The Headaches of Parenting
Managing the stress of going from single to married with children at warp speed
BY: Belleruth Naparstek
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:
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).
6. Get help. Get it from your husband. I realize that if he didn't want kids and you insisted and he said, "OK, honey, but you're on your own if we do this," it might feel like you're in a pretty untenable position, but ask for it anyway. He's the Pop, for heaven's sake, and he cares about your mental health, so ask.
7. Get help from a relative or a baby-sitter too, so you and your husband can have some time out together. That way, you may even remember why you decided to marry each other in the first place. Otherwise, you'll forget. Even if you can't afford it, do it. If it eases strain on you and your family, it's worth it. I'm sure you've spent money on more stupid things. Feeding your marriage will help your kids big-time in the long run.
Statistics show that the first thing to go out the window with young kids is good sex. Mostly, it's a function of no sleep and spit-up on your shoulders, but it's also preoccupation with a bazillion new responsibilities and details to keep in your headachey head. The good news: It comes back as they get a little older and less demanding. But you need to do things to keep the relationship juicy in the meantime, or by the time it's ready to come back you won't care.
8. Try to avoid that hellish cycle of:
(a) feeling guilty because you're working, and so
(b) overindulging them as a way of overcompensating, which they somehow see through instantly, and so
(c) making them even more demanding and entitled, and so
(d) you get furious at them and thus
(e) feel even guiltier and become even more inclined to overcompensate by overindulging them, ad infinitum.
And please understand that if you do fall into this cycle now and then (and trust me, we all have), it's not terminal to their having good character in the long run.
This too shall pass. One day, they'll be tying their own shoes. Hang in there.