Hasn’t excessive stress become a part of everyone’s life? Parents feel the stress generated by their jobs, by taking care of the children, by needing to keep the household going – all at running pace, of course. Children feel the stress of being overloaded with homework and getting shuttled from one activity to the next. Everyone ends up being irritated – stress is contagious!
The key is to realize that your family is caught up in too much stress. For a minute step outside of yourself and look at how you can improve the situation for your family and for yourself.
1. Take your time
Stress is generated by not having enough time. Do you already feel stressed when you are trying to leave the house on time in the morning, to get everyone ready for school, to get yourself ready for work, to prepare lunchboxes for everyone, to set up the gear for after-school activities? Did everyone eat their breakfast? What about making sure that everyone brushes his or her teeth? You have to go to the bathroom NOW? Everyone is yelling, running around like headless chickens. And, well, you are late.
Let’s try to reduce the chaos by allowing enough time for the critical activities. Is getting your kids out of bed in the morning part of the problem? Does it take 15 minutes until they finally crawl out of bed? Are those the 15 minutes that are missing later at a time when you would like to leave the house? So, let’s set the alarm 15 minutes earlier or, even better, 30 minutes earlier. What could be better than having 15 minutes of spare time in the end? Of course, that implies that the kids actually did everything on time and in the amount of time you had scheduled for the task. Otherwise you might be happy to have started 30 minutes early!
In general, make it your goal to arrive 10 minutes early anywhere important you need to be. That gives you a little time to breathe. Some people find it helpful to set their watch five minutes early. But no cheating: Just because you know that you have a five minute grace period, that doesn’t mean you can now arrive at 12:05 instead of 12:00!
2. Think about whether or not an issue is really worth getting upset about
Is it more stressful to get upset about your son having wiped his chocolate milk mouth on his now no longer white shirt at breakfast or would it save you some adrenalin to just calmly let him know that he needs to change his shirt before he leaves to school? There is a pile of laundry that needs to be washed anyway. One more shirt probably doesn’t make a big difference. I know that you are saying “one shirt doesn’t make a difference, but seven do (one for every breakfast!!!).” I would, indeed, try to educate your son to better manners and provide a napkin in that critical moment. But this is something you can talk about in a quiet moment (maybe once you have everyone buckled in the car and they can’t run away). Having an emotional outbreak at the breakfast table won’t help anyone involved.
This is just one small example of many situations parents face every day, at home and at work. Try to catch yourself when you feel you are beginning to get upset over something. For a second consider if it’s really worth spilling all that adrenalin. Maybe you can just drop the issue without saying much? Could you talk instead of screaming? Or could you postpone addressing the topic later when calmer feelings prevail? There are actions which certainly call for immediate action. They usually concern safety and the breaking of important rules (i.e., no hitting). A lot of the other scenarios that get parents upset include the so-called nuisances – repetitive or annoying behaviors. Getting stressed over these issues is most likely not going to change them – it’s a vicious cycle. It needs to be interrupted by changing the parents’ behavior and by discussing the problematic behavior with the child at a different time, when things are calm.
The key is to relax the demands we put on ourselves.
3. Think and talk positively
During a day full of challenges and stress it can be hard to stay positive. Parents end up nagging their children a great deal and at night parents end up talking about all the difficult and impossible moments of the day. Remember the song “always look at the bright side of life?” It does help to compel yourself to just leave the bad moments of the day behind and focus on the positive. When you find yourself thinking and talking about what didn’t work that day, think and talk about something good instead. It will make you feel better and take some of the stress and worries away. If you changed your son’s wet and poopy underwear 3 times that day because he seems to be resisting potty training, think about the fact that this won’t last forever and that he will not be soiling his underwear by the time high school comes around!
Put things into perspective and choose consciously to look at them from the positive side rather than from the negative. It will enrich your life. This approach certainly will not ensure life’s important challenges will fade, but it changes how you deal with them and that in turn will bring on less stress.
Delegate some tasks to anyone who crosses your mind or path. That definitely starts with your children: Ask yourself what repetitive tasks you are performing for them that could become their own obligation. You are trying to nurture responsible, independent human beings. After you emptied half-eaten meal pieces out of yesterday’s lunch box, washed the box, made a new lunch, would it be too much to ask from an elementary school child to remember to put his lunch in his backpack along with his homework?
Every child should also have a simple job in the house, like taking out the trash or the recycling box, making her bed or clearing her plate and cup from the table after meals. In the beginning those tasks need reminders, they might not be done perfectly, but after a while they become real help – and they help engender responsible children.
On your to-delegate list you could next have your spouse and close family members. If they are unavailable or tied up, see if your budget allows for salaried help. That could include a house cleaning service once every two weeks or someone who could do your laundry. Or it could mean that you get to leave the house by yourself for one hour every week. These are important stress reduction measures that should be planned in advance and something you can look forward to.
Don’t be afraid to delegate. There is no way you can or should do everything in your and your family’s life. Delegating does not mean that you failed in doing your job. It just means that you are smart in staying sane and healthy and that you can still enjoy life.
5. Include a relaxing moment in your daily routine
Everyone knows: After you had 15 minutes (or even 10!) to yourself without anyone calling your name, you feel like a new person. You are then ready to tackle the rest of the day with all the challenges it might bring. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home mom or a parent juggling both career and kids. A built-in quiet time to recharge every day helps everyone.
If you are a parent of young children you could for instance start by introducing “quiet time” for the children in the house. With four young children and a dog on tow, in my own home, this means that everyone gets to be in a different room for one hour every day. Only books and some simple quiet games (like puzzles or toy cars) are acceptable. Kids who still nap are brought to bed at the same time that the older ones stay in a room for a quiet period. We typically set a timer so that the kids don’t have to ask constantly when time is up. Our doggy usually goes to a different room with the door closed, as he typically barks when everyone is asleep and quiet! We even used to post a note on the door for the UPS guy who always rang the bell during our sacred time just to announce that he left a package in front of the door. “Leave the package and don’t ring the bell!”
There are two key things to make this work: 1. Be consistent. There is no day without this quiet period unless you are not at home. 2. Adults have to do “quiet time” at the same time as the kids. If the kids hear all kinds of interesting noises in the house it is hard for them to stay hush in their room. But what could be better than to be forced to take a little nap yourself or lie down to read a few pages or have a coffee in peace or go to the bathroom all by yourself!!!
Patty Pless MD, PCI Certified Parent Coach®, www.familyequilibrium.com