Have you ever put meat to thaw in the refrigerator only to find that the container it was in had a small hole that you hadn’t noticed before? When that happens, it winds up making a nasty mess all over the shelf, or worse, it drips down on everything below it. I’m not saying I’ve ever done this, I’m just saying it’s miserable. And that’s the story of how every piece of meat in my house is placed inside twenty million plastic bags before it is left to thaw in the fridge.
The same leakiness occurs with our emotions. This is especially true of stress, because it’s insidious, often hidden from our own sight (sometimes intentionally!). We do our best to compartmentalize our stress so it won’t impact our lives. We do our best to set it on its own shelf in a leak proof container, but it inevitably finds a way to leak onto everything (and everyone) around.
Here are a few things to watch out for so that you can spot stress QUICKLY before it leaks into your relationship with your kids.
1. Your bad habits are less manageable.
Whether this is a sin pattern or a seemingly “innocent” bad habit, these come knocking whenever we’re stressed. If you’ve been slipping into bad habits, there’s a good chance you’ve got stress that you haven’t yet managed.
2. You are distracted to a greater degree.
Sometimes I call these distractions “micro-obsessions,” because that’s how it plays out for me. I’m naturally inquisitive, and I read voraciously. Still, when I’m stressed, these new obsessions, or new things to learn about, begin to take over time that rightfully belongs to my family. For you it may be a different kind of distraction. It may involve a screen. No matter what it is, a distraction is not something that will add value to your life or your relationship with your kids. When they become hard to set aside, we can know we’re probably not managing our stress well.
3. You are more quick-tempered than usual.
This one is almost universal. Almost everyone I know has a shorter fuse when they’re stressed. BUT–just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s desirable. When you find yourself losing your temper more than normal, there’s a good chance you’re stressed out. If you’re married, your spouse will probably notice before you do. Do everyone a favor and listen if they point out heightened stress.
Here’s the thing–your kids will notice your stress. Like your spouse, they’ll probably notice it before you do. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your stress can have a profound impact on their mental health, because they do not have the ability to differentiate themselves from you. In other words, their concept of self is not yet fully separate from their concept of mom and dad. If there’s something going on with mom or dad, they have no way to convince themselves that it’s not about them, that it’s not their fault. This is why it’s frightening but true that a healthy family begins with healthy parents. If you’re not in a healthy spot, it will be exceedingly difficult for your family to be in a healthy spot.
If you’re human like me, and especially if you’re an honest human, you’re gonna feel some despair right about now. There is not a person reading this who can live up to the pressures of parenthood. Nonetheless, those of us who are in Christ have an alternative to despair, and it’s called CONFESSION. When we confess our sin, God is quick to forgive us. In fact, because of Jesus, he will never fail to forgive you when you bring your sin to him. That’s what Jesus accomplished on the cross. And 1st John makes it clear that your confession will do more than that. Because of your confession God will not only forgive you, but will also cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
Next time you’re feeling stressed, don’t bottle it up, as though to hide it from yourself and from God. Don’t beat yourself up, as though to pay for your sin. After all, God sees all things, and Jesus has already paid for your sin! Instead, confess. Agree with God that things have gotten out of sorts in your heart and ask him to help you back to a place of joy and peace. Ask him to help you overcome the stress in your life so that you can be healthy for your kids!