The Science of Parenting

Getting After Stress | S. 2 Ep. 2

June 18, 2020 Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Season 2 Episode 2
The Science of Parenting
Getting After Stress | S. 2 Ep. 2
Show Notes Transcript

Flip the switch on stress by learning how to gain resiliency. Learn how to pull stress apart—it might be as easy as switching to paper plates.

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Mackenzie Johnson:

Hey, welcome to The Science of Parenting podcast, where we connect you with research-based information that fits your family. We'll talk about the realities of being a parent and how research can help guide our parenting decisions. I'm Mackenzie Johnson, parent of two littles with their own quirks, and I'm a parenting educator.

Lori Hayungs:

And I'm Lori Hayungs. I have three children, all in different life stages. One is launched, one's in college, and one is in high school and I'm also a parenting educator. And today we are talking about parenting stress.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes. And how to find joy, right? In the midst of it. You know, that's kind of our focus here in season two. We're going to find some joy, even though parenting stress is a reality. And in doing some of the prep work for this episode, some of the reading that we were doing in some of the different articles talked about how parenting stress is both similar to other kinds of stress in terms of how we can manage it, but it's also kind of unique because parenting stress affects our relationship with our kids in a different way than other stress does and is unique. It's similar, but it's different. And it's both yes. In your opinion, why? Why do you think that'd be the case? W hy do you think parenting stress is different than other kinds of stress?

Lori Hayungs:

So parenting stress is both personal and sometimes we don't want to acknowledge that we have stress. You know, we have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make it through. But at the same time, it also involves these little human beings in our lives or big human beings. Right. Mine are two adults, right? So it involves other people as well as ourselves. So that's what makes it unique.

Mackenzie Johnson:

It is. It's different. And I think you make a great point about it being personal. It is such a core part of who we are and what we believe about people and how we want to bring these little people or big people into the world to be big people. And it is, it's personal. And I think the feelings of the long-term impact of what we do. We're shaping these people into people.

Lori Hayungs:

Yes, yes. I was laughing before when we were talking about this, because you said something about some of the biggest stresses of parenting and, you know, bringing these little people into the world and growing them up. And I chuckled to myself and I thought, well, gosh, I totally remember the huge amount of stress of naming our first child. Yes . For the rest of this child's life, they are going to have to deal with what I named them. And so that was, yeah , that was a big stress for me. Forever.

Mackenzie Johnson:

So yeah, parenting stress, it's both unique and similar to other kinds of stress. So I think it's important we understand a little more about it. So should we start with a definition? Let's start with definitions with the lens of research and reality. So we bring in these research points and the first one is a definition from Kirby Dieter Decker, who literally wrote a book on parenting stress. And so they define it as a set of processes that lead to a adversive psychological and physiological reactions. And that arises from our attempts to adapt to the demands of parenthood. So adversive psychological and physiological reactions in response to trying to respond to the demands of parenthood. So this includes those major stressor events you might think of as well as kind of those minor daily hassles and the same book also remembers to reinforce that that stress can come from kind of ourselves, right? The other experiences that we have that create stress, it can come from the way our kid's temperament and our interaction with our child. And it might come from, you know, kind of our experiences in our environment. So it's not just one thing when we think about parenting stress. It's like an intermix. It's the multiple streams. They all play together. So it's not just one. Yeah.

Lori Hayungs:

Yes and I think that when you lay it out that way, and it's some of our own, you said temperament and our environment, how we grew up, the family that they're in right now , those multiple streams. And just because it's hard, like, just because you have parenting stress, actually, it doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. And I think that's really important to remember that if you feel parenting stress, that doesn't mean that you're automatically doing something incorrect.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yes. Or that you're not doing enough. Or if you would just. I think that's so often sometimes that's part of receiving what's intended to be helpful, but unsolicited advice. Well, if you would just, it's almost kind of what feels like the message. And so if you have a child who doesn't sleep well at night, or if you are a parent who's experienced a lot of stress from work and that's pouring into your relationship with your significant other and your kids, and it can feel like you're doing it wrong. And that's it. It's the multiple streams. It's not one thing. And it's not, you're doing it wrong.

Lori Hayungs:

Those justs, those are so hard, if you would just.

Mackenzie Johnson:

And I think when we let this stress, right? Those adversive things it talked about, physical, psychological. When we let that go unchecked, when it's unaddressed, or if we just suppress , like, I'm fine. No, I'm fine. But there are negative consequences, right, adversive psychological and physiological reactions. And so it affects us? And that's just one more reason why we need to practice self care.

