USA Wellness Café
Stress Management Take-Out Course:
Parenting with Less Stress

Written by Staff Writers of USA Wellness Café ™

Skills needed for parenting in today’s world are different than a generation or two ago. Our parents or grandparents might have led a somewhat different, more laid-back lifestyle. They might have worked 40-hours each week with every weekend off. They didn’t have Internet access or cell phones, so much of their time was not consumed by technology.

Keeping up with their children was done mainly through looking out the backyard window, phoning a neighbor or school office staff, or checking in with baby sitters or relatives watching those kids. Extended family members often lived closer physically, so relatives could easily visit in person, provide comfort, and help each other financially. Grandparents, along with aunts and uncles, were usually a core part of a family’s support system.

In today’s world, parents move at lightning speed--shuffling kids to school, soccer practice, and dance classes. The shuffling likely comes between parents’ jobs and community service. Adults are also trying to mix in their own gym appointments and perhaps eldercare for their aging parents or in-laws.

Grandparents these days may not take the parenting strain off their adult children because grandparents are leading busy lives in their senior years. Grandparents may be doing their own thing--such as taking college classes or going to the gym.

Children growing up in the Sixties and Seventies likely dropped by grandparents’ homes to visit without notice. Today, grandparents may be divorced and dating again. Or, they may be living across the country in a blended family. Dropping in to say hello won’t work anymore.

Along with less social and family support, today’s parents must face complex issues coming from society-at-large. Stress overload in the lives of parents, along with pressing issues their kids face at school, affects parenting in a challenging new ways.

As a parent dealing with various issues of stress, you may not know which way to turn. You do your best to stave off work pressures, and you simultaneously try to place a guardian-angel feeling around your children. If you are a single parent, or co-parenting with a difficult ex-spouse, this adds to the chaotic feelings.

Bullying, for example, may affect your household from two perspectives. As a parent, you might have a co-worker or boss who is bullying you--just when your child has stated: “I’m being bullied at school.”

Validate Your Child’s Needs

Key Point

Learn to build emotional well-being into your family unit. Create this emotional security within your family life, even if you are the single parent of just one child. How? Look for ways to make your home life a sanctuary from a harsh world.

To protect your offspring, make a vow to create a healthy home life. Decide that your children will come from a fully functional family--versus a dysfunctional family. This way, your child will have power over his/her life that no one can take away.

By thinking ahead and taking certain steps, you can build a strong, emotional support system for your family. But first, let’s review the simple definition of a functional, healthy family:

In a functional family, everyone’s needs get equal attention and honor. For example, your teenager who wants a motorcycle is given respect for his desire to have one.

Does this mean Mom and Dad will allow him to have one--or that they could afford to buy one? Not necessarily. However, the desire to own a motorcycle is openly recognized and the teenager is not criticized for wanting one.

Key Point

Your child will remember how you reacted to his dreams and hopes. Your words and smiles will live in his mind for his entire life. Your encouragement is a treasure that fuels each child to grow and develop.

In a fully functional family, it’s safe to speak up about practical needs and actively engage in day-dreaming. Having a vision of positive outcomes is normal for the family. No one is going to laugh at Mom or Dad for wanting to star in a play for the community theater. No one is going to laugh at a child for wishing he could own a horse or become an astronaut one day.

The key word in a functional family is “safe.” It’s safe to be yourself in a functional family. It’s safe to act a little silly and crazy in a functional family. It’s perfectly okay to daydream at the dinner table and have your family validate (even if your family consists of just two people) that your dreams have merit. Tell your child, “You deserve to reach your goals and dreams,” even if those dreams seem impossibly far away.

Honor Everyone’s Needs Equally

Key Point

A functional family puts its stamp of approval on everyone in the core family circle. Does this mean that no one has problems? Of course not. A child can try drugs in his pre-teen or teenage years or a parent can drink too much or have an affair.

Envision a functional family as one where a tiny baby’s needs are given the same level of attention as Dad’s desire to win a golf tournament. Everyone in the family is special. Everyone is loved.

Having supportive conversations, defining needs, and making every family member feel worthy of success costs nothing. Using supportive language and having face-to-face time with your children are resources that are absolutely free. Helping your children perceive themselves as deserving, important, and protected are keys to helping your children have confidence, inner peace, and a strong emotional foundation.

In a dysfunctional family, the family unit often revolves around the needs of one or both parents. Children are treated as second-class citizens. Or, one spouse might receive the poor treatment of a second-class citizen. One person is the head honcho in the family, while everyone else must bow to the needs of that person.

It’s difficult to imagine that children growing up in a dysfunctional family will have sufficient self-esteem in their adult years. The truth is, most do not. Self-esteem acquired in childhood is deeper and has stronger roots. It is totally related to this fact: Everyone in this family has equal worth and importance no matter what. No one has to earn this respect or bend himself out of shape to obtain it.

