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By Cynthia Keefe, Psy.D., with Eve Kessler, Esq.
Stress is a normal part of being a parent. Parents of children and adolescents with ADHD, LD, anxiety or other special needs, however, experience significantly more daily and chronic stress than other parents.
Parenting stress can be defined as the aversive psychological and physiological reactions arising from attempts to adapt to the demands of parenthood. You may be overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy, helplessness, frustration and failure. Or you may experience negative feelings toward yourself and toward your child. While you may not be able to prevent distress and worry, it helps to recognize the sources of your stress.
Parenting stress is influenced by a host of factors:
- Roles you play to support your child in the community. The number of hats you wear on a daily basis is mindboggling. You schedule and coordinate doctors’ appointments with pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists such as occupational, physical, music, or play therapists; set up and organize social opportunities to help your child; prepare relatives, friends, and neighbors for your child’s behaviors; review in advance the where and when you can/cannot take your child (restaurants, supermarkets, houses of worship, etc.); and explain to others what is happening with your child and how it affects her.
- Help you give your child to get through a school day. From the time your child wakes up until the time she goes to sleep, you are her support system. You help her organize her backpack, make and pack her lunch, make sure she doesn’t forget her homework; rescue her by bringing to school or sports activities items she forgot; advocate for her by explaining to school personnel how her issues affect her in the classroom, lunchroom or playground; help her with homework, projects, or studying for tests; and serve as drill sergeant for her morning, afternoon and evening routines (from getting her up and out of bed, washed and dressed, to making her breakfast and getting her to the bus on time, to helping with homework, negotiating screen time, picking out clothes for the next day, and getting her to bed).
- Constant state of family conflict. Sometimes you wonder how you are going to get to the end of the day. Your child/adolescent is often fighting with others in the family; you’ve tried different discipline strategies and nothing seems to work; you and your partner don’t agree on many things regarding parenting; family meals are often chaotic; and family vacations are exhausting because you have no downtime.
- Feelings of Isolation. It is easy to feel isolated as a parent of a child with special needs. Friends and family members don’t understand what it’s like to be you, unless they also have a challenging child. Everybody has an opinion, often offering unsolicited advice that doesn’t work. Your child’s behaviors regularly embarrass you in public. You’re afraid to share that your child has issues. You blame yourself for your child’s problems and frequently feel that you are a bad parent.
- Worries and the future. You often worry about what will happen to your child. You are anxious that she doesn’t have enough friends, won’t get through middle school or high school, will never go to college, or will get involved with drugs. You worry whenever you think about your adolescent learning to drive or beginning to date.
Managing Your Stress
It’s beneficial to know that there are research-based ways to lessen your stress. Protective factors against stress include: your sense of expertise with regard to your child; accepting the presence of ADHD/LD; being able to advocate effectively for your child’s needs; promoting your adolescent’s strides toward independence; having close friends and developing an effective support network; marital harmony; being able to work collaboratively with your child’s school-based team; and the appropriate use of medication.
This post is based on a presentation by Cynthia Keefe, Psy.D., Managing Parenting Stress, co-sponsored by Smart Kids with LD and Fusion Academy. Eve Kessler, Esq, a criminal appeals attorney with The Legal Aid Society, NYC, is co-founder of SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT), and a Contributing Editor for Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.