The stress of parenting

"Helpful" people love telling parents to relax. Easy for them to say

Ever been in a situation like this? Your in-laws are planning a birthday dinner for 7:30 and you request an earlier mealtime because your toddler, who has just stopped napping, sometimes falls asleep in his mashed potatoes at 5:45. Someone says, “Oh, relax! He’ll be fine.” Perhaps, but you know if there’s a meltdown, the buck stops with you.

What does just relax mean anyway? Cross your fingers? Don’t worry, he won’t get sleepy? Ignore your kid if he’s creating a ruckus? What?

Sure, relaxing is good for you — who would argue with that? But people (often those who don’t have little kids) usually tell you to relax at moments when it’s virtually impossible to do so, like when you’re already frazzled to the bone from trying to steer a tired and cranky toddler through a decidedly toddler-unfriendly situation, such as your fourth-cousin-by-marriage’s wedding. The implication is that “relaxing” will magically fix the situation. But, actually, it’s the opposite. Fixing the situation helps you relax.

“Relax” is often a blaming word, code for: The problem isn’t that you have a legitimate concern about your child’s behaviour or needs, it’s that you’re uptight. In other words, your child is fine — you’re the problem.

Being told to relax usually has the opposite effect. Whatever was bugging you before is still bugging you. Only now you feel stupid and guilty too.
Let’s stop the insanity now! Quick, somebody start a Facebook group called Parents Who Don’t Want to Be Told to Relax. But seriously, next time someone admonishes you to relax in a tense moment, ignore it for the BS that it is and try to keep your cool while navigating whatever problem it is that’s making it hard for you to…you know.

The time to truly relax is when we’ve dealt with or removed the stressors. Admittedly, parents (and other busy people) can easily forget to do this. In an unstressful moment, think about what helps you feel relaxed. That could be many things: an adults-only breakfast out on a weekend morning, a yoga class, running, exchanging babysitting with a friend, a quiet hour at your place of worship or hanging out with other like-minded families who help you feel good about yourself. Give yourself permission to do those things.

It’s also OK to relax (oops, sorry) your standards from time to time when you’re at a low ebb: letting your kids have an hour more of screen time than usual, or letting them have two cookies instead of one. Parenting is an ongoing struggle between sticking to long-term goals and just doing what it takes to get through the next five minutes. Give-and-take is normal.

Of course, what parents really need in tough moments is help. So listen to helpers rather than advice givers. And, on top of that, we should all just relax…d’oh!