Fortune Well July 29, 2023
Have you ever wondered what happens when parents stop being polite and start getting real? Podcaster Jay Acunzo found out during a long weekend with close friends, all of whom have kids between the ages of eight months and four years old.
He started his Twitter thread with, “Something I need to get off my chest about being a parent of young kids and the culture we live in…” and proceeded to discuss in great detail the reality of parenting in America.
“What the culture shares and even demands you share about having kids/being a parent is that it’s precious, it’s a gift, it’s a joy, etc. But this is not what actual parents talk about or how actual parents feel,” Acunzo wrote. “Instead…We talked about the fact that our physical + mental health had gotten problematic. Our careers had taken huge hits. Our friendships were drifting. Our relationships with our partners felt strained (one person summed it up as they’re basically just the other parent I live with).”
Although most people in the comments and quote tweets seemed to agree, sharing their own struggles with parenting, naturally there were a few naysayers. But Acunzo’s and others’ experiences are far from an anomaly. Although some research suggests that fathers experience a boost in happiness shortly after a baby is born, another study says that parents experience a decrease in happiness during those early years in addition to a decline in marital satisfaction.
In short, parenting is a lot on most days and the pressure to perform and be a good, gracious parent at all times is real. It’s a real testament to the phrase: “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” But there is a way to make parenting a bit more bearable, according to Caroline Leaf, PhD., author of How to Help Your Child Clean up Their Mental Mess, a cognitive neuroscientist, mental health expert, and mom of four.
“Remind yourself often that no one can truly prepare you for all the things that come with parenting,” says Leaf. “You may read a thousand parenting books and do a lot of research, but your experience as a parent will be completely unique to you, and you will have to do a lot of learning on the go. This is okay and normal!”
Additionally, she encourages parents to keep in mind the following affirmations when times get tough:
“As you remind yourself of these things, you are acknowledging your emotions, behaviors, bodily sensations, and perspective, and creating awareness of the thoughts these are attached to and how they are showing up in your life,” explains Leaf. “This helps you self-regulate how you think, feel, and choose at the moment, and will help you practice being kind to yourself and showing yourself grace when you make a mistake.”
Other tactics for attempting to lessen the stresses of parenting include:
“When you have the chance, remember to schedule in time for yourself to do things that make you happy. This will give you the space needed to decompress and rest so that when you get back into parenting mode you will have more energy and won’t feel so burnt out.”
“If you aren’t able to organize childcare, think of activities that you like and find child-friendly ways of doing them. Say you like board games—try to get a community together for a family-friendly board game event. If you enjoy yoga, try doing a family-friendly yoga class with your children.”
“When you feel overwhelmed, confide in people you trust, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you do need some time to decompress, even if it is just 30 minutes to yourself,” says Leaf.
And, if all else fails, feel free to commiserate with fellow parents. Just keep in mind doing so in public forums, like Twitter, may lead to plenty of discourse and unsolicited advice.
“Parents ought to be given more permission to say multiple things are totally true at the same time because we feel ashamed to feel bad about our experiences otherwise,” continues Acunzo. “ … To fellow parents: I see you. I’m with you. Embrace how you feel. There’s nothing broken about you, but plenty about the culture.”
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