Stress and the Parent/Child Relationship


-Romans 12:2
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Stress blocks intuition; it blocks our ability to hear from God. Stress leads to living in survival instead of living life. Learning how to manage our stress and balance our mind, body and spirit leads to a more intuitive and balanced relationship with our children. This book will help you to understand why and how stress is triggered in your relationships with your children, will help you to learn ways to overcome that stress and will teach you how to incorporate new ways of communicating and relating to your children. But first you must be able to identify what stress is and what it feels like.

A Psychological Explanation of Stress
Stress occurs every day, everywhere and in everyone. Stress affects a large percentage of the general population. People struggling with stress range from infants to the elderly in age.

The long-term impact that stress has on a person’s nervous system is great. Often times stress will affect a person’s mood and can even result in a clinical diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression. It can lead to people engaging in high risk or unhealthy behaviors to numb them and help them cope with feelings of fear, worry and insecurity. Lastly, stress can have a tremendous impact on relationships.

Last week I had a friend tell me that he doesn’t know what is wrong with him.  He said he simply feels exhausted and he doesn’t know why.  He told me that it’s gotten so bad that he plans to see his doctor to discuss medication options.  I looked at him with a flat affect, confused by how he really had no idea why he is so tired.  He gets up at four AM to start his day and doesn’t stop to rest until about eleven PM.  He has a high
stress job that is demanding, a busy family to take care of and recreational commitments to tend to.  He does practice self-care by eating healthy, exercising regularly and feeding his spiritual needs through his church community and music, but he does not take enough time for rest.  Instead, he tries to fit all the activities into his week and the result is fatigue and exhaustion. It has affected his mood, his behaviors and his relationships with family and friends. My friend expressed feelings, symptoms and long-term effects of stress which is the result of not listening to his mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs.

The following explanation is my understanding of what happens to the body, mind and spirit when it experiences stress:

Stress is a chemical reaction caused by an increase in cortisol and adrenaline. When we experience a stressful situation or event, it causes sudden feelings of panic, fear or worry.

The feelings of panic, fear and worry make us uncomfortable, so our natural instinct is to respond by fighting back or trying to avoid the situation. Sometimes our natural instinct to these feelings is to freeze.

This kind of response does not solve anything. It simply makes it worse and over time the stress builds, sending more frequent and intense surges of adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body. If we experience stress on a regular basis, then our bodies adapt to the cortisol or adrenaline high and they eventually become unbalanced. If our bodies are unbalanced, then we can experience the rise in cortisol or adrenaline at any time, even when there is no external stressor. When this happens, it becomes difficult to rest, eat, exercise and do the natural things our body needs to rebalance itself and can result in a clinical diagnosis of anxiety.

Stress on Mood, Behavior and Relationships
Over the last several years, I’ve worked with many teens who are struggling with high stress at school. We live in a culture where we push our kids from morning until evening. They don’t eat properly, they don’t drink enough water and they don’t sleep enough. Electronics are taking over our world and children and teens sit in front of the screen instead of going outside to play. They sit all day at school and have test, after test, after test. They become overloaded with sensory and auditory information. The amount of stress and pressure they experience combined with the lack of nutrition, exercise and sleep has a serious impact on a child or teen’s mood. After years of living with this kind of stress, they usually experience symptoms of anxiety accompanied by panic or sometimes even agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house). In time, the anxiety leads to depression.

Adults also struggle with high stress. Our culture does not encourage us to take time to unwind or destress. Instead, it pushes us to keep going, suck it up and fight through the stress. Half the time we don’t even know we are stressed until
it is too late. Like teens, adults do not eat regularly or nutritiously. They do not sleep enough hours and they do not get enough exercise. Many don’t drink enough water and instead survive off of caffeine or energy drinks to stay awake and energized. Our culture has made it nearly impossible to recognize stress and anxiety because it’s way of dealing with stress is to use some kind of quick fix or substance to numb and relieve it. Addictions have become high among teens and adults for this reason.

Relationships are deeply impacted as a result of the effects that stress has on our mind, body and spirit. Do you know anyone who is struggling with anxiety, depression, mood disorders, or addictions? If you answered yes, then please take a moment to reflect on how their disorders impact their lives, specifically with regard to their relationships. Take a moment to reflect on how their disorder impacts their relationship with you. Anxiety, depression and addiction are family disorders, not just individual ones.

Stress and the Parent/Child Relationship
So what does this have to do with the Parent/Child relationship? Stress has everything to do with it. Children shut down because they get stressed. They retreat to their rooms and their video games or cell phones because they are avoiding being triggered by stress.

Do you ever wonder why your kid is rolling his or her eyes at you? It’s because he/she is shutting down and doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. Why? Because they are stressed or they fear becoming stressed. 
Or do you have a child who is constantly butting heads with you? Why might this happen? The answer is because he/she is stressed, defensive and as a result goes into fight mode to conquer the stress.

I know what you are thinking. You are rolling your eyes saying to yourself, “What the heck does she has to be stressed about? When I was her age….blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, I know, I thought those things before too. But the fact of the matter is that I would never go back to being a teenager. Why? Because I had no choices or control over anything. Being a teenager was hard and today with cell phones, social media and electronics, life for the teenager just got harder.

Finding balance by learning how to manage our stress is a key ingredient to healthy relationships between parents and children. When we live life with balance, we are filled with peace and contentment.

As parents we have a choice with regard to what we do for work, who we surround ourselves with, what we surround our lives with, what we put into our bodies, how we choose to move our bodies, etc. Kids don’t have these choices. Until they are adults, they are expected to follow our lead. And as I grow older and learn more about what it is that children need to become healthy, successful, independent adults, I am learning that children need to learn how to take care of themselves. They need to learn how to listen and honor their intuition and follow where their spirit is being led. Are you raising your children this way or are you feeding off of each other’s stress? Are you guiding your child or are you controlling your child? Are your expectations of your child dictating how you communicate and relate to your child? Are your fears, worries and insecurities triggering stress for you and impacting your ability to make intuitive decisions?

God created each of us for His purpose. He gave every person gifts and skills that they will use to live out their life purpose. Many adults continue to struggle to find the balance between what they want to do and what God wants them to do. In time we begin to recognize that when we adhere to God’s plan for us, our lives become full and blessed and we find peace and contentment even in the midst of distress.

So why do we think it is any different as we raise our children? They are His before they are ours. They too are here for a purpose. As a mother, I’ve come to recognize that my job is not to control my children out of fear that they will go down the wrong path. My job is to teach them how to have a relationship with God so that He can lead them. My part as a parent is the easy one and I am not in control of anything.

Stress impacts our ability to stop and remember this. It implodes us with feelings of fear and worry which are not from God. The rest of this book will help you to better understand why stress gets triggered in our relationships and what we can do to manage it so that we can stay in step with God’s plan for us as parents and how He wants us to guide our children.

Questions for Reflection
Find a quiet space where there are little to no distractions. Take a moment in quiet to reflect on what you just read. When you are ready, answer the following questions in your journal.

  1. Does stress impact you mentally? Explain.
  2. Does stress impact you spiritually? Explain.
  3. How does your body physically respond to stress? Do you fight, flight or freeze in a stressful situation. Give an example.
  4. Does stress affect you emotionally? Explain.
  5. What people, places and situations trigger stress for you?
  6. Do you engage in unhealthy behaviors to help you cope or numb stress? Explain.
  7. How does the way you cope with stress impact your parent/child relationship?

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