Lori Hayungs:

Absolutely. Absolutely. So do we dare ask ourselves, what are we stressing about in parenting right now? Yeah, we probably should. Reality, right? That's the other half of the reality and reality is reality. Yeah.

Mackenzie Johnson:

What are your parenting stresses right now? We're kind of in different phases, you know , different stages.

Lori Hayungs:

Yes. And I think that hopefully that fact that we are in different life stages with our children is, you know , what makes us endearing to our listeners. Right? And so I think that my biggest stress, if I were to acknowledge it because it's really easy to just push it back, especially as a family life and parenting educator, I have to really take that time to acknowledge that, yes, this is stress. And so for me right now, it would be that really big commitment that I've made to positive co-parenting, my children and their father. And you know, that idea that we are committed beyond all shadow of a doubt to positive co-parenting our children. And I have to acknowledge that that can be stressful.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Navigating co-parenting, that can be stressful. Absolutely, co-parenting for sure.

Lori Hayungs:

How about you?

Mackenzie Johnson:

I would say,, so you know, I've shared a little about this before - parenting stress. Two things come to mind with my kids being littles . We still have lots of routines. Right. I'm the grownup. So I'm in charge of lots of routines , myself and my co-parent are. And so getting the cooperation and just making those happen around the clock, like the feeding and eating , in diapers, you know, since I have a little, all those things. And so that's part of it. But I think the other part, like you said, if I'm really taking the time to sit back and acknowledge a big part of my parenting stress right now is that I'm having some mental health struggles. And one of those symptoms in particular is irritability for me. And so like feeling on edge. And actually when I talk about being overstimulated at the dinner table, that's something I've been saying for a long time. And when I did take the time to sit back and acknowledge, that's not just overstimulated, that's irritable and, oh, I might cry a little bit.

Lori Hayungs:

That's okay. This is a judgement free zone.

Mackenzie Johnson:

But it is, it's stressful to navigate that mental health and to feel it affecting my kids when I don't make plans for coping and which happens like every single time something happens, I Stop. Talk. Breathe. don't get it perfect. But that is what's stressful for me is balancing the needs that my mental health require of me and still performing the parenting tasks that I need to. So balancing that. So the cooperation and the routines, and of course, dinner is both, right. It's a routine, kids need to eat at a time when I feel particularly stressed. So managing both of those.

Lori Hayungs:

Thanks for sharing. That's good. Thank you.

Mackenzie Johnson:

There were not tears, actual tears.

:

If there would have been, you just need to hear that it's okay if there were. Let's look at this other research point. So high levels of parenting stress actually can impair warm, responsive parenting and provoke harsh caregiving. So this is from the Journal of Family Psychology. And it's sharing with us about how parenting stress can also negatively influence that parent child relationship. And according to this finding, parents who suppress feelings of stress around their children might actually increase their stress. So I would encourage you to keep acknowledging your stress and not suppress the stress.

Mackenzie Johnson:

And so the harsh parenting is kind of ringing, not ringing in my ears in a way of like, oh, if you don't do your stress you're doing it bad, not that. But when I think of that example I shared about the corn in the milk. When my daughter poured her milk in her corn. And I was like, what ? And I was harsh. That's the word that comes to mind is I was stressed and I wasn't managing that stress. I was trying to just be like, it's fine. And it resulted in me being harsh with my child in a way that I normally wouldn't have if I wasn't feeling that stress. And so I think this research will actually kind of, both of them together are important, acknowledging that there are like negative effects for us when we don't manage or deal with our stress and also comes out like right in the way that we parent our kids in the interactions that we have. They go together. They do.

Lori Hayungs:

They do. That takeaway is that when we leave our stress unchecked and we don't acknowledge it, there are negative consequences for our parenting and the wellbeing of our child. And so, you know, honestly, that's just one more reason to remember self care is not selfish. It's not selfish. We need to check in with ourselves and acknowledge that we have stress and this stress can impact our children. So on the flip side,

Mackenzie Johnson:

I need to hear you say it again.

Lori Hayungs:

Mackenzie. I want you to know that self care is not selfish. It's not selfish and leaving it unchecked can actually have negative, negative consequences for your child's wellbeing in your relationship with them. Okay. On the flip side of that , when we have these negative consequences of stress, there's also that whole idea and research around resilience. And so there's this study by Peterson and Bush that remind us that this term resilience is actually used to describe those strengths that families actually begin to grow into when they have challenges and when they have adversity. And then it actually includes things like families becoming flexible to the responses of the pressures and the strains of life. And they can rebound from that adversity and they can actually be more resourceful. So resilience. I love that word. I love that. It's actually, you know, beginning to take that spin and say, yeah, you know what, there are things that are stressful and impact us negatively. But when we come out the other side, wow, is this strength based idea of resilience?

