The Headaches of Parenting

Managing the stress of going from single to married with children at warp speed

Q: I started getting headaches and neck aches about two years ago, and though I've been going to massage and chiropractic therapy, they still persist. A lot has to do with the fact that I have had tons of stress, plus, having been single for 37 years, I am now a 42-year-old mother of a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. The stress of working and being a mother has really put a strain on me.

I hope the headaches, neck aches, and stress go away soon. Sometimes I get so frustrated and down. I welcome all suggestions!

A: Oh, my goodness! So, in three years you went from being a single member of the workforce to being a married, working mother of two very new little people? Have I got that straight? And you're still walking and talking. Kudos to you!

Egads, girl, of course you're stressed--even if this is exactly what you want! One thing has nothing to do with the other. OK, my first piece of advice:

1. Forget about being a perfect anything. You got that? Just trust me and forget it. You'll just make yourself and everyone else crazy, and it's not gonna happen anyway, I promise.

2. Second, even if you're really into completing tasks and getting things done uninterrupted, forget about that too. This will save you a lot of grief, and you will be far less annoyed with your kids. Do as much letting go of that as you can stand. The corollary of this is:

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3. If you're someone who absolutely must have some alone time, either get up earlier than everyone else or stay up later than everyone else, depending on your biorhythms. Alone time may be more important to you than sleep. If this is so, do what you must to get some.

4. When the kids are up and about and you're home, what needs doing is being present with them as fully as you can. Little ones are perfect tuning forks for knowing when you're not quite there with them, and they become more demanding, cranky, and difficult the instant you drift. They have this amazing ability, really.

5. Now, here's something that has served me in good stead. Even if you have very little time for this, give the 4-year-old a special time with you that he/she can count on each week. Just you and this kid. Even call it your "special time." Get a sitter for the baby and go to the playground, "do lunch," shop, go to an afternoon movie, whatever. But you need to see what s(he) is like when it's just the two of you. I promise you, it will be very different from when it's the three or four of you. This child will count on this time with you all week long, and it will make putting up with the 2-year-old much easier when you're not around (and when you are too).

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Belleruth Naparstek
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