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Parents, breathe deep and recognize your stress

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In the past week, I focused on a variety of priorities, uncertain that I can truly control any of them. I determinedly sprayed my daughters’ heads each morning with a concoction of rosemary and tea tree oil because some children have head lice at school. I traversed our neighborhood to sell school raffle tickets for a fundraiser and the promise of my kids getting a gift card for frozen yogurt, and I bounced between being a school trip chaperone to lunch mom. In between I wash, fold and put away mounds of laundry, plan meals, and try to entertain and nurture my preschooler.

A blogger friend of mine (themomoftheyear.net) recently wrote about everyone’s differing landscape of stress. She’s right in that we all have a variety of stressors. My stress is real for me, albeit a bit self-imposed. I’m Type A all the way and love to be a volunteer and active participant in the lives of my children, so I suppose I need to own this stress. After all, I created it.

A day in the life of a busy parent could follow any number of paths. My typical morning involves preschool drop off for my son, followed by a cycling class or swimming 1,000 or more meters at the YMCA. Later, I may scour Pinterest looking for the best ideas for my daughter’s third grade art class, which I lead monthly. This week my son’s friend had a birthday party at Highland Orchards, and I volunteered as a parent helper for my two daughters’ classroom Halloween parties. Let’s not forget, there’s also a trip to the pediatrician for a well visit and flu shot, a meeting at school and my older daughter’s regular activities of tennis, swimming and piano. Writing about it makes me breathless again.Photo: sheknows.com

So one night when I was counting down the minutes until bedtime, my aching feet wanting to do nothing more than lie propped up on my bed while I catch up on some television, I realized how lucky I  am. I have three healthy children, a husband who is an amazing partner and father, and all the comforts of modern living.

Let’s face it, parents and children die in parts of the world because they don’t have clean drinking water. I have no business complaining about being a chauffeur and putting away freshly laundered clothes.

Among other things, should head lice really be something to lose sleep over? I convinced myself so, going over every scenario about what it would be like to wash, rinse and de-bug my children and their textile belongings. I declared it impossible, in a busy household with a large dog and a husband who travels regularly for business. I even instructed my children not to hug their friends or get too close to someone’s potentially parasite-infested head. I’ve done all this in an attempt to control the inherently chaotic nature of raising children. How much is reasonably in our control as parents anyway?

This clarity sometimes brings with it a degree of guilt and sadness, especially as I’ve thought about the parents who’ve lost children to accidents or illnesses, how they would love nothing more than to spend hours a night combing out the hair of their child. I’ve felt almost ashamed that my stress centers on things that really wouldn’t engender much sympathy on the world’s stage of problems. I fret when my kids complain of a belly ache, wondering if this will be the night they’ll come into my room to vomit on the floor. There’s days I ponder whether my kindergartener’s inability to correctly write a lowercase M will keep her from academically excelling. I know I need to get a grip, but I still let these little things reap loads of anxiety, and I’ve learned that many other parents do the same.

So while parenting is undoubtedly one of the most stressful experiences I’ve faced, I’m learning to recognize such bouts of fretfulness and to relax, observe, and, most importantly, enjoy my children. Last Saturday morning I shared some snuggle time with my daughter, who’s been experiencing discomfort from a new orthodontic appliance. After that, I took both my girls for a tour de neighborhood bike ride, where we cycled around until we were all too chilly. And the next morning I sat and didn’t dare take my eyes off the TV while the first Superman movie played, and my son methodically explained each scene to me with the authority of any hardcore superhero fan.

Sure, I also printed out templates and bought new construction paper for that aforementioned art class, but I was much more relaxed knowing that I had been present with each of my children. I took the time to enjoy their unique personalities without letting a bit of the frantic and frenzied interfere, even if it was just a short time.

Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.

Email her at jsherwin73@gmail.com  and followe her on Twitter @JuliaSherwinPoPYou can also follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.

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Photo: sheknows.com