Mama Bear: Amazing Moms Dealing with Stress

Thank you for joining me this week for Revive Family’s Connecting Hearts Blog as we continue in the series “Mama Bear – Amazing Moms.”

Last week we looked at the study that shows that the average mom works about 98 hours a week or 2.5 full time jobs. In many ways, moms are stronger than dads. They use more words every day than men, they have more emotional bandwidth, and clearly they have stamina to put in these kinds of hours. So I tip my hat to you moms out there who are listening. Dads, listen, this series is important for you too!

If you missed last week’s kickoff, I’d encourage you to go back and read or listen to it on our site. It was a really important blog for both moms and dads because it talks about the impact all these hours can have on moms. Dads, in this first session we see why it’s really important for our moms to get breaks.

When Moms are not Happy, Families are not Happy

Moms are amazing! They serve as the center of our families while facing more pressure and time constraints than ever before. According to all the research, this leaves many moms feeling weary, maybe even isolated or on the verge of burnout. The sheer number of hours that moms work, the pressure to be ‘super mom’ and the pressure that moms tend to put on themselves can take the joy out of life. If moms aren’t happy, research shows that families aren’t happy.

This week we’re going to talk about dealing with the stress and isolation a mom can experience.

One study shows that the average mom works 98 hours a week or 2.5 jobs. The hours a mom works outside the home has increased from nine to twenty-five hours over the past few decades and the average number of hours directly spent investing in childcare has also increased from ten to fourteen hours. These facts are stressful in their own right.

There are a number of contributing causes that have led to the increased hours that moms are working. One is a simple, economic factor; the cost of living has significantly gone up. Another is the societal pressure to be ‘super mom’ that can leave moms’ feeling guilty even when they’re putting in more time than their predecessors did. Add a mom’s inherent protective instincts and a mom can feel like she is on a treadmill that will never end.

Too Tired to Sleep!

All these hours and pressure can leave moms at risk for burnout, which leads to emotionally distancing from their kids. It can also cause a gradual developing cynicism that increases negativity about their kids,, families, and lives. It can even lead some to seek more and more responsibility, often alienating their spouse by moving them out of parenting. Although burnout is physical and emotional exhaustion, it is often accompanied by having difficulty sleeping, being too tired to sleep!

If you’d like to learn more about burnout, it’s validity, what causes it, and answers that you can use in your life, I’d encourage you to listen to my podcast, the importance of downtime. The podcast will help you understand the roots of burnout, it’s psychological validity and what you can do in your life to prevent burnout. If you’d like to listen to that podcast, please go to ReviveFamily.com. Use our contact form and contact me with the simple message “burnout.” I’ll send you a link so you can listen to that podcast.

For some moms out there, just listening to this may have stressed you out, so I apologize. It’s vitally important for you to understand the workload you’re under, the importance of taking a break, and what causes burnout so you can avoid it. Burnout will negatively impact your life and your family.

This week we’re looking at the sources of stress and isolation, as well as things you can do to manage stress. The insights will hopefully begin to alter your perspective of your role and make it easier to take the pressure off yourself and get those breaks that research is showing you moms need.

Stress Comes in Many Forms

One of the things that can create a lot of stress for moms is the sense that they either need to be with their child or constantly in touch with or tracking him/her. This protective drive to be with your child or know where they are adds a lot of stress in the form of worry or guilt. It is a constant energy drain.

Unconscious Fear

I’ve discovered from working with moms that all the perceived dangers in our society that might enter our kids’ lives can result in many moms’, and yes dads as well, having a high level of unconscious fear. Fear is stress. Just like real bears in the wilderness, moms are instinctively protective. The last thing you want to do is get between a mama bear and her cub. This protective instinct is there for a reason, especially for little kids. Little kids will do some of the craziest things like touch a hot stove or step into the street in front of a car.

One Christmas, we gave our two girls an electric vehicle, one they could both sit in and ride. I’ll never forget Jennifer who would hop in, hit our driveway and just drive into our street without even thinking about a car. She’s our social butterfly, easily distracted. She never looked where she was going; she would happily wave and smile while driving right into the middle of the street without looking for a car.

Moms are hardwired to fear things that could hurt, damage or lure their kids away from them. Moms who have kids’ approaching adolescence, 9, 10, 11, 12, who start to seek more autonomy, can experience more stress or fear. The challenge today is that when we perceive the world as dangerous, we become numb to the fear we have and do not realize how it is impacting us.

I want to share a short story from when I was doing a church event. Most of the time there is one staff member, but at this church, the entire staff was there, including the senior pastor.

Moms Ask Really Frank and Hard Questions

I love doing events in churches with parents because after every session, I leave a chunk of time for Q and A. I believe parents really open up because I’m so transparent in my teaching. Frankly they ask a lot of really hard questions, which I truly enjoy answering. I’ve found these times have been beneficial for me as well as for how our programs impact families.