The family stamp of approval means that each family member supports and celebrates a great life experience for everyone in the family. And, each person will pay attention to ensure this is happening for everyone in the family. When problems arise, they will receive appropriate attention and mitigation. Before someone is in too much trouble, or falls too far from grace, the others rally around this person. Functional families try to address, correct, and heal their problems -- not run from them.

Give Your Children Boundaries

Key Point

Work with each child as a separate person with different goals, dreams and ways of dealing with life. This way, you can enjoy each child as a special gift.

Children feel loved when parents remain in the parenting role. Teenagers, especially, do not want a parent to become a pal. They want a parent who defines clear limits for them. This ensures they can tell their peers, “No, I can’t stay out late tonight. My parents say no.”

Let’s look at a scenario whereby a teen is glad his parents are strong:

A high school junior we’ll call Jason has been asked by friends to party all night at a college friend’s apartment on a Wednesday night right after final exams at the university. The friends will likely have beer, a few mixed drinks, marijuana and other substances. A few under-age girls will be attending as well.

Jason’s parents are sophisticated people. They have allowed him to have wine with dinner occasionally. Jason’s dad has allowed his son to have a beer with him once or twice. But, Jason’s dad is strict about his son’s curfew and adamant that Jason drink responsibly--which means Jason would never be advised by his parents to drink like an adult at a party (with no limitations).

Jason is required to be home by 10 on school nights and by midnight on weekends.

If Jason’s dad didn’t set the rule on midnight, Jason would be weak in telling his friends, “No, I can’t go to the party. I have a 10 o’clock curfew on school nights.” With the strict curfew, Jason has a way out of the situation that ensures he won’t have to confront temptations beyond his scope or hitch a ride home at 4 a.m, although he might choose to drop by the party for an hour or so.

Assigning bedtimes, limits on spending, and time for chores are all part of boundaries. Start small in setting boundaries when children are younger. Get them used to rules. It’s difficult to start setting boundaries with a 15-year-old stepchild, for example. This teenager might have unlimited freedom at his other parent’s home. Reeling in a teen is a tricky proposition. It calls for using common sense, calling for some unpopular limits, and heaping on kindness and love.

Don’t, however, set too many boundaries. Any person--even a 12-year-old--knows when he or she is being controlled. Setting a long list of boundaries erases freedom, which children need to develop properly.

Every child is different, too. For example, let’s take a look at a woman we’ll call Katie and her niece, Madison. Katie got custody of Madison after Madison’s parents both split up. Katie has the tough road of pulling Madison back to being a typical 16-year-old after she’s been a free spirit since the age of 13.

“Madison and her friend came home smelling like liquor one night,” says Katie. “These girls had been partying and living like college girls since their eighth grade year. I knew I had to rein Madison in slowly on the drinking or my rules would backfire.”

Katie advised Madison to take care of herself properly, while setting a boundary Madison would likely follow. She said this to Madison: “I want you to have fun and have friends, but I need to give you a guideline. If I were you, I’d limit myself to two drinks for the night. This way, you won’t get into trouble. I really think that would work.”

Katie says she knows her advice would sound insane to some people. Would an adult really advise an underage person to drink in any fashion at all?

“You have to do what works,“ says Katie. “It’s been 20 years since I gave Madison that advice. My niece is now a medical professional and a fine citizen with great morals. If I’d simply demanded she not do anything out of line, she would probably have left my house and hitchhiked out of town!”

The point Katie is making is that parenting calls for setting boundaries that will truly work. For instance, if you know your teen or stepchild is having sex, you have to deal with reality. Don’t deny the truth. Denying reality will get you and your child into lots of trouble!

Also, treat every child as totally unique and special. You may have one child that is a bookworm and another who wants to race motorcycles or try out for a Hollywood film. Never compare one child to another.

Ask Your Children Questions

If you wonder how you’re doing as a parent, try asking your child a few questions. Make it safe for your child to say: “No, I think you’re rules are very unfair.” Develop a thick skin, especially, when your children are teenagers, because they will let you know--either in spoken or unspoken ways--what they don’t like.

Even if you don’t want to change a rule, ask your child to comment on its fairness. This way, you’re not removing your child’s voice.

Asking questions eliminates the need for guesswork. You certainly want to know if your child loves or hates you. If you make any type of conversation allowable, in terms of complaining, your child knows you do respect his or her feelings. If you never ask for feedback, a child can emotionally distance from you--permanently.

Keep in mind, too, that it’s your teenager’s job to rebel against you. Otherwise, the child would happily remain in your nest until age 40 and beyond. Mother Nature intends for parents and teens to clash--so you’ll be happy when your child leaves home.

Even the Eqyptians, thousands of years ago, complained about disrespectful teenagers. Accept a teen’s rebellion as part of life and don’t take it too personally, although it can hurt you horribly when the drama is unfolding. Your teen’s slamming words can cut like a knife!

As a teen pushes away from you, he or she is giving birth to his/her own life. You’ve done your job properly to create this kind of confidence.