SAHM No More: My Son Is Adopting My Stress Freak Outs

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stress in kidsSAHM No More explores the the ups-and-downs of navigating a new world of parenting, transitioning from married stay-at-home motherhood to a full-time working, divorced motherhood. And there are a lot of adjustments being made—a lot of adjustments and not a lot of sleep.

You know that thing where you worry about turning into your mother? How one day you say something in a certain tone of voice or make a gesture with your hands and realize that you are doing exactly what your mother does? And how all at once you feel horrified, but also a little reassured maybe, because your mom is perfectly great? Well, so that’s all expected, though, right? We all turn into our moms. That’s just what happens. But what about when you see your kids turning into you?

The other night, my kids were sitting at our table doing their homework and my younger son asked his older brother for help. Immediately, my older son responded, “I can’t. Do you have any idea how stressed out I am? I’m absolutely swamped with work.”

I was busy cooking dinner but I stopped in my tracks. He was “stressed out”? He was “swamped”? It was like listening to a recording of myself, and not of my best self. No, instead it seemed that my son had picked up a part of me that I didn’t want to have influence him — the part where I’m overwhelmed and feel like I’ve taken on too much.

It’s a pretty well-acknowledged truth that children are sponges and that’s why I’ve always been really careful not to do things around mine that I don’t want them to imitate. I try not to ever curse around them (although, well, I’m not perfect in that respect) and I try in general not to say things that I wouldn’t want them repeating. What I’m saying is that, for the most part, I definitely try and act in a way that I would like for them to model. And one of the things that I’m happy for them to replicate is my work ethic, or so I thought.

My job has a lot of flexibility—which is great—but what that means is that I frequently take work home with me. And sometimes I take the stress of work home with me too. I definitely try not to do it very much, but I’ve certainly had nights where I’ve told my kids that I need time to concentrate and that I’m swamped with deadlines and can’t handle any distractions. They are always respectful of that and it’s never been an issue. But now, seeing my son feel “stressed” has made me worry that he is only picking up the more negative aspects of my work. I would hate to think that my children would see me working and automatically associate it with being worn out or overwhelmed. I also would hope that they won’t feel that way with regard to their own school work either.

The thing of it is that stress can be a big motivator. I know for myself that I work faster under a deadline and that I focus well when I feel like I’m under pressure. However, just because I’m working quickly doesn’t mean it always feels like the healthiest way to live. On the contrary, it usually leads to sleepless nights and a kind of general anxiety. I would do just about anything to save my kids from feeling that sort of pressure until they’re much older.

I guess that it’s also possible that, as my kids get older, they’re going to feel the pressure to succeed much more pointedly. After all, these kids are growing up in a school system where they are constantly being tested and graded and made to go through evaluation after evaluation with the tacit understanding that any wrong answers they give will set them off on a path to a dismal future. Why wouldn’t they be stressed?

I’ve always tried to allay any anxieties that my kids have had in the past from external sources. So I’ve now decided to make it a point not to ever bring my stress home for them to see. The last thing I want is for them to think stress is an accepted part of my life, or that it needs to be a part of theirs.

(photo: Yuri Arcurs / Shutterstock)