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Managing Parental Stress and Anxiety


Parental stress comes from a long list of sources. Anxiety itself can provoke just as many questions: Are they reaching developmental milestones on time? Are they engaged at school? Can we stretch our budget to support the interests of our young child? 


And the mother of all questions: Am I doing a good job at parenting?


There’s no cure-all for parental anxiety but it’s helpful to remember that almost every parent has been in your shoes. Knowing some common stressors parents face and coping mechanisms to manage them is the first step in finding your inner calm, no matter how chaotic life gets.

Staying stocked on pull-ups, planning meals, juggling doctor appointments, and family finances—a parent’s work is never done. Social media can make it look like a string of picture-perfect bonding moments, but you know the facts—parenthood is a taxing job.


Parental stress comes from a long list of sources. Anxiety itself can provoke just as many questions: Are they reaching developmental milestones on time? Are they engaged at school? Can we stretch our budget to support the interests of our young child? 


And the mother of all questions: Am I doing a good job at parenting?


There’s no cure-all for parental anxiety but it’s helpful to remember that almost every parent has been in your shoes. Knowing some common stressors parents face and coping mechanisms to manage them is the first step in finding your inner calm, no matter how chaotic life gets.


What Are the Causes of Parental Stress?

To begin, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that parental stress and anxiety are often inevitable and may look different for every family. On top of the stress one may experience from the general duties of parenting, we may also experience societal pressures to fit certain ideals of parenting or fulfill certain gender roles. Additional stressors from the impacts of systemic racism, sexism, ableism, and classism can also impact the experience of being a parent. Combine this all together, and it’s safe to say every caregiver will experience stress at some (or all) stages of parenting. 


Still, research has identified some factors that are particularly related to one’s stress level at home, such as:


  • Work-related difficulties like unpredictable hours or job insecurity
  • Taking care of a child with medical, emotional, or behavioral challenges
  • Limited social support network
  • Financial hardship
  • Raising a kid while being a single parent
  • Caring for newborns and toddlers
  • Disagreeing with your partner on how to co-parent

While these factors can add to parental stress at any phase of life, there are three stages of parenting that experts consider particularly stressful in themselves.


#1 The Transition to Parenthood

Becoming a parent is one of the most significant transitions we make in life. Parenthood comes with financial pressures, renegotiating your work/life balance, coping with sleep disruption, and a major change in your sense of identity. For two-parent households, paternal and maternal stress may stem from conflict over your new responsibilities and how they’re shared. 


If you’re in this period, it can be helpful to:


  • Keep in mind that you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed
  • Prioritize sleep (getting enough sleep can support one’s mental health post-partum)
  • Consider joining a parent support group to connect with peers facing the same transition
  • Learn how to prepare for a baby to help ease the transition

#2 The Postpartum Period

Anxiety, depression, and other feelings of psychological distress can be very common immediately after giving birth. Hormonal changes postpartum are a normal part of the process for many, but can be distressing when they occur. These symptoms often begin 2 to 3 days after giving birth and can last up to 2 weeks. If you struggle with symptoms longer than that, you may be experiencing postpartum depression or another perinatal mental health concern. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider to discuss treatment options. Signs that you may want to reach out to your doctor include: 


  • Feelings of anxiety, sadness, or depression lasting more than a couple weeks
  • Intrusive thoughts or feelings
  • Difficulty managing worries and stress
  • Somatic symptoms: tight chest, headaches, stomach aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping


#3 The Newborn and Toddler Years

Research has found that early childhood can be especially challenging for parents as they experience high levels of paternal and maternal parenting stress. One study found that the most significant drop in parental well-being occurs in the transition from newborn to toddler––a stage where parents typically have the least amount of sleep and the most amount of responsibility. 


There are a variety of reasons why parents might find this period particularly stressful:

  • Newborns require round-the-clock care, leaving caregivers with very little time for themselves
  • Toddlers are active, curious, and beginning to express their individuality, leading to more challenging behavior problems.
  • Toddlers can move around on their own, which can be physically and mentally demanding for caregivers.

In these years, parents are constantly learning new parenting skills and figuring out how to meet the unique needs of their child. Give yourself plenty of grace at this stage. Remember, it’s okay to reach out to your friends and family for extra support when you need it.


How Does Parental Stress Affect a Child?

Parental stress can have a significant impact on a family. Stress can make it more difficult for parents to be present and engaged with their children, negatively impacting the parent-child relationship. When parents are experiencing unnecessary stress, they tend to parent more harshly and less skillfully. This can build feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment in you and your children, causing tension in family relations. 


When occasional stress continues over time, it becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress can have serious, negative effects on a parent's physical and mental health, as well as the health and well-being of the entire family. Chronic stress, especially in early life, has been linked to a variety of health problems, including:


  • Chronic pain
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Digestive disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Thankfully, it’s never too late to learn to manage stress in better ways. Just by taking the time to understand the causes of parental stress, you’ve started the journey toward building a healthier relationship with anxiety and a more positive, supportive environment for your family.


