Feeling frazzled? Slow down and reconnect.
Demands on parents seem to stretch us in 10 different ways. It’s no wonder that the American Psychological Association reports that 57 percent of Americans cite “family responsibilities” as a top source of stress. We turned to Barbara LeBlanc, LCSW-BACS, director of the Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, for some insight and guidance.
Embrace your child’s pace
“Move at their pace as they learn to dress themselves, as they wrap up what they’re doing, as they help you with some little things around the house,” Barbara explains. “ It’s often more expedient to do it ourselves, but it is going to be more engaging and more time with your family if you can involve them with some of those things.”
Don’t eliminate, prioritize
“Rather than say ‘cut out things,’ it’s important to prioritize to think about what you’re going to do,” says Barbara. “You’re always making choices—choices that sometimes may not look very important to other people, but they might be very important to you.” So if you really enjoy that pottery class or that regularly scheduled evening out with your girlfriends, keep it in the schedule. If it takes time away from the family, consider how you might prioritize other activities so that you can make up for the time that you’re out of the house.
“Self-care is a big part of reducing stress, to really think about what you’re doing in your family for self-care so that you have more energy for your family,” Barbara says.
Build rituals to ease tensions
Certain times of the day—like getting out of the house in the morning—are particularly stressful. Some of that is unavoidable, but preparing as much as you can the night before, and saying no to TV and other electronics in the morning, can help alleviate some of the distractions that cause delays and subsequent rushing. Regardless of how frantic your mornings are, you can create some rituals for the end of the day that will help your family slow down and reconnect.
“You can have a certain way of greeting them when you pick them up from daycare or aftercare at school,” says Barbara. And then, when you come back in the house, “don’t immediately send them off to do something while you get dinner ready. Involve them, bring them in the kitchen with you. Have them there with you.”
Despite our efforts to nod in agreement or check our emails on the sly, our kids know when we’re not really present. “When they’re really young, they’ll turn your face toward them and they’ll talk to you. They know that you’re thinking about something else,” explains Barbara. In her book, Ask the Children, Ellen Galinsky shares that the one universal answer provided by kids about what they really want was time with family.
Have realistic expectations
It could be we’re holding onto rose-colored memories of our own childhoods, or basing our perception of an “ideal” family life on a TV show or what our friends post on Facebook. Barbara says that unrealistic expectations are the most common problem for frazzled parents today.
“It’s the ‘should’ that we have in our heads, about what we ‘should’ be able to do,” she says. “Looking at our fantasy about what it’s like in every other house in town: Parents having relaxing evenings and reading stories and having good family time and everybody is happy when they go to bed. That’s just not the case. Everybody struggles making that kind of time.”