Young parents experience a lot of ‘parenting stress’. Child and Family has now started a campaign to help them with this. Child psychiatrist Binu Singh (KU Leuven) applauds them, but also warns. ‘We cannot now blame everything on the parents.’
During which period is the parenting stress highest?
“It certainly peaks when the children are still very small. Young children make life unpredictable and rely entirely on us for what they need. This regularly conflicts with the needs of the parents. The lack of a good night’s sleep due to poor sleeping children can take a toll. Of course, parents also need sleep, rest or a moment for themselves. I think we should certainly not forget those young parents, but parenting stress actually has peaks and valleys over the years.
“Parents of teenagers can just as easily experience a lot of stress. A little stress is always part of raising children, but too much can be really harmful. If parents are under heavy pressure due to financial problems, a contested divorce, or if there is domestic violence in the family, this also has an influence on the development of very young children.”
In what way do they feel an impact on their later lives?
“Stress in itself is not bad. But long-term or too much stress does have an impact. That is quite big: they can suffer both physical and psychological consequences later. They are at increased risk of obesity or cardiovascular disease, but also of depression or addiction problems. They also have a higher chance of social problems or a difficult school career, which in turn leads to lower chances on the labor market.”
Why do parents experience so much parenting stress?
“Parenting stress seems to be increasing and parental burnout is more common than we think. We have increasingly higher expectations for parents as know-how about parenting has increased. But at the same time we expect them to perform as much as possible at work. Families are becoming more financially vulnerable, because housing and food prices have become increasingly expensive.
“So that all creates pressure. Moreover, we see that parents are increasingly on their own. They have much less support from their environment than before. The grandparents are less available because they are often still working themselves. I think it is good that Kind en Gezin is now starting this campaign. But I would also like to make a comment: we should not blame everything on the parents.”
Binu Singh: ‘Children who do not get what they need early on mean adults with burnouts, depression and relationship incompetence’
The campaign suggests taking a deep breath in and out when you feel stress coming on. Is that the solution?
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. It is one thing to raise awareness and teach parents skills to help them deal with stress better. But the solution lies rather in the social responsibility that we must assume towards young parents. Let’s help them – whether we are policy makers, or employers, or people from their social network. I think it’s good that the campaign also appeals to their environment.”
Can you give some specific tips?
“The first thing I would like to say to parents is: dare to ask for help. Keep looking and don’t stop until you find what you need. Know that you don’t have to do this alone. I would like to ask friends, relatives or grandparents to recognize that young parents nowadays have to keep a lot of balls in the air. Please be understanding. If you see a need, ask how you can help.
“I would ask society to think about how we can provide more care to the parents of young children. I am not only talking about parental leave and child allowance, but also about childcare or nursery education. As a society we should look at how we can provide more support to adults in raising their young children.”