7 Methods for Handling Parental Stress

Familial stress will look different for every parent and family, meaning there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to handling internal and external stressors. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you manage your stress in healthier ways.




Here are 7 steps caregivers can take to cope with stress at any stage of parenting:


  1. Practice self care – Self care for parents includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, spending time outdoors, and taking time to do things that you enjoy. Yes, it’s hard to find the time, but it should be a priority. When you don’t take good care of yourself, you won’t be able to do your best for your child.
  2. Set realistic expectations for yourself and your children – Recognize that you and your children are human. Neither one of you could or should be perfect. Often, parental stress stems from our internal beliefs about living up to social norms and expectations for your child. Rather than focusing on assumptions like my child should get straight A’s or my child should be a strong athlete, try identifying and focusing on your core values. 

Values you might choose to center instead could include:

  • I want to make sure my child feels loved
  • I want my child to feel secure in being themselves
  • I want my child to be able to talk to me about anything

Sometimes simply recognizing the real source of your stress can ease your underlying expectations.

3. Try daily self-affirmations Why are affirmations important? Research has found that daily self-affirmations can help parents build a more positive self-concept and feelings of pride in themselves as parents. Even better, incorporating self-affirmations in your daily routine is something you and your child can do together. Try affirmations like:

  • I am enough as I am
  • Loving myself is part of loving my child 
  • I am a capable and loving parent

4. Seek support from friends, family, and professionals – Talking to someone about your stress and anxiety can help to reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of perspective. Social support is one of the best ways to protect both parents and children from the harmful effects of parental stress.

5. Establish a daily routine – Having a predictable daily routine can provide a sense of structure and stability, which can be especially helpful for parents of young children.

6. Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment, and it can be a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety. The American Psychological Association has an excellent article on how to incorporate mindfulness techniques in daily life.

7. Recognize when you need help – There are times when DIY coping strategies just aren’t enough. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s always a good idea to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can help you to develop coping strategies and provide a healthy outlet for stress. Meanwhile, talking to your primary care physician can help you determine if medications and/or counseling may be a good step to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety.


When It Comes to Managing Stress, Don’t Go It Alone

Sometimes you just need to take a moment, give yourself permission to feel stressed, and reassure yourself that it’s a normal part of healthy parenting. Don’t be afraid to turn to your support system for help. Friends, family, parent support groups, and professional help are all viable options for taking the weight off your shoulders in challenging times.


And remember, Slumberkins is here to support your journey to emotional well-being with our extensive collection of resources for caregivers


There’s no way to avoid stress and anxiety when you’re a parent—it just comes with the territory. But you can work on how you respond and react. With time, care, and connection, you can build the tools to greet stressful situations with strength and resilience. 



Sources: 


American Psychological Association. “Mindfulness Meditation: A Research-Proven Way to Reduce Stress.” Apa.org, 30 Oct. 2019, www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation.


American Psychological Association. “Stress Effects on the Body.” American Psychological Association, 1 Nov. 2018, www.apa.org/topics/stress/body.


The Center for Parenting Education. “Using Your Values to Raise Your Children.” The Center for Parenting Education, centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/indulgence-values/values-matter-using-your-values-to-raise-caring-responsible-resilient-children-what-are-values/.


Hanappi, Doris, and Oliver Lipps. “Job Insecurity and Parental Well-Being: The Role of Parenthood and Family Factors.” Demographic Research, vol. 40, 2019, pp. 897–932, www.jstor.org/stable/26727020. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.


Lozano, Mariona, et al. “Non-Standard Work Schedules, Gender, and Parental Stress.” Demographic Research, vol. 34, 2016, pp. 259–284, www.jstor.org/stable/26332035. Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.


Fang, Yuan, et al. “Parent, Child, and Situational Factors Associated with Parenting Stress: A Systematic Review.” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 25 July 2022, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-022-02027-1.


Hill, Zoelene, et al. “Pride-Based Self-Affirmations and Parenting Programs.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, 23 June 2020, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00910. Accessed 2 Mar. 2022.


Parfitt, Ylva, and Susan Ayers. “TRANSITION to PARENTHOOD and MENTAL HEALTH in FIRST-TIME PARENTS.” Infant Mental Health Journal, vol. 35, no. 3, 31 Mar. 2014, pp. 263–273, https://doi.org/10.1002/imhj.21443.


Mayo Clinic. “Postpartum Depression - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic, 1 Sept. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617.


Nelson, S. Katherine, et al. “The Pains and Pleasures of Parenting: When, Why, and How Is Parenthood Associated with More or Less Well-Being?” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 140, no. 3, May 2014, pp. 846–895, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035444.


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