The stress of being a mom can be overwhelming, especially when kids’ emotions get out of control. I often wish I had 36 hours in a day and an extra set of arms attached to my body. Eyes in the back of my head would help, too. Let’s face it: I am more interested in coping with the challenges of raising young kids than I am with how I look in public. The first few months of motherhood make it clear that looking like a fashion model is less important than feeling like a calm and capable parent. Any mom with spit up on her shoulder and a mountainous pile of dirty laundry will tell you that.
There are many stress management techniques moms can use, and some moms go to great lengths to organize and control aspects of family life in an effort to minimize stress. They schedule family dinners a week in advance. They stick to a strict and detailed schedule each day. And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep kids happy.
Unfortunately, those stress management techniques increase the pressure moms feel to be superhuman. The most effective ways to cope with stress may require us moms to admit we can’t control it all. Here are three examples:
1) Encourage kids to be independent. Moms who try to do everything for their kids may feel like they have more control of what’s happening at home, but they will surely be overwhelmed by the pressure to do everything for everyone. Let your children do things for themselves whenever possible. Here’s a list of tasks young children can do for themselves (by age). My almost 3-year-old can get dressed by herself and I let her do that whenever I can. Yes, it takes longer that way, but she’s proud when she gets dressed without help. And I can put on my makeup while she’s figuring out how to put on her pants correctly.
2) Teach coping skills to your children. Instead of trying to avoid meltdowns and temper tantrums, use them as opportunities to teach kids ways to deal with stress. Emotional kids can do deep breathing exercises, count to 100, or take a time out to calm themselves down. (I describe these coping strategies and many more in Detachment Parenting.) Again, there is a time investment involved. But coaching kids to cope with their own feelings helps them develop healthy emotional habits over time. When it comes to stress management, don’t look for a quick fix. Look for long-term solutions. Investing time to teach kids to handle stress will reduce the stress level in your whole family for years to come.
3) Ditch your to-do list. If your list of required chores is longer than your arm, it is time to stop the insanity. On any given day, minor upsets (or major problems) may make it impossible for moms to accomplish all the tasks on the to-do list. That leads to frustration and makes it more likely you will overreact to stress. Aim to accomplish two of three really important tasks each day and consider it a victory if those things get done. The rest is icing on the cake. Really.