Your question: Why am I an anxious parent?
Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Being a parent is a full-time job. No one prepares you for that life-changing moment that adds a new layer of responsibility to your existence. Therefore, like any change in life, parenthood involves stress and deep anxiety for the person experiencing it.
Anxiety is a feeling of intense worry and fear caused by dysfunctional thoughts or ideas about reality, which generate uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms. In parents, anxiety is related to the constant questioning of whether they are applying “correct” parenting to their children.
Parental anxiety is a type of anxiety related to being a parent or caregiver of one or more children, adolescents or adults. Regardless of the age of your children, parental anxiety is associated with anxiety-producing ideas about what you “should” do as a parent, as well as all the things that put your children at risk.
As a parent, you need to learn to normalize your anxiety, but also to regulate it to prevent it from affecting you or your children in the long run. To treat your parental anxiety it is first necessary to know the origin of it, as well as to learn to make peace with it and understand that it is a natural part of parental life.
Why do I feel anxious as a parent?
Parental anxiety is quite common. In a survey(1) 49% of the fathers interviewed expressed having experienced anxiety related to parenthood. The causes are varied, but all are associated with recurrent thoughts and emotions linked to the idea of parenthood. The subjective perception you have of yourself as a father also plays a role. It is necessary to emphasize that these feelings are common and experiencing them does not mean that you are a “bad father”.
Frustration and parental demands
The most common cause of parenting anxiety is the demands that children require in everyday life, especially when they are young children. The physical and psychological care of children is a full-time activity that can easily exhaust parents if they do not have support from third parties, such as close relatives, friends or babysitters to help them.
Anxiety due to financial pressures is extremely common. Parents spend money on their children constantly, from food and health to education and recreation. It is possible that your anxiety as a parent is related to financial problems and the concern that your income is not enough to meet all the needs of your child(ren).
Change in the couple’s relationship
Relationships change with the arrival of the first child. Many couples experience a loss of intimacy when they have children, as well as less time alone. If this is your case, possibly your parental anxiety is related to the concern that your relationship feels unstable and distant because all the attention is going to your children.
Parental doubts and comparisons
Parenthood is filled with constant fears and worries that something might happen to your children. As a parent, you probably feel that you are not doing the best job possible or that another couple you know are “better parents” than you and your partner. These doubts about the self-worth of parenting and conspiracies with other parents generate anxiety and guilt.
What are the consequences of your parental anxiety?
Parental anxiety has repercussions in many aspects of daily life, among these:
Research(2) suggests that the mental health of both parents can negatively impact the functioning of children, during infancy, childhood and adolescence.
Anxiety caused by parenting can alienate and alienate partners, causing constant conflict and generating emotional distress.
Being an anxious parent can cause you to neglect your work or academic activities. It can also cause you to neglect your interpersonal relationships and self-care in order to devote all your time and energy to your children.
How can you reduce your parental anxiety?
It is important that your children learn through you that having anxiety is something normal and frequent in life. It does not mean anything bad as long as they learn to control it. There are strategies you can apply to reduce your parental anxiety and improve your quality of life as well as that of your children. You can also seek professional help if you feel that your problem is getting worse over time.
Deal with your frustration tolerance
One thing I’ve learned in my experience working with parents is that frustration tolerance is a big issue in coping with parenting. Children are naturally restless and energetic, tantrums and behaviors that may seem illogical and annoying to adults are to be expected.
Before you lose control over your child’s attitude, focus your attention on your basic senses, breathe slowly in three-second intervals and get on their level. Speak to your child in a calm manner and explain what you need him to do at that moment. For example: “I understand that you are upset because I didn’t buy you that toy, but you have others at home, and besides it’s time to go, take my hand and let’s go to the car”.
Practice relaxation and breathing
Anxiety destabilizes your body with annoying symptoms that are difficult to control, but through progressive relaxation and slow breathing you can cope with your anxiety episodes and diminish the symptoms.
Whether you are alone or in public, relaxation allows you to relieve these symptoms. You should close your eyes and inhale and exhale in 3-second intervals. In the meantime, repeat in your mind key phrases that generate motivation and pride. “You can cope with this situation,” “You have been through this before and have been able to get through it,” “You have the strength to deal with this problem,” to name a few examples.
Make time for you and your partner
It is important for parents to have time for themselves, otherwise parenthood can consume and exhaust them, because it becomes the sole pillar of their lives. At least once a week, spend time on hobbies you enjoyed before having children, focus on your own emotions and clear your mind of the week’s accumulated parenting-related stress.
In my experience…
Parenting is a complicated and exhausting job. Feeling tired and frustrated with your children does not make you a bad parent. On the contrary, it means that your body is sending you signals to change attitudes and be a better parent to your children. You must learn to prioritize yourself as a person, taking care of your physical and mental health so that you can then care for and protect your children. There are no guarantees that you are doing a good job of parenting. If in doubt, you can consult with a trained professional for strategies for more specific parenting problems.
Remember that you have the ability to improve your psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression you feel hopeless. We can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention in psychological counseling is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. You are already doing something and wanting to change always leads you in the right direction.