The first time I ventured out of the house with three kids, I tried to plan for anything that could possibly go wrong. I brought extra clothes for my newly potty-trained toddler and the newborn who was prone to blowouts, and I had a lengthy pep talk with my preschooler about being Mommy’s big helper.
Honestly, the whole outing went surprisingly well. No one had a tantrum, we made it out of the store and back home before the newborn wanted to nurse again, and I never had to break out the spare clothes I had packed.
Even though things went as well as I could have hoped, I still returned home completely worn out. I had spent so much time stressing out about potential worst-case scenarios that I had put myself through more stress than any of my kids had.
Nearly a year later, I have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a baby who will turn 1 in and month. I still haven’t stopped getting slightly worked up every time we have to leave the house.
The truth is, having three kids has been a huge adjustment for our family. My husband and I no longer have a 1:1 ratio going on in our home. And when it’s just me, well, I don’t even have enough hands to hang on to each kid.
I’m not alone in my feelings that having three kids is hard. Moms just like me, who are juggling three little ones, are the most stressed-out moms, according to a survey by TODAY Moms.
After surveying over 7,000 moms, TODAY Moms was able to glean some important information about stressed-out parents. Moms who have three kids seem to reach the peak of being totally strung out.
Moms with fewer kids have less stress, and moms with more have the experience that helps them to relax about new phases and stages.
This study was also able to come up with an average stress level for mothers using the data they pulled from the 7,000 mothers they surveyed. On a scale of 1 to 10, the average mom reports a stress level of 8.5. That is a high number considering it is the baseline for many moms, but I’m honestly not all that surprised. Being a parent is plain hard, even if you don’t have three kids.
Middle School Melodrama
If you think parenting toddlers is hard, just wait until they reach middle school. As children approach early teen years, parents report that caring for them gets more stressful than ever before, according to the journal Developmental Psychology.
Apparently, this is one of those age groups that brings uniquely stressful challenges. I’m not there yet. My oldest is a preschooler, and some days I have a hard time imagining there is anything more challenging than juggling newborn naps and toddler daredevil antics.
When you think about what middle schoolers experience, the related parenting stress completely makes sense. Those few years right before high school are characterized by a strong desire for autonomy.
Typically preteen development drives them to push away from their parents and establish their own identity, according to EurekAlert!, a publication by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Naturally, it can be difficult for parents to loosen the reins, especially at an age when kids want independence but are still struggling to make responsible decisions.
Additionally, middle school is the height of puberty. A flux of hormones ushers in changes to personality, moodiness, and extreme self-consciousness about their changing bodies. For some families, this means their new teen is unpredictable or hard to be around at times.
Some middle schoolers may even start engaging in risky behaviors, lashing out, or struggling with depression or anxiety for the first time. It is difficult to watch your child struggle, especially when they don’t really want to involve you in their biggest challenges.
At this age, children are also transitioning into a tougher social environment. For starters, middle school is markedly more difficult than elementary school, due in part to more demanding school schedules and increased homework.
Add to that the peer pressure that typically starts right around this age, and it makes sense that so many kids are having such a hard time during this big life change.
Lastly, the middle schoolers aren’t the only ones changing in the family. It isn’t uncommon for parents to be in the midst of their own changes, according to the study’s authors. In fact, this is often when parents begin to experience more marked symptoms of their own aging as they grow older. This can increase the emotional impact of this phase of their children’s life.
Parenting When Your Child Has Exceptional Needs
For some families, parenting is always more challenging because their child has exceptional needs. For the parents of these children, being a mother or father is often characterized by times of fear and anxiety, according to Psychology Today.
Parents may worry about their child’s future, wondering if their developmental or physical differences will limit their opportunities. They may also find themselves consumed by worries for their physical health, especially if their child has differences that require continuous medical care.
Caring for a child who has special needs also requires parents to take on a caregiver role for much longer than they would if they were raising typically developing children.
Caregiving is associated with a high level of burnout and feelings of depression and loneliness. It can take a toll on marriages too, according to the Child Mind Institute.
How Stressed-Out Parents Should Deal
In ideal world, stressed-out parents would be able to reduce their source of stress, but if you fall into one of the categories listed above, you know that simply isn’t possible. So parents facing unique challenges have to get creative when it comes to coping with their circumstances.
For most families, talking openly about the challenges being faced will spur helpful discourse for everyone involved, according to Developmental Psychology.
Whether you are entering into that middle school phase of life, adding another child to the family, or learning to care for children who have special needs, try to make time to have regular talks with your partner and your children.
These talks don’t have to be complicated; just be honest about what everyone should expect from the next few months or years of your family life and allow everyone involved to express their feelings on the changes.
Next, stressed-out parents need to find outside support for themselves whenever possible. The good news is there are plenty of support groups out there. Moms who have young kids and are preparing to add another baby might find the solidarity they need most from a group like Mothers of Preschoolers.
For parents who are feeling unprepared to transition their child into middle school, their child’s school counselor may be able to suggest resources and support groups that can address their fears.
When parenting kids with special needs is what is causing parents stress, local children’s hospitals typically have a database of area support groups, and private social media groups have become a great source of community for parents as well.
When it comes down to it, if parents facing hard situations really want to feel equipped to parent well, they need to care for themselves first. In some cases, this might be asking for a little extra help, getting some time alone, or making a weekly visit with a therapist their top priority.