The Culture of Complaining Parents and Why It’s Not Healthy For Anyone

I am the mom of a five year old.  I am a step-mom to two teenagers.  I am a wife.   I work full time as a social worker.  Upon hearing this, many people just sigh and say “Oh honey, bless your heart.” They feel bad for me.  They are struck with the thought that I must be an exhausted warrior, carrying the weight of the entire world on my shoulders; that I must be battle worn from “caregiving” in so many different arenas.

I want people to stop making those assumptions.

I subscribe to many “mom blogs”.  I am constantly reading funny, satirical articles about just how AWFUL it is to be a parent.  “12 Reasons Mom Is up at 12 a.m.!”, “This Is Why Moms Are Always Freakin’ Exhausted!” and “8 Ways Your Sleep Is Screwed After Kids” scream the headlines.  We get no sleep, we never get to eat hot food, we never get to use the restroom alone, and we are always stressed and overwhelmed according to these articles and blogs.

It’s like we (parents, as a whole) wear stress and chaos like badges of honor.  We try to outdo each other constantly.  “You didn’t get to bed until midnight, because you were working on Junior’s science project?  Oh yeah?  Well, I didn’t go to sleep until 2 a.m. because Suzie was up with an ear infection.  I’m more tired than you.”  It’s almost as if we are afraid to admit that we are okay.  We are afraid to admit that we’ve got this parenting thing handled and under control and we are­— gasp— HAPPY.

Negative Nellies
As I read (and yes, I’ll admit) laugh at these blogs, I wonder, what is this constant complaining, this ongoing barrage of “everything is so incredibly terrible all the time and I need a nap”, doing to our mental health?  As a social worker, I can tell you it’s definitely not doing POSITIVE things for us.  An article in Psychology Today written by Guy Winch, Ph.D. reports “When we have so many dissatisfactions and frustrations, yet believe we’re powerless to do much about them or to get the results we want, we are left feeling helpless, hopeless, victimized, and bad about ourselves.”  Essentially, we transition from “Oh gosh, I’m so tired, we had a sleepless night with the kids last night” to “This is hopeless.  I’ll never get any sleep again; I can’t believe my kids are sucking the life and energy right out of me.”  I’ll bet many of you have actually uttered those exact words, or something close to them.  I know I have.

The Dark Side of Negativity
Complaining can damage more than just our self-esteem.  It can suck even more of our precious energy right out the window.  Sure, when you’re angry or annoyed a small burst of adrenaline pumps through your veins, but after that initial surge the “crash” brings you down hard and you are left feeling fatigued and worn down.  We’ve already discussed how it can bring down your own mood and make you feel helpless, hopeless and victimized, but it can also bring down the mood of those around you.  Negativity can also bring stress into the lives of others who were not experiencing it before encountering your complaints.  Also, complaining can quite literally kill you.  Stress caused by complaining raises blood pressure, can impair your immune system, suppress your thyroid, increase inflammation and cortisol (the “stress hormone”).   This is also the nasty stuff that causes us to gain excess belly fat, yet another thing to complain about.

Count Your Blessings & Celebrate Your Family
So how do we get out of the rut of constant complaining and negativism?  I’ve read about so many “challenges” on social media, wihch ask people not to complain for 24 hours, to see how life changes and I agree that this is a great strategy.  Take a 24 hour hiatus from complaining.  Find creative and positive things to talk about.  Connect with other human beings (and parents) on an optimistic level.  Instead of “12 Reasons Mom Is up at 12am” let’s talk about “12 Reasons I Think My 12 Year Old is Amazing”; “This is Why Moms are Always Freakin’ Exhausted!” can become “This Is Why Moms Are Superheroes” and use the opportunity to sing mom’s praises!; and “8 Ways Your Sleep Is Screwed After Kids” can morph into “8 Ways My Life is Better Now That I have Children.”

Being a human is often a difficult minefield of challenging experiences.  Being a parent doubles and triples the work we have to put in to make it through those obstacles.  We can acknowledge that these are challenging things while STILL acknowledging how wonderful and awe-inspiring they are.  I think it’s high time we hang up our old tired and worn out complaints and find something new and exciting, invigorating and WONDERFUL to say about our lives.

I am the mom of a five year old, the step-mom of two teenagers, a wife and a full time social worker.  And I absolutely  love every minute of it.  I get to enjoy the playful and whimsical spirit of my daughter as she experiences the world for the first time.  I get to help co-parent two funny, talented, smart young people who have changed my life in ways I never expected when I married their dad.  I get to be married to my best friend, my confidant, someone who renews my spirit and my soul daily and who loves me unconditionally.  I get to help people navigate a scary and daunting world, I get to live through their successes with them and help them find ways to build roads through their failures.  I am not exhausted, nor am I “battle worn”.  I am happy.  To me, that is something worth talking about.

By Leigh Wayna, Clinical Care Manager at Behavioral Health Professionals, Inc., Detroit, MI

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About Leigh Wayna
Leigh Wayna is an LMSW level clinician working as a Clinical Care Manager at BHPI, one of the premier Managed Care Provider Networks in Wayne County, Michigan.  A graduate of Wayne State University, she has spent her career working with Severe and Persistently Mental Ill adults and children both in direct service as a Crisis Stabilization Therapist, Partial Hospital Therapist, and Hospital Social Worker, as well as in indirect service in her current position.   Leigh is a wife, mother, step-mother and strong advocate for the consumers that she serves.

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