Mackenzie Johnson:

And I think it's fascinating. You know I love the researchy dorky part of this. For a long time, the research on families was focused on stress. Like what stress are they experiencing? What's the family stress, what's the family stress? And there's actually been kind of a shift in the literature, like the research literature that let's stop talking about what's stressing families out all the time. Let's start talking about how resilient they are. Let's start talking about how, when families experienced stress, which is going to happen, it looks different for everybody, right? Not everybody has the same stress. Let's start talking about how that's a positive, you know, how parents come out on the positive side of that and families come out of the positive side of that. Yes. And so I think as we're putting this episode together, I'm thinking of resilience. And especially in the terms that, you know, these authors talked about coming out on the other side and having a better ability to deal with adversity. I think of when I had struggled with postpartum depression when I had my oldest child and it was honestly, it was ugly and it was hard and I didn't know what to do about it. And I didn't ask for help. And it wasn't a great place. On the other side of this, right, getting help eventually and realizing and reflecting on what had happened and the stress I had experienced when it came time to have my second child, I came into it with new knowledge, right. I was smarter and I was stronger because I had done this before. And so I sought help from a therapist to make sure I had my emotional toolbox full of the things I needed. And I made my own plans for things that were going to help me cope when things felt hard. And I had conversations with my spouse about how he was going to help me if he started to recognize some signals to be worried about. And so, yes, there are hard things in the stress and sometimes it's hard and it's ugly and it has negative consequences right now , but we can come out on the other side stronger and smarter and better able to deal with new stress that comes.

Lori Hayungs:

Mm . So good. So good. So yes, yes. Not dealing with our stress can have negative effects for parents and kids and struggling and moving through it. Actually we develop this strength and resilience, so good.

Mackenzie Johnson:

And I think the key difference, not even difference, the key thing to see for me in that particular instance, if I hadn't reflected on what had happened and the stress I had felt, and that I didn't deal with then, or didn't manage it then, right. The difference is acknowledging and reflecting on it. I think that gives us a chance to build that resilience, to recognize the skills we need, if this would happen again. I think that acknowledging that was hard. I think that's an important part of it.

Lori Hayungs:

100 percent, 100 percent. I know that I didn't acknowledge some of the stress that my children might have when I moved them across state lines. We moved from one state to another about the time my oldest was in middle school. And I remember people saying, oh, you're going to ruin her. You can't move a middle schooler . And I thought, no, I'm a family life educator, I'm a parenting educator. I can do this. And so I shoved all my own stress down and my kids did great, but they had stress. Like they all had some type of small health issue, large health issue, even one that I just couldn't acknowledge that that was their stress because I wasn't acknowledging my stress. So acknowledging stress is so important. And we actually have this family stress model that we c ould look at if we want to look at this last point of research here, that seeks to kind of have an understanding of family stress. And it's called the double ABCX family stress model. And essentially what it does is it says there are three components to how families handle stress. Okay. So they have this p ile u p of demands. So things pile up, t he stressors, right? The family has these responses. How do they adapt and use their resources? Which resources d o they tap into? You said, toolbox. What pieces and parts in the t oolbox do they pull out to navigate and adapt? And then what's their perception of the stress, their individual perception, not someone else's perception of how stressful or how not stressful that event is. So this ABCX model focuses on the pile up of demands, the adaptive resources that they tap into and the perception they have o f the stressor.

Mackenzie Johnson:

And I think it's important to acknowledge. One of the reasons I like this research model is it doesn't say, well, the pile of demands is this. This looks different for each of us. And the same thing with the resources, right. It might be our experiences. It might be right. How close do I live to family members who can help me with my kids , our social economic status, our co-parenting situation, each of these things, whether in our control or not, are in that list of resources and in our skills and our toolbox also. And then same thing with that perception. Like having a second child is a normative stress thing in terms of adding to your family, you know, there's gotta be some stress there. My perception, because of my previous experience, my perception of it looked different. And so it's important to acknowledge that too .

Lori Hayungs:

Yes. Yes. So, which of these thinking about your stress that you shared earlier, which of these three parts do you feel like you tapped into to address your stress?

Mackenzie Johnson:

Yeah, so my stressors...I shared earlier about getting cooperation in routines with my littles and navigating my mental health. Of those three I think the biggest piece of the picture, actually, it's kind of two , two of the three. One is my perception of getting cooperation in routines. Like the more I understand about where my kids are at developmentally, it can change my perception of that cooperation and what my kids need. So the way I think about that in particular is important. And then also the ability to add to my toolbox, my coping strategies and the strategies I have for getting cooperation and that it's kind of in that adaptive resources part. What about you?

