Parental Stress

Parental Stress

GirlhoodArticle courtesy of ‘Girlhood’ by Maggie Dent, Macmillan Publishers, RRP $39.99.

There is no question that for the majority of parents today, parental stress is much higher than it was 30 years ago. The digital world has given access to an enormous amount of information that can be helpful for parents; however, it can also add to the confusion. Social media has had positive effects as well as some negatives. Many parents, mums especially, feel social media can provide a platform for parental competition and judgement from others.

Many mums of young babies and toddlers tell me they are drowning in exhaustion and stress. The lack of a village with supportive women is costing mums of little ones in terms of their emotional and mental wellbeing. Being a part of a group on WhatsApp or Facebook that is supportive and protective of members can be a lifesaver for many mothers who are parenting in isolation. But the opposite is also true when an exhausted mother ‘doomscrolls’ or looks for connection and positivity and instead finds herself negatively impacted by disrespectful online participants.

The first thousand days can definitely be the trickiest as a new parent. The first 12 months of a baby’s life is when parents have the most disturbed sleep, and sleep deprivation is one of the biggest stress- ors of being a parent. Tired and exhausted mums and dads are often unable to meet the needs of their babies and toddlers with calmness and unconditional love. It is very difficult to be joyful and patient when you are exhausted.

Fostering strong, healthy attachment means a child will grow to feel loved and secure in themselves. Unconditional love is not imagining you can have your children grow up in a eld of daisies with no prickles. On some days, providing unconditional love means you will need to dig deep inside yourself to find the strength you didn’t know you had. It will mean that on the day that your toddler daughter smears your most expensive face cream all over the carpet, the dog, the wardrobe and themselves, you’ll be able to take a deep breath and realise that she is a curious toddler doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing . . . exploring the world around her using all her senses!

Healthy attachment requires plenty of human connectedness often, but not every minute of every day. I believe that finding moments to saturate your little girl with loving interaction and respectful, child- centred care in an unhurried, calm environment as much as possible is the key to achieving healthy attachment. This is impossible 100 per cent of the time and parents, particularly mothers, need to stop feeling anguished if they have days when things don’t work out as they wished. Try to avoid self-criticism or revisiting every decision you made, especially when you’re trying to fall asleep. Good enough is good enough. Everyone will have days when they struggle. I can still remember hiding in the toilet at times, wondering why I decided to have children! Strong, healthy attachment can be formed with imperfect parents who are good enough most of the time. Focus on the good moments, be gentle with yourself, nurture your sense of humour and surround yourself with authentic humans who genuinely care about you. Before you know it, the first 1,000 days will be done and dusted.

I will leave the final words of this chapter to the wise and wonderful Dr Vanessa Lapointe:

When the dance of trust and reciprocity between parent and child is consistent, the child develops the belief that they are worthy of love and that they can simply lean into a parent’s enduring embrace – physically and emotionally – to receive that love. Over the years this consistent provision of love from the parent morphs into a consistent provision of self-love from within the child. The greatest gift a parent can give a child is to help them grow into an adult full of self-love.

– Dr Vanessa Lapointe, Parenting Right From the Start (2019)


  1. Strong, healthy attachment is as important to healthy childhood development as eating or sleeping.
  2. Secondary attachment with safe grown-ups who are not parents or key caregivers can have a huge positive influence in children’s lives.
  3. The more words babies and toddlers hear out of in-person human faces, the better.
  4. Painful emotional memories from early childhood can cause psychological challenges later in life.
  5. The human mind tends to create stories from our earliest experiences that can create belief systems that lie buried deep in the unconscious mind.

To read the previous extract from this chapter of Maggie’s book, click here