How to Cope With Parenting Stress and Anxiety

Mother curled up next to her smiling baby
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Parents, especially first-time parents with a new baby at home, are often expected to feel some anxiety about things. From whether their baby is sleeping too much or getting enough to eat, so if they are crying too much, every little thing can seem like a very big issue when you are a new parent. Fortunately, this parenting anxiety often goes away, or at least gets better with time, and as a parent gets more experience with their baby, especially once they have a few more kids.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Common Causes

Some parents continue to be anxious and feel some stress about things though, such as if their child:

  • Is meeting their developmental milestones on time
  • Spends too much time at a daycare and away from home
  • Has enough friends
  • Is exposed to too many chemicals in their environment, such as BPA, phthalates, VOCs, mercury, or second-hand smoke
  • Makes good enough grades
  • Is a good athlete
  • Doesn't eat nutritious foods and is overweight
  • Is being bullied at school

And with everything they might read on the Internet, parents can even be anxious about the decision to get their kids vaccinated and protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.

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Other Sources of Anxiety

Of course, just about any parenting problem can become a source of parenting anxiety. From a preschooler who starts waking up in the middle of the night to a toddler who doesn't want to become potty trained.

While these are normal parenting problems that many of us face at one time or another, the anxiety usually comes when a parent begins to feel that the issue won't ever be resolved.

When parents start thinking like this, it is easy to see how they can become stressed out and anxious, especially if they think they will never get to sleep through the night again or that their child is going to start kindergarten and still not be potty trained. Bedwetting, frequent temper tantrums, and picky eating are other parenting issues that often lead to some parenting anxiety.

Besides common parenting issues, money is another big source of anxiety. For a long time, parents had to simply worry if they were going to be able to save enough to send their kids to a good college. Today, more and more parents have to worry about keeping their homes out of foreclosure or even keeping or getting a job.

Worry about money and the economy also spills over to worry about the future of our children for many parents. Will there be jobs and careers for our kids when they grow up so that they can raise kids to worry about themselves?

Strategies to Help You Cope

To help cope with the stress and anxiety of parenting, it is important to remember that just about every parent thinks about these types of things and even worries about them from time to time, no matter how smart their kids are, how much money they have, or how bright their futures may seem.

And worrying about our kids and their future isn't even a new thing. The book Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing describes polls in the 1930s in which parents ranked their long lists of worries and describes the 20th century as a "century of anxiety about the child and about parents' own adequacy."

Unfortunately, we haven't broken out of that cycle of parenting anxiety in the 21st century. You can get help and try to be a less anxious, stressed parent by starting to:

  • Talk to your partner more, especially about the things you are worried about, but also about everyday issues so that maybe you can catch yourself before you start worrying about them.
  • Talk to other parents, including friends and family members, about the parenting issues you are facing and things you are anxious about. This is especially important for dads who rarely talk about these types of things with their friends or other dads. It is often helpful to simply know that other people are going through the same things and have the same worries.
  • Get professional help, like from your pediatrician, for parenting problems that you aren't comfortable handling yourself or that aren't getting better, whether it is about potty training, sleep problems, or a biting toddler.
  • Take good care of yourself by eating well, getting a good night's sleep, and exercising, especially when you feel extra worried and anxious.
  • Consider seeking professional help for yourself from your doctor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist if your stress and anxiety are causing severe or lingering symptoms so that it is hard to sleep or do your daily activities.

Most importantly, remember that there is no magic formula for parenting success. Your child could be the most popular, the smartest in the school, or a star athlete but that doesn't mean that they will grow up to be happier, get in less trouble, or be more successful than any other kid.

The best we can likely do is to raise our kids so that they feel loved, are happy and healthy, and develop as much self-confidence as they can so they can then build on their strengths and interests.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.