The Crippling Impact of Parental Stress

After Ian’s driver got him at 7:15, I answered e-mail, arranged the time schedule for the day, and wrote for 30 minutes on my pet article. (I’m not pitching it to a magazine until it’s entirely done, which is always risky. Still, I love this article so much that I’ll just put it on the blog, if I can’t find a professional home for it.) Then I went for an hour run. For the rest of morning, I checked off items — a combination of work and mom chores — from the daily schedule. I’m so damn productive that I want to barf.

Why am I getting so much done? Well, I have been much better about running and healthy living shit. Seriously, it makes a difference.

I also have a lot less parental stress in my life. Keeping a teenage boy on target for an elite college that is affordable is VERY HARD. There are landmines everywhere. There are so many ways to royally screw up, so the only recourse is moving the entire family to rural Manitoba. And there are so many dumb chores — chauffeur duties, SAT dates, prom tux measurements, physics projects, cross country banquets, college tours, German verb conjugations. All that is done. Thank God. I know he’s sweating his way through college level calc right now, but it’s not in front of me, so I can’t worry about it. Much.

Ian has been on auto-pilot for two years ever since we moved him to his new school. But before that, he was in a bad situation, which required tons of meetings and advocates and coordination. I have more driving duties now that he goes to a school that’s farther away but that is the extent of my stress. He’s getting a good and appropriate education right now. He’s super happy. Thank you, baby Jesus.

We won’t have to work about college applications, GPAs, or tux measurements for Ian. In a way, that is sad. But in a way, it’s GREAT. He’ll be in school until he’s 21, so we’ll have worries then. But that’s far away.

All that stress was fritzing out my brain. Constant adrenaline rushes. And you never knew when a crisis would pop up. So, I was always on guard, always ready for the next battle. Now, I’m getting my shit done. I’m booked with work until Thanksgiving.

I also have the brain space to take care of the little OCD tasks that make me happy. I replaced all the bath towels in the house. The boys with their damn acne cream trashed all the towels. Now, each bathroom has its own color.  The boys have white, so I can bleach the towels every month.

I also take the time to get a manicure every week. I’m finally establishing a skin regimin to include a quality neck cream and visiting the dermatologist for a regular redhead spot check up.  I’m drinking more water. I rearranged our bedroom furniture. All these little girlie changes make me very happy.

Taking a step back. Schools shouldn’t make us sad, but they do. That’s crazy.

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17 thoughts on “The Crippling Impact of Parental Stress

  1. “For the rest of morning, I checked off items — a combination of work and mom chores — from the daily schedule. I’m so damn productive that I want to barf.”

    I’ve been enjoying a similar burst of productivity now that Baby T is in full-day pre-k three days a week. On a more modest level, of course–it means that instead of bare survival, I get “nice to do” things done as well.

    I even suggested this morning that we could host one of the spring departmental potlucks, which would have been incredibly intimidating even just a few months ago.

    “I know he’s sweating his way through college level calc right now, but it’s not in front of me, so I can’t worry about it. Much.”

    And he doesn’t need to be fantastic at as many things at once as you’re expected to in high school.

    “He’s getting a good and appropriate education right now. He’s super happy.”

    Very good! A good school makes everything easier.

  2. Regrettably, our daughter’s first college experience wasn’t so good, so the stress level did not diminish: she came home a lot, and we had to help with a whole second round of college applications. All not what I had expected. But what Laura says has been true since she transferred to a college where she was happy. And, what is even more, and which I have mentioned, once they graduate college, the financial strain diminishes too.

    I’m not sure things have ever been that different. Certainly John Winthrop’s children caused him plenty of stress and heartache in their late teens and early twenties. Peasants don’t leave diaries and letters, so it’s hard to know if things were easier for them, but I wouldn’t assume that to be true.

  3. I still send weekly e-mails to the 15 year old’s teachers making sure he’s keeping up, but so far, so good. Unemployed husband has been taking over so many of the driving chores that I actually don’t want him to get a job. (Lying.) (But man, I am not looking forward to dealing with driving again *plus* next term I teach during normal pickup times, which means I will have to wrangle post-Math Team Practice rides for the kid who can’t ask for himself.)

  4. I do think that parent stress is a part of the human condition. Once we have food and shelter it seems like the next step is to stress about the condition of our children. I think we mostly fantasize that in another era, another person that stress doesn’t occur. I’m willing to consider that the stress is spread around the children and so that it’s less concentrated when there are more children, but I’m not sure of that.

