the background of these heartfelt memories, there’s an echoing chorus of unsolicited judgments. Comments whispered just loud enough for us to hear:

“Giving him ice cream so young?”
“OMG He can’t even hit a ball – I bet his mom taught him!”
“Look at her, clinging to her dad. She looks so needy.”

These comments are real and they STING! It’s seriously the last thing we need to hear when all we’re trying to do as parents is to do our best and give our children all that we can.

But this duality is the fabric of parenthood. On one hand, we’re the steadfast guardians, pouring our heart and soul into nurturing our little ones. On the other, we’re mere mortals, navigating a world of endless expectations, judgments, and self-doubt. And, right there in the middle of all this, we juggle all the roles that life throws at us, from professional to partner, and everything in between.

Parenthood isn’t just about raising children; it’s about continuously refining and defining ourselves, heck, half the time defending ourselves, even when weighed down by the invisible loads we bear.

The Weight of Expectations

Parenting in today’s world often seems like we’re just running the same old route in a maze. Do you feel me on this? We feel we need to be that eternally patient guide, to curate flawless experiences for our children, and keep up a home that looks like it should be featured on a Pinterest board. I mean the pressures are just everywhere. And that’s not counting the pressure we place on ourselves!

Let’s take a look at this though. Picture for a moment that these expectations are building blocks, steadily stacking up around us. With each added block, the weight grows and grows, and the pressure intensifies, threatening to barricade us behind walls of doubt and fatigue. It’s definitely not a happy place.

Yet, believe it or not, there is a silver lining. Perfection is, and always has been, a mirage. It is not, and never has been, attainable.

Now, while we can and should aim to evolve as individual and parents, seeking flawless perfection, especially based on another’s yardstick, is a pursuit in vain. Remind yourself, life is about progress, not perfection. (Put that on a sticky note on your bathroom mirror, seriously.)

We each have our own unique narratives, these are the stories of our lived experience, our victories and vulnerabilities. No one else has journeyed our path, felt our storms, or cherished our milestones in the exact way we have.

It’s time for you to feel confident in embracing and owning your own story, to draw strength from your experiences, and remember that just because a method suits one, doesn’t mean it’s your blueprint to follow too.

Let’s just pause a moment here. Inhale deeply, exhale slowly and tally up your triumphs. Big or small, they are significant because they define your unique parenting journey. Know that you are progressing, one step at a time, and it’s you – not the world, not the naysayers – who gets to define your achievements. 

Always hold close and celebrate, every single victory, no matter how small or inconsequential it may seem.

The Constant Juggle of Roles

How often do you switch roles as a parent? This morning I woke up as an alarm clock ushering my husband out of bed for a business trip. A referee diffusing an on-field fight between my kids over who sits down first at the breakfast table. A chauffeur running the kids to appointments. A medic when my son fell in the parking lot. A bookkeeper paying bills. A chef preparing meals. A housekeeper (seriously the laundry is getting out of hand!). And the list doesn’t end, that’s just what happened before noon. Plus, 24/7 mom.

The transitions between the roles in our lives are swift and sometimes dizzying, adding yet another layer to the mental and emotional stress of parenting . But even in this ever-changing dynamic, it’s crucial to not lose sight of the most foundational role – our individual selves. Personally, I’ve grappled with this challenge, and it’s an integral part of my health and wellness journey. Reintroducing ‘me’ into the variety of roles I play has been vital, not just for balance but to genuinely thrive as a busy parent.

When we feel stretched too thin, it’s a sign that we need boundaries. I’m not talking about rigid walls but rather flexible borders. These boundaries allow us to gracefully step into different roles with a sense of purpose, ensuring we harmonize our diverse duties with our core self. And importantly, they let us recognize when stepping into a certain role might do more harm than good, allowing us the space to prioritize our well-being.

Dealing with expectations and juggling roles are just two of the many facets of our lives where we face the mental and emotional stress of parenting. Some things are within our direct control, while others we manage only through our reactions or choices to step back. Whichever the case, it’s essential to occasionally pause, assess our feelings, and give ourselves the room to redefine our course to ensure we’re moving in the direction that aligns with our goals and values.

Choosing Growth in the Middle of Chaos

Recognizing our boundaries is merely the starting point. Life’s hurdles test us, and it’s crucial to give ourselves the grace and patience to accept when we occasionally blur those lines. Parenthood is not an exact science, and every day is a lesson in itself. While it’s okay to falter and stumble, it’s these very moments that pave the way for our most profound growth.

To navigate the roller coaster that is parenting, it’s essential to lean on tangible strategies. Embrace the unexpected. Find humor in minor mishaps, cherish the small victories, and see the beauty right their in our own lives, and NOT through someone else’s expectations or perceptions.

Remember, a perfect home doesn’t reflect a life well-lived – but memories created within its imperfect walls do.

And as for those societal voices? The whispers, judgments, and unsolicited comments? Take them with a pinch of salt. You know your journey, and you know your family best.

Nurturing the Self to Nurture the Family

Your well-being is not just about you—it indirectly nourishes your family too. It’s imperative to devote time to self-care because you just can’t pour from an empty cup. So ensure you’re rejuvenating yourself both mentally and physically, positioning yourself as the best version of you for your family. Whether it’s five peaceful minutes in the morning or an evening walk, these pockets of time can recharge your soul, allowing you to tune in to your inner voice, the one that is always with you and ready to reassure you even on the toughest days.

Communicate your needs and share the responsibilities.
Remember, seeking assistance doesn’t diminish your capabilities. Lean on your circle for support, but always filter advice through your unique family lens.

Engage in heartfelt conversations with trusted friends or family.
Sometimes, just articulating our feelings, sharing our highs and lows, and knowing we aren’t alone in our struggles can be therapeutic. These interactions remind us of the shared bond of parenthood—a silent understanding that each one of us faces challenges.

Always trust your instincts and intuition.
While the world has evolved, our core instincts remain grounded. Lean into those feelings, those gut reactions, and place trust in your parental compass.

Remember, your journey as a parent is uniquely yours. There might not be a definitive guidebook, but each step, each lesson is a chapter in your personal story. Embrace the love, the laughter, and yes, even the tears, for they weave the tapestry of your parenthood narrative.

Share your insights, stories, and experiences as a parent below. Let’s build a community where we uplift, guide, and support each other on this beautiful, chaotic journey called parenthood.

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