Lori Hayungs:

So at first, when we talked about this, I thought, oh definitely the adaptive resources, because when we moved, I did a lot of writing of letters and I tucked them into the girls' boxes for later about why we moved and how we were moving closer to family. But the more I thought about it, the more I listened to us right now, I keep thinking about, okay, so now we had those resources. We had those tools when we moved. And then when years later, we had to end our marriage and have this opportunity to co-parent positively, I thought, what was our perception? Did you hear how I just said that? An opportunity to positively co-parent and that was what our perception was. We were committed to our perception of this stress and we were committed to making our perception be something that could potentially be positive and healthy. So yeah , that's kind of where I started to go as we talked more about this today.

Mackenzie Johnson:

And so this event is what happened. And that might be part of the pile up of demands, but the way you're thinking about how to address it, totally that perception of the stresses are about co-parenting right. And we have this shared goal here, positive co-parenting. That's a great example of how perception influences the stress we experience for sure.

Lori Hayungs:

And it's definitely not other people's perceptions . I think that so many comments on just that idea of how that's not normal, what you're doing isn't normal. And then we laugh. We just laugh and think, well, it could be normal, we're committed to it being our normal.

Mackenzie Johnson:

And their perception of what part of that would be stressful or how they would view that part of it. Like that's yours, ours is this. Yeah . Yeah . I think that's empowering, like owning that, you can choose on that perception and that it's all right , whatever it is. Yes. And this does kind of move us right into by those same authors who are kind of credited for the ABCX model, McCubbin and Patterson kind of moves us into this your reality. So we kind of can use that ABC X model of those three things to understand our stress and use it as a strategy to navigating our stress and parenting. But they also talk about specifically that there's three ways to deal with stress. And so, as you reflect as a listener, and honestly, as we kind of have throughout this episode, I'm like, you know what, our realizations here while we're talking to you.

Lori Hayungs:

We need that sound that goes bing!

Mackenzie Johnson:

So as we reflect on that stress, and you know, you can break down that stress a little bit in those three parts, but they also talk about that there's three ways to address our stress. There are three ways that we adapt to that stress. Now one is to avoid. And so this means to deny or ignore the stressor. And sometimes this can be suppressing it, right? Sometimes this isn't very helpful, but there are times when this can be a good choice, right? If we just need to say not right now, right? Like I'm already in the midst of something. And I, I can't add this. I can't right now, I just need to get through this. And so sometimes that's avoiding that a stressor and that's how we adapt to it. So avoiding or ignoring or denying that stressor. The second option is to eliminate the s tressors. So to change or remove it. The example I think of was recently we moved to using paper plates at home, c ause the dishwasher in the kitchen and the pile up of demands we c an eliminate. So sometimes that's another version q uestion of how we can adapt is to eliminate. And then the third option is to assimilate, which is to accept the demands into the existing patterns of interaction. And so I think this is the one we tend to think of most often as what we are g oing t o d o with t hose stresses, how are we going to assimilate to this? This stress is going to be here. How are we going to make it work? And I think that's when we fill our toolbox. Hopefully that's part of the value of hanging out with us on this podcast is it can help b uild that toolbox so you can cope with the parenting stress we've talked about like tantrums, like meltdowns, like feeling judged, you know? And so hopefully that does give you those options of you have different strategies for dealing with the stress we experience. Some of them are to understand that stress better so we can acknowledge it. And some of them avoid, eliminate, assimilate, which one makes the most sense for you, for your family, for your reality, and for this particular stressor. So we have some options.

Lori Hayungs:

Doesn't have to be the same one that I choose. And I think that's, you know, that's a difficult thing is we sometimes feel like we have to choose the same tool as someone else. And we don't at all ever.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Your reality, your reality, you look at the research, you hear it. That's what our goal is to share it with you. You choose for your reality, what makes sense. Yeah . Your family, your stressors, you. And I think sometimes we forget to list that, like what makes sense for you? Just because you're a parent doesn't mean you are lost in this mix of what's going on, what makes sense for you?

Lori Hayungs:

So that brings us to our Stop. Breathe. Talk. space where we bring in our producer and she floats us a question about our topic and we have no idea what that question is.

Mackenzie Johnson:

I really don't know this.

Lori Hayungs:

I know.

