Family life can be infinitely rewarding, but family stress is a factor at various times too. Endless meal prep, fighting siblings, marital strife, and laundry that never stops piling up. Add in job loss or being overworked, moving to a new house, divorce, bringing home a newborn, caring for elderly parents, and you've got many competing demands that can cause stress for you and your whole family. Recognizing family stressors and learning healthy coping strategies for dealing with familial stress will help you stay grounded during trying times.
Types of Stress
Stress is a very general term that can mean different things. There are probably more accurate terms to better explain your experience such as overwhelming, fast-paced, saddening, worrying or exciting. Furthermore, there are two main types of stress: distress and eustress.
Distress is negative stress and is the type of stress that people usually seem to refer to. Distress comes from life events that we do not want to experience, such as a death in the family or loss of income. Distress can also come from daily experiences, such as a dissatisfying job or relationship problems.
Eustress is positive stress. Positive times can also be taxing on your body and mind. For example, spending an entire day at an amusement park can be thrilling for the whole family, but at the end of a long day, you may be physically exhausted from all the walking, and mentally exhausted from all the noise.
Eustress also comes along with a positive life event such as moving closer to family. The idea of your kids being able to see their grandparents and play with their cousins more often can be very exciting, but you might also feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done to move your lives across the country.
Stressor Examples and Coping Strategies
Many family stressors include both eustress and distress. The greater amount of coping strategies you utilize, the greater reduction in the negative effects you will experience.
You may be very familiar with the difficulty of balancing work responsibilities with time with family. Some things you can do to more easily achieve balance are:
- Get guidance with time management or ways you might be more efficient at work.
- Explore alternative arrangements with your employer such as flex time or working from home. You are more likely to be productive with your work from home if you don't use it as a form of childcare, however. But telecommuting can make certain things easier-during breaks you can do a load of laundry or throw together dinner in a slow cooker.
- Know when to be hands off with your kids. For example, if your child is working on an art project while you are trying to meet a work deadline, you don't need to micromanage their project. Feedback on their project is something their teacher will provide. Moreover, trying to perfect your child's work doesn't allow them as much room to learn on their own.
- Set boundaries to take breaks from work regularly. Pick a time in the evening to stop each day and pick a day of the week that is reserved only for the family to have fun. No matter how much you work, there will always be more work to do. There will always be emails in your inbox, there will always be dirty laundry and there will always be bills to pay. The fun and relaxation will not automatically happen unless you plan for it.
Welcoming a Baby to the Family
Welcoming a new baby to the family is one life event that has both eustress and distress. Having a newborn in the home means lovely baby cuddles, sweet baby smell and gurgles, as well as less sleep, more financial strain, and a greater pull between time for work and time to meet the baby's needs. Planning ahead and being organized can help minimize the things that you might find yourself doing at the last minute. Some ways you can make this transition a bit easier include:
- Plan schedules before the baby arrives. You and your partner can discuss how to make the most effective use of your time between the baby and work based on how much maternity and paternity leave you each get, and what work deadlines are approaching.
- Get the house ready before the baby arrives. Make a list, procure everything you will need, and have the baby's room ready to go so that you can focus on time with your little one once they arrive.
- Take turns with your partner doing night shifts feeding and changing the baby.
- Delegate responsibilities to your older children such as setting the table for dinner, taking out the trash, folding their own laundry, and feeding the dog. These little tasks are important for the functioning of a household, and the time required to do them quickly adds up.
Losing a job can be very distressing for reasons such as creating a more challenging financial situation for the family, or impacts on self-esteem that can lead to conflict with other family members. It is also possible that there can be eustress, or positive stress, associated with the loss of a job. If the job was unsatisfying or did not allow work-life balance, losing it could be relieving and open up other possibilities for the future. Again, planning is key to minimizing struggles and maximizing opportunities. You can do things such as adjust your family budget, seek career counseling, and spend a significant portion of your time job hunting to secure future employment.
Divorce is distressing for you and your partner as well as your kids. There could be some eustress involved with divorce too. Perhaps the clarity with which you see your relationship and possibilities for the future is relieving. No matter your situation, it is life-changing. Talk openly with your kids about what the divorce means for them and for the family as a whole. Keep conflict that arises between you and your partner to yourselves. Do not put your children in the middle of it.
You may find it beneficial to use authoritative parenting to help your kids adjust and to foster healthy development. Kids are capable of handling structure, rules and consequences, even during transitional periods. Moreover, it provides some constancy in their day-to-day lives. Additionally, seek family therapy if needed, to help with issues including communication and planning for the future.
Moving the family to a new home can be very distressing, even if it's for positive or exciting reasons. Simply moving to a new house in the same city can be overwhelming because, along with all other daily activities, you have to pack everything, move it and unpack it. Some things you can do to make the move less burdensome are:
- Make a to-do list for transitioning out of your current home, so you don't have to keep track of everything in your head. Include important details from getting boxes, to reserving movers to canceling and starting utilities to donating items and cleaning the house.
- Make a to-do list of tasks to complete once you're in your new home. Include everything from changing addresses with banks to opening a safe deposit box, to getting new driver licenses.
- Have fun with boring tasks. Have a packing party with the family, including pizza and music.
- Have family meetings where you discuss your feelings about the change. Validate your children's feelings. While there may be excitement about moving closer to grandma, there can be sadness over leaving current friends.
Caring for Elderly Family Members
If you need to move an elderly parent into your home, there will be challenges and adjustments involved. In addition to meeting your children's needs, you have your parent's day to day needs to attend to. Things you can do to help with this transition are:
- Establish household rules and expectations with your parent. For example, be sure to tell them what your rules are for the kids and that your parent is expected to honor these rules.
- Establish everyone's personal space that is to be respected.
- Evaluate your budget to see if you can get a nurse who comes to the home.
- Delegate some tasks to your kids; such as giving your teenager the responsibility of making sure that grandma takes her blood pressure medication daily.
- Enjoy the time you get to spend with your parent or in-law toward the end of their life.
Death in the Family
Death in the family brings with it a wide range of conflicting feelings. It might be relieving to know that your loved one is no longer in pain, while you also experience deep grief because of the void they have left in your lives. It is important to talk to each other about your feelings, show and tell your kids that it is okay to express their emotions, and seek family therapy if the loss has put strain on your relationships with each other.
Stressors will always exist in life, and it can be easy to be overwhelmed by their negative aspects. It is helpful to identify the positives as well. Overcoming challenges can make you a stronger family unit when you come out the other side, especially if you use active and healthy coping strategies.