Being a parent is a full-time responsibility that comes with its own set of concerns and hassles. From the moment your child is born, there is never a moment you really stop worrying, whether you are a first-time mum or dad or planning for number four.
Through your child’s growing years, you will likely be stressed over his meals, health, development, education and future. There will be the inevitable disagreements between you and your spouse over parenting style and child-rearing issues. Social support, socio-economic factors and cultural factors influence a parent’s stress levels, too. A mum, for instance, may find it hard to live up to the high expectations society has placed on motherhood, or that parenting demands exceed the resources and social support available to her. Career and financial woes as well as family and relationship problems can also cause further distress in a parent’s personal life.
It is normal for any number of stressors to happen in a typical day. However, problems arise when stress accumulates and you don’t know how to deal with it.
“If a parent cannot function well, is preoccupied or not in a good mood, the way he or she interacts with a child will be different,”says Ms Rachel Lee, Senior Assistant Director of Fei Yue Family Service Centre.
“The parent may have no patience to listen, is less tolerant of challenging behaviours, and may even project his or her anger onto the child, especially if the parent is unable to regulate his or her own emotions very well.”
This not only becomes unhealthy for the parent but affects the child negatively, and in turn causes stress to him or her.
THE TELL-TALE SIGNS
Admitting that you have a problem is always the first step to dealing with the issue.
“Interestingly, while we do get cases referred from other organisations, many of the parents who approach the family service centre for help do so of their own accord,” says Ms Lee, who has 21 years of experience as a counsellor.
“So, if you notice yourself disciplining your child very differently from how you used to in the past, using harsh punishment and abusive language; or you notice a change in your relationship with your child — these are all warning signs,” says Ms Lee.
Significant changes in a child’s behaviour and display of emotions can also indicate problems. If you find your child misbehaving in a way that is getting out of control, or throwing tantrums and cannot be comforted, it could also mean you need to reflect on your interaction with your child, and seek professional help if need be.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Family Service Centres (FSCs) are a good place to start. Run by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and supported by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the 43 FSCs in Singapore aim to promote and improve the social well-being of every individual in the family, at every stage of life. You can find a list of FSCs on the MSF’s website, www.msf.gov.sg.
Even if not for the counselling services, you can call, walk in, write or email your queries on personal or family-related issues. FSCs also conduct community support programmes such as parent support groups and parenting talks which you can join, and in the process gain more knowledge and insight into your role as a parent, how to manage your child and how to deal with stress.
When counselling is needed, a social worker or counsellor will first try to understand the capacity — that is the amount of stress one can handle — of the parent, and how that is being affected, either because of child-rearing issues or other underlying causes, for example, money issues or problems with in-laws. The counsellor will then help the parent expand his or her parenting abilities by building on strengths and affirming what they do well. Goals will be set and reviewed after six months of counselling. A counsellor will also manage sessions to help parent-child bonding. This will involve teaching the parent to appreciate what is unique about his or her child, and what are the development milestones and needs of each child, depending on age and temperament among others.
OTHER WAYS OF COPING
But before you even allow yourself to reach breaking point, Ms Lee suggests these other methods for managing parenting stress.
Enhance your social support network
Learn your limits and ask for help if you have to. Get other people, like the child’s grandparents, to relieve you of your child care duties from time to time so you can take a break. Talk to friends and family members if you are facing problems; the chances of you taking out your frustration on your child will be lower.
Take time to care for yourself
Self-care is important because when you are mentally and physically fit, you are in a better position and capacity to care for your child. Start a regular exercise routine or get involved in a new hobby — these are good outlets for stress.
Spend quality time with your spouse
Engage in couple time at least once a week. Go on a date — without the children — to reconnect and keep the relationship healthy. Couples should also make it a point to constantly communicate about parenting roles. For example, agree on consistent actions to take when a child misbehaves. There should not be one ‘bad guy’ and one ‘good guy’. Support for each other is also important: when one parent is having a bad day and not in the right frame of mind, the other can take over in caring for the child.
Spend quality time with each child
For parents who have more than one child, it is good to take each individual one out on a special date. It enables parents to appreciate the traits of each child and learn how to better manage him or her behaviours. The child will also feel special and valued.
Identify the source of your stress and address the problem
Some parents, for instance, are less knowledgeable in terms of a child’s different stages of development, so they tend to encounter more challenges. They can read up on these topics and attend talks given by early childhood/parenting experts to equip themselves with the right knowledge and skills to parent.
Do not discipline in anger
Instead of just lashing out at your child, focus on what is the behaviour you want the child to change. Being able to regulate your thoughts and emotions are important, as it suggests greater self-control. It will also help the child learn how to handle his own emotions.