Frayed Nerves: The Highs and Lows of Parenting

By Jai Anderson, MSW. Jai is a Parent Educator at Thrive.

On June 20th, 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her five children in a bathtub in their home.  Like the explosion of the NASA Challenger Shuttle and September 11th, some news stories just stay with you, embed themselves in your memory.  For me, it was not until I had my own children that the horror of Andrea Yates’ actions also stirred up empathy.  Having become a mother myself and hearing the highs and lows of friends with their children, I became more aware that yes, while parenthood is full of joy and delight in watching our adorable little ones grow and interact, it is also true that being a parent can be radically challenging.

From the time we bring our bundles of joy home from the hospital, as parents we may experience intense fraying of our nerves.  It is essential that we learn effective ways to deal with the stressors of parenting which may be compounded by things like lack of sleep, financial stress, loss of identity if setting aside employment to stay home, marital problems, social isolation, and changes in body image.  Some women also struggle with the realities of post-partum depression and/or psychosis.  One of the most simple yet helpful strategies to deal with the stress that accompanies being a parent is to first make sure your child is in a safe space (such as a crib for an infant or toddler) and then step away or outside for a few minutes to regain composure.  This gives us the opportunity to take some deep breaths, slow down and think more clearly having stepped away from a torrent of emotion.

Just as importantly, it is crucial that we have the support of even just one or two safe friends or family members with whom we can have honest conversations about how we are doing.  Having an outside perspective that is at the same time lovingly committed to supporting us can be just what we need to relieve some steam, problem-solve creative solutions to our parenting difficulties and perhaps get connected to other local resources that can help.  Whether or not you have young children of your own, you can be a caring friend who reaches out to be a support to the folks in your life who are parenting.

No one thinks they are going to hurt their child.  We love our children and sincerely want to provide our best for them.  But sometimes, in a perfect storm, we may find ourselves so angry or frustrated or sad and depressed that we do have thoughts of harming our child and possibly ourselves.  You are not alone and there are folks who can help.  Here in the Gallatin Valley, we can call 211 to be connected to the Help Center who can provide help in times of crisis.  Another wonderful resource is the Postpartum Resource Guide.

All parents experience overwhelming stress at times.  April is the month we focus special attention on preventing child abuse. When you feel the intensity building, get outside for some cool air and clear your head.  Pick up the phone and tell your friend what’s really going on.  Be that support for other moms and dads – don’t wait to show up when everything’s falling apart; your faithful, consistent presence will make it more likely that you will be someone they can reach out to when everything feels overwhelming. Together we can help provide safe home lives in which children thrive.

Thrive offers parenting support through a variety of classes and opportunities to meet one on one.  To contact Thrive to find out more, please visit allthrive.org/contact/.