Aren’t you done feeling stressed all the time?
It’s bad enough that modern life in general has become super stressful, but we parents seem to have mastered the art of adding more and more stress to our lives.
And the terrible thing is, the more stress we’re under, the less we’re able to enjoy our children, and the fleeting days of their littleness and innocence and, well, ours.
Too often I postpone moments of connection with my daughters, instead allowing myself to be consumed by a to-do list that somehow feels more urgent in that moment. I end up spending my limited store of energy on things that don’t matter much at all.
For instance, during Christmas I thought it would be fun to use holiday-themed postage stamps for our Christmas cards. What started as a simple idea soon turned into an acute source of stress… it was getting close to my deadline for mailing the cards, but I just couldn’t seem to make it to the post office. Knowing that the lines would be insane that time of year made me resist the trip even more.
Every time I passed the pile of cards on the counter, ready to go but for a lack of stamps, I felt a little zing of annoyance and frustration. Until one day I realized just how ridiculous the situation was!
No one receiving the card was going to care or notice what kind of stamps I used. I could simplify my life during a chaotic season by simply slapping on the vanilla American flag stamps I already had on hand.
Which is what I finally did. It felt great to finally get the cards off my counter and in the mailbox.
That situation got me thinking…
Some of the stress in our lives is unavoidable, but a fair amount of it can be prevented. By choosing to focus on some of these preventable sources of stress, we can make our lives, and parenting, a whole lot simpler and so much more enjoyable.
I’ve put together a list of 8 ways to relieve stress based on observations of what many of us parents tend to do that unnecessarily complicates our lives. I’d love to hear your ideas–let me know in the comments!
#1 Don’t try to fit in just one more errand
I’ve had many a successful shopping trip go awry because I wasn’t willing to quit when I was ahead.
When my daughters (ages 5 months, and almost 4 years) are cooperating, it’s tempting to think, “I can just swing by the post office on the way home,” or, “I can run into the library and grab that movie they’ve had on hold for me for six days,” but it’s generally never worth it.
Because that one last stop is when tears tend to bubble up and my temper boils over. And this applies as much to older kids (or your spouse, for that matter) – just replace tears with crankiness and a foul mood.
Appreciate that you and your children have handled an outing without incident and let everyone end on a good note.
#2 Your children don’t have to look like Gap models
I’ve been cautious not to let my daughter see the dazzling array of hair-dos on Pinterest, partly because I’m incapable of replicating even 5% of them, but also because we’re lucky to get out the door with both shoes intact (not even necessarily on the right feet), and a fancy hair-do rarely makes it on my list of priorities.
Ponytails are great. Hair that’s simply brushed is fine. Even hair that isn’t brushed is okay, because it will likely help ease the guilt of another parent who worries that they’re the only one who can’t get their kids out the door looking semi-presentable.
Soon after my daughter learned how to dress herself I determined that the what-to-wear battle is usually not worth picking. Of course it’s normal to want your kids to look nice and put together, but I find I’d rather have mismatched clothes and half-brushed hair on a child I haven’t yelled at and am feeling positive toward, than a sad or fuming child who has every hair in place.
#3 Be the boss of your time, keep your schedule light
Every expert I know recommends this as one of the best ways to relieve stress, and honestly, deep down we all know this is true. And yet, I can bet that this is the one that most of us struggle with. Why?
Without regular pruning life gets cluttered to the brim. There are countless good ways to spend our time and innumerable wonderful opportunities calling out to us. We know we can’t do everything, but it’s so tempting to try.
I think a better alternative is to take the advice in the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and carefully choose the things we value most, devote ourselves wholeheartedly to them, and truly excel.
Often, I don’t realize I’ve overextended myself until it’s too late. Until I’m in tears, have a cold from a weakened immune system, or a fuse so short it catches even me off guard.
But I can turn around and apply that knowledge the next time I catch myself over committing. One of my favorite books is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It taught me how to say no and why it’s okay to say no. Saying no is hard, but trying to do more than you reasonably can is harder.
Keeping a schedule light takes vigilance. You have to give yourself permission to not attend every birthday party, barbeque, or community-sponsored event.
Combating the busyness that is par for the course in our society only gets more challenging as kids enter school. I like the idea of letting your children choose one extracurricular to participate in, leaving them much-needed downtime to explore and create uninhibited by adult direction, and leaving you with a much fuller tank of gas.
The space you can create in your life by saying no and being selective is totally worth the effort. By refusing to over commit you’ll ensure that life isn’t passing you by. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh,
Smile, breathe, and go slowly.
#4 Expectations be darned, simple meals count
For some reason I feel like a meal must be painful to prepare in order to count as a “real” meal. You know what I mean?
Breakfast for dinner is wonderful, especially on those days when a much-needed trip to the grocery store didn’t happen. Pancakes, waffles, yogurt, omelets—all simple and delicious. (Okay, I actually spent a bit of time learning the art of omelet making from how-to videos on YouTube.)
Throw in a green smoothie and I feel like a rock star. (This one is delicious and has shortened many a winter cold at our house: Fill your blender halfway with spinach, 1 frozen banana, 5 or 6 frozen strawberries, ¼ C. canned pineapple, ½ C. apple juice, 1 C. water.)
Other go-to dinners include BLTs, or technically BLTCs, because everything tastes better with cheese. French dip sandwiches. Mini pizzas on English muffins—my 4-year-old loves making funny faces with the toppings (chopped olives make great angry eyebrows.)