“The Fear in this Room is Palpable”

The senior pastor sat through the entire conference and the Q and A. The Q and A lasted about 45 minutes before the pastor said, “Hey Jeff, can I share something?” I said, “Sure.” He stood up and said, I had no idea how afraid you are. The fear in this room is palpable. This surprised many of the parents because they thought they were just being wise. He was shocked at their level of fear and how it affected their approach with their kids. He went on to say, ”I’ve listened to Jeff and what he teaches related to the Good Shepherd and why He had influence in the disciples’ lives that protected them. I’ve got to say, I’ve been convicted and I’m going to be changing everything I’m doing with my two daughters.” He continued to talk about why we shouldn’t live in fear.

Many Realized They Were Making Decisions out of Fear

What was surprising to me was watching the audience’s reaction to what the pastor had to say. I think many truly realized for the first time that many of the decisions they were making were rooted in fear. Their questions were rooted in what ifs and worst-case scenarios, which is a stressful way to live and certified to damage the relationships with their kids. Why? Because their kids do not feel listened to, believed in and trusted. They end up feeling controlled which leads to an unhealthy desire for freedom from their parents. I spent a great deal of time addressing their fear because fear has really negative impacts on health as well as emotional wellbeing.

On a site called taking charge of your health. (https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu) There is an article, The Impact of Fear and Anxiety. Its subtitle is, Facing Fear and Anxiety at Home. The article did a good job of defining fear and how it can have a negative impact on us and our families. It states that fear is a human emotion triggered by a perceived threat. Moms and dads, I know we see threats in our kids’ friends, in social media, in online predators and the list goes on and on. The article goes on to describe that fear is a basic survival mechanism that signals our bodies to respond to danger with a fight or flight response. Basically, it’s an essential part of keeping us safe, but research shows living in constant fear, whether from physical dangers, environmental threats, or perceived threats, people can literally become incapacitated. When fear is triggered, it literally releases hormones that slow down or shut down function in our bodies that aren’t needed for survival such as the digestive system.

So if you’re dealing with chronic issues digestively, perhaps you need to step back and look at how much you are living in unconscious fear. These hormones also sharpen functions that help us survive, such as eyesight. Our heart rate increases, our blood flow to the muscles increases so that we can run faster, which can also enhance our frustration or anger responses. This is why parenting or reacting out of fear is not a good plan if you want to have a great relationship with your kid.

Fear will Damage the Influence we have in our Kids’ Lives

Fear will damage the influence parents have in their kids’ lives and prevent influence like Jesus had with the people and disciples of His time. The article goes on to describe how fear impacts our thinking. Once fear is encountered and the hormones are released, the pathways in the brain react in predictable ways. The first thing that happens is the brain actually short circuit more rational processing paths. The brain reacts immediately to signals from the situation instead of taking time to approach things with more rational processing. In this over-reactive state, the brain tends to perceive things negatively, even if there are significant positive signals within whatever the event is that triggered the fear.

Moms, your job is difficult enough already. Don’t add misperceptions and fear to the equation that only make it more difficult to be moms whose kids will come to, listen to and be secured by. Let’s look objectively at the impact of fear.

Living under fear has serious health consequences: cardiovascular damage, irritable bowel syndrome, decreased fertility, and accelerated aging. Even premature death can be tied to living in fear. Fear also can impair long-term memory and cause damage to certain parts of the brain such as the hippocampus.

This is the reason parents need to stop and assess how afraid they are for their kids. How does fear impact your interaction and your relationship with them? If your relationship is eroding because you are making decisions out of a fear or what ifs, your stress level will increase and harm your relationship. In fact, research shows that fear can also interrupt processes in our brain that allow us to regulate our emotions and read nonverbal cues from our kids. This can result in our overreacting and not listening, which hurts our kids.   

How do we Address Fear?

A big part of addressing fear is changing our perspective, our perspective of the world, our perspective of our role as parents and our perspective of our kids. If our goal is to raise adults who are ready for life on their own, we need to be teaching them how to perceive things, how to read situations, and how to protect themselves as opposed to trying to jump in and protect them ourselves. Why? It is physically impossible for us to protect our kids all the time. They need to learn how to protect themselves. We must start equipping our kids and believing they are capable, smart, and desire not to be hurt. We need to trust that they will make good decisions if and when we support and believe in them.

Yes, there are a lot of dangers in our culture, but they’re not as many as we might think. In fact, statistics from the Department of Justice show that it is 30% safer today for kids than when we grew up. And no, this is not because parents are monitoring or helicoptering their kids. Those kids are working with their friends to get around their parents rules and restrictions and leading very devious, deceptive dual lives that actually put them in more danger.

It is Safer Today

Why is it safer today? Unlike in the 70s and 80s stories about crimes against kids are actually covered by media. As a result the crimes are taken more seriously, sentences are sever, sexual predator lists are kept and made public, and the consequences for those incarcerated for theses crimes are sever with in the prisons themselves. So the deterrents are greater than they’ve ever been.