    I think it’s wonderful that you feel relatively relaxed now and downright exciting that you feel that school is serving your children well right now.

  5. We supported Youngest graduating at 19 even though she could have stayed in her high school until 21. She was ready to move on, but the outside world wasn’t entirely ready for her to move into it, despite all the work and support that our university’s Accessibility Services has done.

    It’s effectively now my second year of serving as Youngest’s university EA (Mike also does his share) – taking her to classes, sitting outside the class in case the professor needs our intervention, reminding her of her homework & assignment protocols, providing emotional support when exams are too stressful, even in the solitary room of the Accessibility Services offices, etc. I’m eagerly anticipating next term when a) I’m on sabbatical so I don’t have to work around my own teaching schedule, only my research activities and b) she’s only taking three classes, not four. (Four really is too many for us to juggle, but they open all the doors she might want to explore in her CS studies over the next several years so I understand why she’s working so hard but it’s hard on all of us.)

    In other words, I really get what you’re saying about parental stress and noticing how that comes and goes in ways that normal family stories don’t usually document. (Let’s also never talk about the stress of supporting someone applying to grad school and for grad scholarships. Never, ever, ever. Ever.)

  6. Laura said:

    “Now, each bathroom has its own color. The boys have white, so I can bleach the towels every month.”

    We also have color-coded bathrooms. In my case, it’s mostly so the towel division would be equitable, rather than some bathrooms being towel-rich and some being towel-poor.

    “I rearranged our bedroom furniture. All these little girlie changes make me very happy.”

    We switched D’s and Baby T’s rooms this summer, did the obligatory IKEA trip, and are in the process of putting in a non-fire trap window in D’s bedroom (which having started life as an office, did not have a window that opened). D (a 12-year-old boy) now has what is indisputably the most elegant room in our home.

    I’ve also moved from having my bag be a backpack containing adult Tylenol, Benadryl, wallet, baby wipes, at least two spare diapers, emergency plastic bags, sun block, change of clothes for Baby T, sun hat for me, sun hat for Baby T, small Purell, tiny first aid kit, cell phone, etc. to carrying a much lighter medium-weight purse ($28 on sale and about 10″ X 10″) that contains a new wallet, cell phone, sun glasses, and a pocket with a few stickies, pen pencil, coupons and shopping lists. The new stuff weighs practically nothing. I still have a backpack with expedition supplies, but it’s usually in the car, not being toted everywhere. Nothing terrible has happened yet.

    “Schools shouldn’t make us sad, but they do. That’s crazy.”

    It’s responsibility for other people that makes us fretful.

    Homeschool is no bed of roses, either.

  7. Thanks for letting those of us who are in the thick of it know there may be light at the end of the tunnel. I lost my shit on Monday night when both boys screwed up in semi-big ways. It was the night before my birthday so I may have said something along the lines of – happy f’in birthday to me. Not my proudest parenting moment.

  8. Ooooh, good stuff! NOW, yeah, acne cream DESTROYS towels! 😦 I got my son another nice grey towel (we each have our color coded towels), but it’s already bleached out.

    Good thing that, until now, it’s been easy to keep my sophomore on track to be accepted to college. He’s even taking a semi-AP class this semester, which should help boost his already quite high GPA. Tiny private high school with boarding students helps too (main reason we moved to this tiny town, 17 miles away from my husband’s university and 80 from mine — I didn’t have that job when we moved here). We’ll see how it goes. He is spending way too much time on Minecraft and recording & editing videos for his youtube channel (and this week I found out he’s been playing at his work in school where he is one of the IT guys — totally not acceptable), so we’re going to have to take care of that… Sigh…

    I’m so happy for you that you’re getting to do more girly things. I wish I could get a manicure every week! A couple of years ago I was actually painting my own nails bright colors and that made me so happy, but I just haven’t had the head space to do that in the past year and a half, which depresses me. I hope you get to buy those great shoes!!

  9. We got a pass on some of this: it became clear by middle school that our lads were notnotnot going to comport themselves so they could go to Princeton, and Virginia has a slew of very nice public universities with relatively easy admission. There were some stupid incidents, a couple of court dates, but generally not much scathed. Our youngest is far more social than academic, and there is some ongoing stress about that. Middle and high schools were walkable from home, that helped. And, no travel sports!

  10. I’m in a bit of a different space currently: I’m a parent and I don’t feel particularly stressed. I guess I feel some stress but it seems totally manageable and in line with the amount I felt at other points in my life. I’ve wondered why I am less stressed than many parents I know and I the two things I’ve come up with are my own childhood experiences and overall temperament.

