parenting stress
Credit jgbarah Creative Commons 2.0

 

Parenting Stress -Unintended Consequences

 

This post is unlikely to be featured on any major parenting blogs. It is disturbing and parental guidance is recommended. Yet, the phenomenon described herein is so compelling and so disturbing, that it must be brought to light. The world must consider the important question….

Do children physically constipate their parents? 

I actually did a little research on the topic of parenting stress before this post (I know, right?). Apparently, there is much written on the impact of a parent’s stress on kids. The bottom line – you can jack them up real bad if you are wound up. It was like the American Psychological Association wants me, as the parent, to take the responsibility for the relationship! 

In contrast, my question is, what have my kids done to me? How has almost seven weeks of summer break impacted my world and my body?

 

Great Kids, Long Summer

 

I love my kids – I do. This text is in no way intended to minimize that fact. The three of them are wonderful. And yet, I observed something this week that is clear scientific evidence of an enigmatic fact – I “clench” when they are near.  Yeah, that’s right. I “clench”. Do you remember the famous line from the Shawshank Redemption where Morgan Freeman confesses that he can’t squeeze a drop without say-so? Well, my kids hold similar power over me.

Why? Perhaps the clench is because I am like a great athlete poised to perform. Like Tim Howard of US Soccer fame, prepping to launch his body towards a hard strike. Like a jedi knight when the Force has alerted him to the presence of danger. When I am in parenting mode, coiled and in action……I can’t poop. 

Too much information, you screech? I hear you. But, think about it. Where was the toilet on the Millennium Falcon? I never saw one.

 

Stress Evidence 

During summertime when the kids are out of school, I scramble around in the morning to make breakfast, cheerfully greet them and attempt to direct them to activities more meaningful than 12 hours of Minecraft. The process takes time. Preparing a gourmet breakfast of frozen sausage biscuits or pop-tarts is art, baby! Don’t rush it. Then, once the days trajectory is established and my children are all set to either read the classics, create works of art or do self-directed learning activities I begin my workday…..

Look, Hunger Games will someday be a classic, playing soduku is sort of artistic and I’m sure they learn something from YouTube… 

Yes, the days trajectory is exquisitely established. After one of my kids utilizes his third clean glass of the day within 30 minutes, I vaguely recall that we own a pet who needs to be let out and the gourmet breakfast is disposed of (“you didn’t finish your eggos”…..). I finally retire to my office desk in the basement and exhale. I begin typing – sometimes for as long as two minutes – and nature calls. Like, every time. 

I un-clench.

“Good” Parent?

I generally think I am a good parent (whatever that means). It even feels easy sometimes. But if that is true, when “parenting”, why are my intestines knotted up like a Tennessee football player taking a final exam? Like a politician hooked up to a polygraph? Like a husband who forgot his anniversary?

Clearly, it isn’t easy and my body is responding to internal parenting stress. My job doesn’t affect me the same way. If it did I would’ve been hospitalized by now. Traffic? I can deal (most of the time). Airports? I’m getting better. Public speaking? I love it despite a butterfly or two. But parenting? Invisible stress seems to grip me.

According to the American Institute of Stress (yes, its real), stress is very subjective and its effects reveal themselves in diverse ways in different people. My parenting stress ailment? It’s number 16 of 50 in their symptoms of stress list. They go on to say that “Contemporary stress tends to be more pervasive, persistent and insidious because it stems primarily from psychological than physical threats.  It is associated with ingrained and immediate reactions over which we have no control.” Great.

Like the causes, they also indicate that stress relief is very individualized. Exercise and fresh air (generally recommended) may work fantastic for one person, but do little for another. Perhaps this is part of the reason we end up seeking counterfeits.

 

Can Faith and Stress Co-exist?

Stress doesn’t indicate an absence of faith. God never promised us escape from stress, but faith does help you through it and there is scientific proof to support that statement.  

When it comes to parenting, my stress reveals self-reliance. It stems from a subconscious belief that if I screw the kids up, they can’t be fixed (the Redeemer would disagree). It stems from a conscious belief that this task…the task of training these little gifts God gave me is way, way, way beyond me. It comes from knowing I can’t control the outcome of this monumental task.

What if they fail to fulfill their potential?

What if they choose a path other than the one God has for them?

What if…..?

The truth is, even God has chosen not to control them. I can influence. I can empathize. I can listen and, occasionally, during a teachable moment, I can speak into their hearts. Just like He does with us. But it stops there. God gave them freewill just as He gave it to me. Its a tough gift to give, but the right gift to give.

Part of the Story

I have been privileged since “going public” as a writer to connect with more people and hear more stories. Some of them are average, every-man kind of stories (like mine); some of them are funny stories you can’t possibly make up (like a good friend accidentally laundering their cat), others are stories that bear the fingerprints of God – stories of survival through tough times. Stories of new hope. Stories of renewed faith.

My children, and yours, will live in all of these stories. Some days will be filled with mundane tasks. Some days will hold laughter so intense their insides ache. Some days will hold pain just as intense. I cannot shield them from any of it. Even if I could, would it really be in their best interests?

Through it all, He is there. He is good. His love remains undeniable. True for me. True for them. His grace for us is sufficient for any trouble (2 Corinthians 12:9).

These are the things I have time to think about when I unclench….What do you think about? How has parenting stress or facing other challenging tasks affected you? Please comment below.

May His peace and grace be upon you and upon all your household.

Jeff

Jeff McKinney
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