Mackenzie DeJong:

And as I was going through this, honestly, my question changed kind of through it all because I thought I had it figured out. And I was like, no, that doesn't quite fit. But I got to the end and I think that it might be, you have to repeat something you've already said, and I just need to hear it again. But I've gotten to the point where it's like, okay, but where do I start? The stress is overwhelming, but the idea of starting to address that stress is just as overwhelming. Like it's crippling. It can be crippling. I know from personal experience that I've gotten to this point, not with parenting, but just, you know, anxiety, depression, getting help in that of the stress and that those feelings can be overwhelming. But the idea of starting to go anywhere from there is just as overwhelming. So where do I start? You got through all of this, where do I start?

Lori Hayungs:

Pick me!

Mackenzie DeJong:

This isn't a class, Lori , you can just go ahead and talk.

Lori Hayungs:

I was raising my hand , following the rules. So the important thing there is, you said, where do I start? Which implies that you have to do it alone. And you don't. So where do you start? You actually start by reaching out to someone else who can help you figure out where to start. And that's hard because that means acknowledging, admitting, and I, for one, like to solve all my own problems. And so you do when you first feel so overwhelmed and recognize that I have no idea where to start. You have to first say, I have no idea where to start. Someone else has to help me start and you have to give it to someone else.

:

That's a plug for later in season two, we are going to be talking about support. So, I mean, I don't think that's what Lori was thinking, what you said it . I think she was just saying what she's saying, but we're gonna be talking about how we reach out for help. So I would say, you guys know, I love that model. I love that. But I honestly think as I was thinking through the questions we might ask each other of like, what stresses do we have? How are we dealing? I think of the ABCX model and like, what is the pileup, right? That's one part, what are the pile up of demands? Even just making a list like this feels hard, like this adds up, this is a good thing, but it still feels hard sometimes. Right? Routines of reading books with my kids at bedtime, that's a good thing and it's still can add stress . And so I think even starting with that model of what's that pile up, what are the things, what skills do I have that are helping me deal or that I can ask for help to get more resources or learn more? And how is my perception playing a role? I do. I like a model thinking through that, at least for me, like this is concrete. This is exactly what I can look at and what research says are the factors that impact us.

Mackenzie DeJong:

So if there's one thing to know about Mackenzie Johnson, all you need to know is there's a model for that. There's a framework or a model.

Mackenzie Johnson:

A framework would be helpful.

Mackenzie DeJong:

So as you were saying, reaching out for help, kind of going back to Lori, my gut reaction, and it sounds like a shameless plug, but it's really an offer is if you're at a point, we're not therapists, we're not mental health providers, but if you're at a point where you're like, I don't know where to start , either send us an email , and we'll help get you the resources you need or call our I owa c oncern hotline because they don't, they don't judge. They're just here to help you with find resources, maybe connect with someone.

Mackenzie Johnson:

And they are real professionals to help people navigate stress and concerns.

Mackenzie DeJong:

Right? So if you feel like you have no one to turn to, shoot us a message and we'll help you get connected or call the Iowa Concern hotline, because let me tell you, they aren't going to judge you for what you're going through. They're right there with ya . So, sorry. That's just what I thought of as you were saying that.

Mackenzie Johnson:

Oh, don't apologize. That was awesome.

Mackenzie DeJong:

We can kind of be that for them because I know, sorry, I'm kind of going off on a tangent, but I know that it can be scary to reach out to family or my friends or my coworkers. But if you're reaching out to someone that doesn't really care, like they care, but they don't, they aren't going to judge you. Alright, I'm done.

Mackenzie Johnson:

I'm always curious which direction she's going to take us. You know, the question she's going to ask, but I always think they're good ones like every single one .

Lori Hayungs:

And no matter how much we try to say, well, you could ask us this. She refuses. She just refuses.

Mackenzie Johnson:

She just thinks along the way. And she's got a point, but they're good. They're always good. We trust her.

Lori Hayungs:

Thank you for joining us today on The Science of Parenting podcast. We are so glad that you're here. Remember subscribe to our weekly audio podcast on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite app. Watch us weekly on Facebook. And then remember to find us live once a month on Facebook as well. We enjoy taking your comments and questions and you've been emailing us. So we appreciate that as well.

Mackenzie Johnson:

So season two, we'll continue along this path. Keep following along with us as we talk about finding joy, navigating some of the self care and parenting. So come along with us as we talk about the ins and outs, the ups and downs and the research and reality all around The Science of Parenting.

Anthony Santiago:

The Science of Parenting is a research based education program posted by Lori Hayungs and Mackenzie Johnson, produced by Mackenzie DeJong, with research and writing by Barbara Dunn Swanson. Send questions and comments to parenting@iastate.edu and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. This program is brought to you by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. This institution is an equal opportunity provider. For the full non-discrimination statement or accommodation inquiries go to www.extension.state.edu/diversity/ext.