Parenting Tips: Be a Good Mom in High-stress Times

A new study says that moms who are depressed or hostile tend to under- or over-react to their children. How can you counteract these effects in your own parenting?

Credit: Flickr/seychelles88

Being a nurturing mom is tough when you’re under siege, researchers find

According to a new study, highly stressed moms who become depressed or hostile are bad news not only for themselves, but also for their kids

The University of Rochester study found that of 153 moms of toddlers around a year and a half in age, the moms with markers of depression had the highest incidence of harsh, hostile or angry parenting behaviours during free play sessions in a lab. Poor moms from high-crime neighbourhoods, by contrast, had underperforming stress responses: they tended not to react to their children at all, ignoring them, or else taking over the play.

We all know you can’t eliminate stress from your life. Even relatively well-off, comfortable parents are stretched, working longer hours for fewer wages than ever to meet high BC mortgage payments and trying to cram in parenting, housekeeping, family time and errands in the few hours left in the week. Add in eldercare, poverty, a hostile neighbourhood or your own depression and you’ve created a toxic parenting mix. So what to do?

Caring for Yourself – And Your Child

  1. Recognize the problem. There’s no shame in being highly stressed or facing challenging circumstances, but you do need to understand how these challenges impact your behaviour toward your child.
  2. Problem-solve. Incredibly high-stress situations, like trying to live on welfare or combat a bedbug infestation single-handed, can be intensely trying. Each day, think of the next thing you can do to help, even a bit. Then do it.
  3. Halve your stress by sharing. Work against isolation by getting together with other moms in similar circumstances, allowing kids to play together and moms to support each other. Join a support group, put up a notice in your building or on Craigslist, or ask moms you meet at the park if they’d like to meet regularly.
  4. Get out of the house. You’ll be less frustrated, your child won’t look to you alone for stimulation, and being in public means you’re less likely to treat your child harshly. Check out your local YM/YWCA, community centre, church, or library for play groups, drop-ins, and storytimes.
  5. Eat regular, homemade meals. It seems basic, but a good diet of high-fibre, healthy fare can really cushion stressed mom mood swings. Try this simple, cheap, warming and homey lentil soup recipe.