Two weeks after becoming a parent — around the time I realized Mary Poppins wasn't going to show up and offer to be my baby's mother — I knew I was in for the challenge of a lifetime. Babies need so much, parents sometimes feel that they have nothing left to give. If you're wondering, "what does it mean if I'm always frustrated with my baby," you're not alone, and you're not a bad parent. Probably, you're just really stressed out.
The reason babies are so frustrating is that you can't reason with them. You can't simply explain that mommy or daddy just needs another hour of sleep before the crying starts again, or that throwing a spoon across the room makes more work for you. Because being a parent is the one job you can't quit, your best bet is to consider your stress level. If you can effectively manage your anxiety, your baby will pick up on your sense of calm, resulting in less helplessness and less frustration for everyone.
Romper spoke with Lori Lite, author of the parenting guide Stress Free Kids and the Angry Octopus Coloring Book. She tells Romper, "As a young mom, I was so stressed out I was doing involuntary breath holding. I couldn't eat, and the stress made me sick." She found her answer in diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes known as deep breathing, and offers simple advice for stressed out parents:
"When holding a baby close, try deep breathing yourself to soothe them. The baby will feel you calm down, and calm down themselves, and create a relaxation-response mechanism."
Deep breathing has been proven to reduce anxiety, according to the American Institute of Stress, and it's quicker and cheaper than getting a massage. Other stress-reducing techniques? Lite notes that just six minutes of reading can lower your heart rate. "Reading puts you and your child in the same moment," says Lite, and reading is an activity you can certainly practice with your little one.
Children, by their very nature, bring chaos into an otherwise orderly life. As Psychology Today noted, frustration erupts whenever you feel out of control, and though people don't talk about it much, feeling frustrated with your kids is normal. In fact, children don't like chaos either. Babies thrive on a schedule, and older kids crave stability. According to Lite, setting boundaries for your kids makes their world feel stable and predictable. The result is a lowering of their anxiety, and hopefully, less frustration for you.
If you're feeling frustrated all the time, some perspective can help get you through the day. Babies move through many developmental phases — not all of them pretty. Lite explains,
"It's important to take a step back and ask, is this just temporary? It's an old saying, but it's true: This too shall pass. The situation will go away, and you'll deal with new developmental milestones. Not every situation is an emergency."
To keep stress down in your home, Lite suggests introducing mindfulness techniques throughout the day that will serve you well now — and serve your children as they grow older. For instance, Lite notes that "coloring is one of the easiest ways to be mindful without even knowing it." In fact, coloring reduces stress for adults as well as children, as reported in Medical Daily. And what kid doesn't love coloring? Do it with them, and you'll both reap the benefits. As an added bonus, by encouraging your child to color with you, or sit beside you while you take a few calming breaths, you're teaching them to manage their anxiety — no lecture required.
Children and parents are intimately connected, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. If you feel frustrated with your baby or young child, it's likely they feel stressed, too. You're in a feedback loop that won't get any better unless you make a change. Learning to regulate your emotions is a crucial parenting skill, and the good news is that you can teach children to manage their anxiety, simply by managing yours.
The first step? Hold your baby, and take long, deep breaths. As her distress eases, so will your sense of frustration. You're not a bad mom — you're only human. Be kind to yourself.