It’s safer out there for our kids than we believe, especially if we have a great relationship with them. If we’re talking with them and helping them learn to protect themselves as opposed to our trying to control them, research confirms we are doing the right thing.   

Parents Can Relax

In an article “10 new things science says about being a mom,” put out by Smithsonian Institute, there are a number of things that science indicates that can help us relax including how much time a mom needs to spend with her child. It doesn’t matter as much as we may think. The article states that quality rules. Research published in the April issue of ‘The Journal of Marriage and Family’ confirms that the quantity of time parents spend with their children doesn’t make much of a difference in how they turn out, particularly during what would seem to be the impressionable ages between three and eleven. The quantity of parent-child time actually matters more with teenagers.

More one-on-one time can help adolescents stay out of trouble, but it’s not as critical with kids between three and eleven. Overall, research suggests that what is important is the quality of time spent together. What makes a difference? How warm and affectionate a mom is with her child. This should help moms consider giving their kids more autonomy, independence.

Autonomy is Important

Research shows that the amount of autonomy our kids have is important for the development of their decision-making and confidence. Autonomy also contributes significantly to their psychological health according to the studies. So if you’re one of those moms who thinks she must spend more time with her kid, perhaps that’s not the case. Instead, focus on finding those warm, special times that communicate affection to your child.

This should be good news for working moms. In fact, a Harvard study said kids of working moms grow up just as happy as kids of stay-at-home moms. Perhaps this is because they naturally end up with a bit more independence. In another section of the Smithsonian article, a little math with your dinner, researchers found that young kids whose mothers talk with them about math at home, particularly during meals, tend to end up with better math skills. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that when moms did more than their kids to count, they talked about measurements and recipes or counted money with them, those children developed better math skills at a younger age. Moms do not need to cut out more time to teach math to their kids.

Involve Them in Daily Activities

Simply involve them in your life when you’re in the kitchen, show them how to measure things or when you’re at the store, show them the total on the cash register screen and your bills and change. Our kids learn way more by living life with us than they do by being taught or lectured. So take the pressure off of being ‘super mom’ and just involve your kids as you’re going through your daily routines.

Here’s some strategies that can help you manage stress, from the article, “Parenting: Being a Super Mom Stressing You Out?” The first step is to understand how you experience stress. This takes self- reflection and asking yourself questions like, “How do you know when you’re stressed?” How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you aren’t feeling stressed? Everyone experiences stress differently, and so taking time to reflect and identify the sources of stress, the times when you do feel stressed and how your thoughts and behaviors change can be a huge benefit, especially for a mom’s interaction with her kids.

The article suggests that you:

  • Identify the triggers that lead to your stressful feelings. Are they related to your children, your family, your health, financial decisions, work, relationships, or something else?
  • Recognize how you deal with stress.
  • Determine if you’re using unhealthy behaviors to cope with stress and being a parent.

The article also asks, “Do you make unhealthy choices as a result of feeling rushed or overwhelmed?” This can relate not just to eating or a tendency to get frustrated with oneself, but it can also lead to unhealthy communication patterns with your kids. Part of managing stress is actually taking time to look at everything in your life, prioritize, and be willing to sacrifice some of the things that aren’t a real priority so you are not as rushed, not as pressured in life.

Prioritize and Delegate

It is important to include your kids when you are prioritizing and delegating responsibilities, but the way to do that is not through chores. Include them by talking about your stress, by being transparent with them and asking them for help. That will tug at kids’ heart and their internal desire to help you. Then, work to find healthy ways to manage your stress.

Consider stress reducing activities like taking a short walk, exercising, talking things out with friends, sharing your feelings with your family. All of these serve as a way of venting. Combine these with changing your perspective related to your kids’ capabilities and their ability to protect themselves and our role to train them to protect themselves. The result will be reduced fear and stress. When you start to realize what causes stress and the things you need to change it is important that you don’t try and tackle everything at once. That will overwhelm, stress, and cause you to not make any progress. Choose one thing you want to work on. Work on that and then tackle the next.

The article goes on to say that if stress, anxiety or fear is a constant thing and you’re not experiencing success getting over it, you may need professional help. There are counselors who you can work with, but you can also work with coaches here at Revive Family. Decreasing fear and stress is really important because that will protect you from burnout. It will help you respond and think more clearly as opposed to react and overreact with your kids, which can do so much damage to your relationship with them. Next week we’ll talk about great moms and what you can do to raise happy, caring kids without spending more time. In fact, I believe the research gives parents insights as to how they can actually spend less time and end up with happier, caring, more successful kids. Thanks for joining me, Jeff Schadt, for Revive Family’s Connecting Hearts. We’ll be back next week with more of “Mama Bear – Amazing Moms.” Have a great week!

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