    My parents divorced in the early 80’s when I was quite young. They both struggled mightily, financially and emotionally, as a result of that event. Neither of them either remarried, or ever even really dated, so they never had another primary adult to turn to for support. That lack of support really showed in their parenting, which was stressed and remained that way for most of my childhood. By comparison, I am much better off, my parenting life is quite a bit easier than theirs was, my children much more comfortable. I feel very fortunate that things have been much easier for me than it was for my parents.

    I also think I’m not as involved a parent as many of the people here. I prefer a more hands off approach that stresses independence. Having two fairly typical kids is a luxury and privilege that allows me to be hands off . Perhaps this will change as they get older. Right now, I am focusing on developing the life skills of my two elementary school-aged boys. Laundry, cooking, house cleaning, yardwork, managing their own homework, personal finances. It is a bit of a slog but not really stressful and I am starting to see positive results of those efforts, which is gratifying.

    1. I do think this particular form of parental stress, which is the stress that comes of worrying about whether you are doing “everything you can” for your children ramps up a bit when they get older. Their needs and wants become greater, for example. And, the judgement, and access to those wants becomes more difficult (programs they apply for and don’t get, sports teams they don’t make).

      I do think the personality that rejects the notion that you should do “everything you can”, especially when you have lots of resources and choices at your disposal, decreases parent stress. I remain surprised, though at the number of parents, even otherwise easy-going, capable, balanced parents (me included), who find themselves channeling other personality when thinking about their children. I am generally pretty capable of making decisions and moving on with my choices, but when it comes to my kids, I’m a lot more likely to second guess myself.

      1. “I remain surprised, though at the number of parents, even otherwise easy-going, capable, balanced parents (me included), who find themselves channeling other personality when thinking about their children”.

        This is why it’s SOOOO important to be hanging with like-minded parents. I’ve felt that stress too at times – better be in the right extracurriculars and not only the right ones, better be operating at the highest level! You’re child is vaguely interested in basket weaving? Better get the weaving tutor, the weaving summer camp, and entry into gold level weaving. Look at all the other kids in advanced basket weaving! Gotta keep up!

        Maybe they just want to weave.

        So for me part of the answer is to be around parents who value hard work, following your passions, etc. but also value family time, time to get bored, etc. Knowing parents/families who are actively staying off the hamster wheel. People who are a gut check when the anxiety starts to rise.

        It’s similar to when in university on the morning of an important exam you avoided the people who were all about how they stayed up ALL night studying and OMG did you read this obscure article or do that other thing over there? You didn’t? You’re failing for sure! La la la la I’m not listening…

        We’re in the midst of high school applications and there are so many choices! Public high school in our catchment and outside of it. Speciality mini schools within the public high schools that specialize in arts or sports or academics or humanities or leadership, etc. Private high schools. Entrance exam for the public mini schools + portfolio prep. SSAT for the private high schools. “Your child started prepping for it 6 months ago and yours only started 3 months ago????”

        ::::anxiety increases::::

        It’s so easy to get caught up in it all when in reality, there aren’t any horrible choices. My girl won’t “accidentally” get in the ice hockey mini school (oops, never learned to play hockey, what’ll I do now?). In other words, her choices are all good and she’ll have a fine experience, albeit different, in each of the public, mini, and private high schools that she is considering.

        Net net, there’ll be enough “valid” stressors (learning challenges, financial issues, family issues, health, etc) that come along in all of our lives – don’t need to take on someone else’s additional unwarranted worries.

      2. “I am generally pretty capable of making decisions and moving on with my choices, but when it comes to my kids, I’m a lot more likely to second guess myself.”

        ^This^ I sometimes think being a parent means constantly doubting yourself. My two are out of the house and I still do the what if thing.

      3. Loose cigarets? In genteel Arlington, the schools went on a jihad against bad food etc and banned Coke. That is, Coca-Cola. Well, my number two figured out that he could double his money by buying a twelve-pack at Seven-Eleven and selling them individually in the hallways, until he was busted by the Dean of Boys. Budding entrepreneur, HE was. I expect great things of him…

  11. Dave S I kind of respect your son. One of my managers was in high school in the 70s when there were a lot of stay at home mothers in his blue collar Latino community in Los Angelos. (Very like where I grew up). Since his mom was one of the few with a job he had a business going where he would “rent” his house for an hour is so to students who wanted privacy for a tryst, as students were allowed to leave campus during the day. One day his burly scary longshoreman father came home and caught a couple, ending that business.

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