If we look after ourselves, we have a greater chance of coping with stress and looking after our children well. Healthy parents, healthy children. If we can balance our own health and wellbeing with other elements of our life such as work, pleasure, relationships and personal growth, we have a good chance of dealing with the challenges that are thrown our way. Are we too busy to look after ourselves? Do we put the balance out of kilter by working too much, for instance, and not devoting any time to ourselves? Again, if this is what we show our children, this is likely to be what they will copy. Do we want them to grow up believing work is all that is important? We must make time for ourselves. If we are bringing up children alone, we especially need time out. Ask friends and family to help look after the children when you need time for yourself – and not just so you can do the shopping or complete chores. Sometimes you will just need a break to relax alone.
Keep in touch with friends, join groups and get involved in activities outside the home. If you have a partner, nurture the relationship. Sometimes the best thing a child can have is parents with a stable and loving relationship. Make time for your relationship, as you do for your children. Share the load of parenthood and discuss how you might better cope with the stresses together.
Healthy parents, healthy children
Enjoy parenting and congratulate yourselves regularly for what you are achieving with your children. Share your children’s achievements as a family. A Child, Youth and Family booklet called, ‘There are No Super-parents’ suggests parents who feel good about themselves:
- Play with the children and set aside family “happy times”.
- Have supportive family members and community networks.
- Have a goal in life.
- Do some sort of regular exercise.
- Have hobbies.
- Get a good feeling when they do well.
- Accept that small mistakes happen from time to time, and learn from them.
- Provide healthy food for their family.
- Look for ways to get the best out of people, instead of concentrating on their faults.
New Zealanders have always been proud of their sporting prowess and “give-it-a-go” attitude. Now more than ever, however, it is recognised that participation in sport and leisure activities is good not only for the individual, but also for the community. People involved in regular sport or leisure activities get fit, generally have healthier lifestyles, meet people, find a sense of value in fair play, set goals, enjoy the outdoors. Though time is often limited, it’s well worth the effort of joining a local sports group or just getting some regular exercise out walking with a friend. Such activities give you the opportunity to get away from the stresses of home life, and help you better cope with them when you get back. Make time for leisure. Work out with your partner how much time you will spend away – and whether it will involve social activities after the game or walk. You might have to compromise so you both have a chance to participate. Think about coaching or refereeing sports teams. Most clubs and organisations will provide training. Consider also social and cultural activities. Expand your mind as well as your skills and self esteem by joining a local drama group, an ethnic group or a book club. Ask around or visit your local community centre to see what activities are in your area. Making contacts through community or sports groups can be enormously valuable. You will find new friends, perhaps someone to confide in when you need to, someone who might get you a job or one better than the one you are in now… the possibilities are endless.
How to tell if you’re not coping
The Child, Youth and Family booklet, ‘There are No Super-parents’ says it’s normal to have bad feelings every now and then. However, when they seem to be taking over, it’s time to talk about them and ask for help. The warning signs that tell us it’s time to slow down, take a break or ask for help can be:
- If you have more bad feelings than good, and they seem to be lasting longer and getting stronger.
- If you can’t face getting out of bed in the mornings – a real dread of coping with the new day.
- If you cry more than usual and you feel confused about this.
- If you have feelings of anger, panic or despair when the baby cries and you feel like you might lose control and hit the child or try to hurt them.
- If you can’t think of any fun things to do with the child. You feel too depressed and exhausted.
- If you feel utterly trapped and alone and can’t talk to anyone because no one understands. • If you think the child would be better off without you.
- If you feel anxious and then angry when the baby cries.
- If you and your partner are arguing a lot or fighting.
- If your partner leaves you alone to cope when you have problems with your children.
- If you feel angry when the child dirties a nappy.
- If you feel one of the children is especially bad.
- If you are afraid to be alone with your child.
- If you feel there are times when you can’t cope and have no one to turn to.
- If you feel the children demand too much when you get home from work
- If you leave the house when the children are arguing or crying.
Child, Youth and Family also says fathers especially should recognise warning signs such as:
- If you find it hard to show any feelings except angry or sexual feelings.
- If you feel you’re only a money machine that must grind on.
- If you’d rather go to the pub than go home and face the kids.
- If you feel it’s not your job to help your partner change nappies or do the housework.
- If you feel it’s your partner’s job to look after the children.
- If you are hitting or hurting your partner or children or finding it hard to control your anger.
- If you always feel frustrated and unimportant after dealing with your boss or other people in power.
- If you feel you have no power over your life.
Alcohol and drugs
Anyone who has been a parent knows it’s not an easy task. When things get on top of you, turning to drugs and/or alcohol will not provide the help you need. The effects of drugs and alcohol on your health and the way they affect your judgment are well documented. You are not looking after yourself if you take illegal drugs or overindulge in alcohol. Your ability to operate effectively as a responsible parent can be significantly affected. If your doctor prescribes drugs for a medical condition, ask how they will affect you and your ability to look after your children. If you already have difficulty coping, tell your doctor. If you have a problem or someone close to you has a problem with drugs or alcohol, seek help. Call one of the help agencies listed on this website and take the first step to improving your and your family’s health and well-being.