Every parent, no matter how balanced, patient, and aware gets to the point where something — or everything — is just too much. Sometimes “too much” is a matter of comfort, sometimes it’s a physical drain, while other times it feels almost personal and emotionally overwhelming.
I’ve experienced all of these at some point in the last fifteen years, usually many times. While it helps to have a co-parent now, it’s still not easy from day to day.
If you’re fortunate enough to share parenting with one or more adults, it’s wonderful to be able to lean on someone to provide support and to give support in return. But what if all the adults are feeling tired, grouchy, or overwhelmed? What if you’re going it alone?
Here’s what helps get our house back into flow, when we adults remember to do it.
- Slow down. No matter how important keeping to a schedule seems, sometimes it’s best to simply stop watching the clock and take time to pay attention to the little things — and little ones — who need us. Sometimes I forget dinner can wait a few extra minutes so I can finish up a game with my son, or my late night work can wait another day so I can have a heart-to-heart with my daughter. When we cram too many things into a day, it becomes too much for everyone, and leads to less patience and more shouting. Typically, the smaller the person, the bigger the scream, too, and a screaming toddler is no fun for anyone. Take a deep breath, go back to basics, and focus on the two or three things that matter most in a day — or the one person in a moment.
- Clean up. When the demands of parenting and being an adult add more pressure than you can handle, it can help with focus on regain a sense of control by cleaning something. Get everyone working on picking up their toys and objects, or if you need to be alone and not supervising, deal with some chore you’ve been putting off or you know will help you let go. My daughter tells me she’s actually come to enjoy doing dishes for the relief she feels after doing them. Together, we’ve gotten our fridge deep cleaned and our kitchen in excellent shape this month, and we enjoyed doing it together. My son has had fun picking up his cars, ponies, and Duplo (always out at once, for some reason), just so he can have a chance to play with my Calico Critters. Yes, I said mine. They relax me.
- Declutter. Lately, my partner has been feeling the crunch of time between a demanding senior position, a long commute each day, and the little bit of time each evening he gets to spend with his family. It’s a classic complaint, and I’ve taken to working harder to hear him out even when I’m feeling grouchy. He gives me respite from parenting, while gaining the joy of playing with the children, and I’m able to get time to practice piano, play a solitary game, get some chores done, or tend to a health complaint. One of the aspects of our home aggravating him the most (besides the roof) is the abundance of toys spread out across the office every evening. I’ve suggested we rotate bins and only take out one when the rest are put away, but until I can get everyone on board (especially our son), we’ve agreed there are a lot of toys he simply doesn’t play with enough to warrant holding onto. This week, we’ll be collecting the toys our son isn’t using and donate them to a non-profit who can make better use of them. Even my son likes this idea, because it overwhelms him, too!
- Be gentle. When feeling overwhelmed, pressured, on the verge of tears or yelling, it can be difficult to remember everyone else’s feelings. One thing I say to everyone, including myself, is to be gentle. Gentle in word, deed, and feeling. To avoid assuming someone is doing or saying something intended to be unkind. Our family is a caring bunch, and homeschooling leads us all to spend more time with each other than many parents who are unable to do so. No matter how much we love each other, we get on each other’s nerves. Taking an extra breath when grumpy and ready to argue, it helps to remember to approach each situation gently. It can be hard, I’ve certainly failed a number of times when my patience wore thin and I raised my voice or said something cynical, but like everything, we get better with practice. However we react to pressure will affect many events that follow. Some small slight can wreck a whole day or weekend, while pausing to regain an outlook of gentleness can help everyone relax and move smoothly into a happier day.
- Make plans. Another way to regain control is to sit down with the family and make plans to tackle whatever issues you’re facing. Whether it’s cleaning out the garage together, going on vacation, planning your weekend, or just coming up with school activities or a meal plan for the week. By brainstorming a list, and setting goals and steps to achieve them, the family becomes a team and even if not very exciting, can lead to better cooperation all around.
- Dance party. When all else fails, engage your body. Get physical. Dance it out. Sing, drum, run, swim, laugh, shout. Do whatever it takes to get out of your head and into your body again. It’s grounding, energizing, and can encourage everyone else to get loose and join you in an impromptu romp. Come together in the joy of movement, rhythm, harmony. It might not solve all your problems, but you’ll feel better for it after, and things might not look so overwhelming.
These are some actions I take when the kids are yelling at each other, my partner’s grouchy, and I want to hide in my room playing Bubble Witch 2 until it blows over. Believe me, these help a lot more than avoiding the issues at hand. What works for your family?