And of course, there’s ordering pizza or takeout. That glorious feeling of not having to prepare anything at all is worth the extra cash and calories now and then, don’t you think?
#5 You may like things done just so. Still, learn to delegate
This one is hard for me because, well, I like to be in control.
I have on occasion, reloaded the dishwasher so it was “my way.” I’ve rolled my eyes when my husband returns from the grocery store with fifteen more items than those on the list (though he does call to make sure he gets exactly the right items on the list, so points for that).
But the times when I have relinquished control and accepted that things can be done different ways, I’ve felt a great weight lifted. Plus, delegating to your kids gives them a chance to contribute to the household. You get a break, they learn responsibility. Win, win.
Lately my three-year-old has been in a phase of only wanting mommy to do things for her. That gets old really fast! Often I relent, but sometimes I muster the energy to say, “Nope, Daddy gets to help you this time.” Tears usually ensue, but eventually she’ll let dad read bedtime stories or brush her teeth. And they have a great time together.
Another idea is to take the occasional night off and leave the house altogether, so your kids don’t have a choice about who helps them.
For those parenting without the help of a spouse or partner, you have my deep respect and admiration. Hopefully you have a support network to do exactly that: support you. Give you much-needed breaks and encouragement. Which leads me to my next item…
#6 A super parent you’re not. Accept help
Maybe even ask for it, as difficult as that can be. This one’s also tough for me. Fear of inconveniencing people keeps me from asking for help and even accepting it when it’s offered. But I believe accepting help is a skill that can and must be developed to survive as parents.
I try to remind myself how good I feel when I’m able to assist someone, and that by accepting help I’m providing that opportunity for someone else.
When I was pregnant with my second baby, my massage therapist friend offered to give me a free massage. I immediately suggested we should do a trade and I could watch her daughter. She simply said, “Why don’t you just receive.” She had recently gone through a divorce and told me she’d been on the receiving end a lot lately and was happy to now be in a place where she could give.
The idea of receiving without scrambling to reciprocate was a novel one to me, but I took her advice, and my aching body thanked me.
It’s great to be in a place of stability that allows you to extend yourself to others, but it’s also normal to be the one in need of an extra hand sometimes. Start small. Practice by asking for small favors from the people you’re most comfortable with. Ask a friend or relative to watch your child for a few hours when you’re sick or just really tired. Allow people to bring you meals when you’re sick or have a baby. Take people up on their sincere offers. Practice receiving graciously. Then when life serves up something big for you to deal with, it’ll be easier to let others lighten your load.
#7 Don’t underestimate the power of siesta
Sometimes I feel like my life is over, when really all I need is a nap.
Sleep is remarkably healing, but it’s really hard to schedule a nap into your day. There will always be other things to spend your spare time or your child’s precious naptime hours on: a phone call to return, mounds of laundry, a good book, a stack of mail that’s beginning to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
These tasks try to convince you that they’re more important than napping, but there are days when sleep really trumps them all (with the possible exception of the good book).
Maybe you feel guilty taking naps—don’t.
By napping you give your body and mind an absolutely essential gift. One that can leave you feeling sharper, refreshed, and even more patient.
So next time you find yourself in need of some extra shut eye, respond to your body’s cues!
#8 Adjust expectations – perfection simply isn’t a part of the family equation
You can make a whole ton of the stress in your life go away with a simple trick of adjusting what you expect of yourself. And your family.
I think most of the stress I feel stems from self-imposed expectations that are generally unrealistic and unnecessary. Like the feeling I sometimes get that the world will surely end if I don’t clean my kitchen this very instant.
Thankfully it’s in our power to change our expectations! At the very least we can make them more flexible, more respectful of life’s twists, turns, and inevitable interruptions.
Maybe you wanted to mail a Christmas card with holiday-themed postage stamps. But decide to be okay with the vanilla American flag stamps instead. Heck, you may even forego the card entirely this year and shoot out emails to everybody on your list.
Perhaps you have an ambition to clean your whole house but can instead congratulate yourself on at least tidying up the bathroom, when the whole house thing doesn’t pan out.
This is even more important when it comes to your children.
Maybe they didn’t remember to hang up their coat, but look, their shoes are in the closet!
Setting attainable expectations is not just one of the simplest and quickest ways to relieve stress but may also be the ultimate secret to finding more satisfaction in life.
What more can we ask for?
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Make a list of the top 3 things that have been stressing you out lately.
- Are any of them in your power to change? If so, what’s stopping you?
- If there are stressors that you can’t alter, can you change the way you relate to them?
- Pick one item from your list and employ this simple breathing technique: As you inhale, think “Let” and as you exhale, think “Go.” Do this five or ten times, breathing slowly. Does it diminish the scale of the problem and make it less looming than just a minute ago?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Consider which of these ideas resonated with you the most. The answer to that question will give you a big clue about where unnecessary stress may be lurking in your life.
Think of one way you can relieve stress this week by experimenting with just one of the ideas. Maybe you’ll say no the next time you’re asked to commit to something that you know will push you over the edge or delegate a task you’re used to being in charge of. Perhaps you’ll order pizza or accept help without feeling like you must reciprocate immediately.
Whatever it is, give yourself permission to change and be free to enjoy your life and your kids!