The kids are finally in bed, and I survey the damage.
The dishes pile dirty in the sink, miscellaneous toys and objects clutter the house, most of my To-Do list remains undone, and I am exhausted.
What did I do all day? Was I a failure?
Upon reflecting on this day, I actually feel supremely at peace. Here is why.
The Truth about Parenting and Stress
As parents, there is a pull to feel like we need to do it all.
We need to have a well-organized home, well-balanced children, well-funded bank account, and on.
It can leave us feeling very not well.
Throw in a few Pinterest searches and we easily imagine that we live in the only stress-filled house on the block, while everyone else has life put together.
These feelings lead to the days that feel most exhausting and the nights that sometimes leave me in tears.
These are the times, when I am being utterly honest with myself, that I have usually forgotten what it is all really about.
The truth about parenting is that it is not about my house.
Parenting is not about my bank account.
Parenting is not even about me.
Parenting is ultimately about the little ones who typically make the messes, cost the most, and don’t always know how to thank you for all you do.
If we can remember this, life feels very different.
I guarantee we will still not be able to do it all. Another truth: nobody does it all.
If we can remember what really matters though and live accordingly, then we can do what is most important. The other things fall into place when they can, or they get left undone and life goes on.
That is the essence of stress-free parenting.
Stress is defined as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.”
Much of that strain or tension as parents comes from competing demands on our time, attention, and emotions. When we clearly understand where to put our time, attention, and emotions, the tension melts.
That is not to say that parenting suddenly becomes easy. There is still a lot to do. There are still questions like, “What is the best way to approach this child’s difficulties?” Parenting is still challenging.
However, we do not have to stress each day about whether or not we have done what we should or whether or not this day was a waste. We feel like failures much less often.
When we remember and do what is most important, parenting stress falls away.
One Thing that Can Make Every Day a Good Parenting Day
It “should” be easy to remember that as a parent, our children ought to come first. Unfortunately, there is something about life and society that sometimes leads us to forget, at least momentarily.
There is one simple intention that I have set, which helps me remember. When I do it, it allows me to look back at those crazy, busy days, and feel like they were successful.
Every day, make a meaningful connection with every one of your children.
Here, simplicity wins the day.
The intention or goal is simple enough that I can actually do it.
It is meaningful enough that it actually matters.
It might seem too simple, like that is what every parent does all day every day. However, making meaningful connections takes effort.
Three Tips to Make it Work
- 1. Make the time meaningful to the child.
- An irreplaceable gift we can help our children gain is inherent self-worth. This self-worth will prepare them in the most important ways for many of life’s challenges. One way that self-worth is developed is when our children feel loved and appreciated as an individual, not only as part of the whole family. Find ways to connect that your child will feel are personalized to him or her.
- 2. When you have a hard time connecting, go against your natural inclination.
- While we certainly love each child equally, the relationships we have with each are unique. You may find it harder to connect with some kids than others due to schedules or personality differences. In this case, try going against your natural inclination, do something different. If your natural habit is talking, try listening. If you usually do structured activities, go forward with zero plan. If connecting at night when it is convenient for you is not working, experiment with an earlier morning. If you typically give advice, ask for it instead. Keep loving but try showing it in different ways.
- 3. Aim for at least ten, uninterrupted minutes.
- Completely turn off the sound on your phone. Hearing the notification, even if you don’t answer, distracts you from your child and what really matters in that moment. Say no to other distractions. Usually those ten minutes will stretch, but by setting a very reasonable goal, you are more likely to actually do it, even during the craziest days and stages. With tough love I will tell you, if you cannot find ten minutes for each child on a regular basis, it is time to examine your life and where you can cut back.
Today I did not wash the dishes or the laundry, but they will still be dirty and waiting in the morning. We did not put the toys away, but even if we did, they would be scattered again tomorrow. We definitely spent more money than we earned, but we can keep working on that tomorrow.
As I sit amongst this mess, I think about each child.
Today, I spent twenty minutes reading about ten minutes of Harry Potter #2 with one child, as I listened patiently to his add-ins, questions, and comments about the day.
I sat on the floor building block towers over and over with a different child, and we giggled together as they were purposefully tumbled.
I enjoyed a violin song that had just been learned by my oldest child, expressed genuine astonishment, and discussed the ongoing musical lessons.
I listened as frustrations and anxieties were shared by another child and hugged him when I didn’t think anything I could say in the moment would make a difference.
(Yes, we have quite a herd.)
These were the moments that mattered today. These simple episodes represent what was most important.
The children I tucked in bed tonight spent at least ten meaningful minutes with me today, and tomorrow they will be a day older.
I will never get this day with them back again.
I can’t do it all, and neither can you. But even on the most stressful days, we can do what matters most. We can do that every single day.
How do you handle parenting stress? What has worked for you in making meaningful connections with your kids? Please share in the comments.