I think it would be stating the obvious if I told you parenting was stressful, but try explaining why parenting is stressful, especially to a non-parent. It’s like attempting to convey just how debilitating sleep deprivation due to a newborn baby is to a teenage boy who sleeps 22 hours a day.
Parenting is stressful in a way that’s different from the stress of a demanding job or the stress of college students in the midst of final exams. The stress of parenting is more of an ever-present, almost hidden undercurrent that just hangs out in the back of your mind at all times. Sometimes it jumps out of you and takes over, and sometimes it lies dormant, yet always ready to pounce. I’m constantly wondering how I’m going to accomplish everything on my list; how I’m going to do the seemingly simple task of grocery shopping and putting a meal on the table at the end of the day when I have a toddler yelling at me to pick him up and play trucks simultaneously; how I’m going to be a “good” parent and not just use the TV as a babysitter. I get stressed about things I can’t really control, like my son’s asthma and reflux, and things I can control, like what I feed him and teach him.
A recent survey called “The Burden of Stress in America” looked at why so many people are stressed, and two different types of parenting situations in particular popped up. While it’s not really surprising at first glance, what is surprising is how close the parenting percentages come to the other categories of stress that included things like illness and financial distress. The two biggest sources of stress, according to the survey, were having a poor health condition and being disabled (60% and 45% of respondents, respectively). The other surprising part is that being a new parent didn’t make the chart; it was single parents and parents of teens (35% and 34% of respondents, respectively). For comparison’s sake, illness, a dangerous situation at work, and making less than $20,000 per year scored 36%.
So what makes these two types and stages of parenthood so much harder or more stressful than the rest? The single parent part I can grasp without much help. Doing the parenting gig on your own without financial or moral support would be exponentially more stressful than doing it with a partner in crime. Now, I know teenagers are supposed to be wild and unruly, but what makes them so much more stressful than toddlers or middle schoolers? Is it the worry that comes with having a new driver on the road? The trouble they can get themselves into? Drinking? Drugs? I don’t have a clue, but if this parenting thing is supposed to get more stressful in my next decade, I’m a little more than fearful. I asked some friends for their input and here’s what they had to say. What would you add to it?
“Being a parent to teenagers is more stressful than any other age so far because they have so much autonomy, but so little practice using it. I’m constantly worried and fretting about what could and will happen.” — Becky S.
“Teenagers are stressful because they have minds of their own that don’t usually agree with the minds of their parents!” — Dan T.
“My teens are stressful not because of big things, but the day-to-day little things. They always need to be somewhere at different times on different sides of town. I can’t be in all the places at once (even if they did want me there) and that doesn’t even take into account the things of my own I want to be doing.” — Melissa M.
Now that we’ve etched the fear of having a teenager deep into my soul, let’s talk a little bit more about stress in general. Living in a potential stressful situation doesn’t mean we have to let the stress consume us. Better yet, stress doesn’t even always have to be a bad thing. Exercise, talks with friends, and journals are all ways to create a positive outlet for stress, and sometimes stress can motivate us, push us, and keep us going. The secret is to not let the stress win. I guess I better start working on my stress coping skills before I have a teenager in the house. Goodness knows he’s already well on his way to having that oh-so-loved teenage rebellious attitude.