Anyone with a family knows that family life can be stressful- with work; busy schedules; often conflicting activities; trying to meet everyone’s wants and needs; constant demands for time and money; and of course the unexpected. Some times are easier than others, but often our resources are limited (time, money, or our ability to handle stress). Superman and Superwoman…or for that matter, Supermom and Superdad, are myths. Yes, some people balance it all and handle stress better than others, but no one can handle everything.
With more realistic expectations, organization, and a little planning, you can make things much easier for the whole family. Here are a few tips that might help.
- Don’t overschedule. For example, going to two birthday parties in one day or playing two or three sports in one season might be too much. Know your limits, keeping your family’s sanity in mind.
- Prioritize. Think about what’s most important to you and your family- quality time, date nights, academics, sports or other activities… Make time for your family’s priorities before adding more.
- Say “no”. Most of us aren’t very good at this. If you feel stressed, or don’t want to feel that way, know when to say when. Keeping in mind the first two suggestions, don’t feel guilty not working on Sunday, volunteering to coach teeball, or hosting the next family party.
- Be prepared. It’s not only the Boy Scouts’ motto, but a great way to live. Keep things in their place, get school materials or sports gear ready the night before, or prepare for times that may be particularly difficult with your children. Get young children or those with challenging behaviors prepared by letting them know what they can expect, what you expect, or offer some extra incentive to help them remember the conversation (such as a small treat at the end of a successful shopping trip). Give yourself a pep talk before these times too!
- Enlist help. “It takes a village” they say. Don’t be afraid to ask parents, siblings, neighbors, or friends for a hand if you need it. This may mean babysitting or a carpool to a practice or game. Just be sure to reciprocate! And don’t feel guilty hiring a babysitter from time to time.
- Communicate. Talk to your partner, family, friends, or other important people in your life about your stressors and how you might be able to help one another. As soon as you think your child is ready to take on responsibility, ask him or her to help out. This might include chores, keeping his or her room clean, taking care of a pet, or sticking to a homework routine.
- Tag team. If you have a partner or another adult who can help out, take turns making meals, packing lunches, driving to and from sports, helping with homework, or reading bedtime stories. If you’re feeling stressed, step out for a few minutes before going back to whatever you were doing. Also, take turns having alone time- for exercise, responding to e-mails or phonecalls, or running errands without the kids.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but keeping these things in mind can help cut your family’s stress and make room for more enjoyable times together. If any of these would be changes to your current way of doing things, be sure to commit for a period of time- at least a month, before this becomes a new routine. Also, remember that change is a process, and you may need to tweak things over time. Best of luck to you and take care!
Dr. Jesse Matthews is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chester Springs, PA. He helps people of all ages to address many kinds of issues. You can view his Psychology Today profile here. For any questions or to arrange an appointment, please contact him at 610-482-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.