How to stress less about parenting

Copy of Stress and postnatal depressionDespite all its wonder, weirdness and blessings, parenting is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. For someone who up until this point in life has struggled to keep a plant alive, the responsibility of nurturing a real live human can feel huge sometimes. And the job of parenting these days is further complicated by the amount of literature about different parenting methods,  food dos and don’ts, how we are failing our kids if we don’t sign them up to every structured, play-based learning opportunity, the list continues. Sometimes amongst all that noise it’s hard to hear the steady beat of  your own parenting drum.

And that, I think, is the key to stressing less about parenting. Forget what Aunt Mildred, your mother, whatever parenting expert everyone says you should read says – what is your heart telling you about raising your children?

I found it hard to block out the noise – and for the first couple of years of parenting just felt the uncomfortable bind of trying to do it all, without giving much thought about what was most important to me and my family. My activities consisted of a steady stream of ‘shoulds’ from the potentially perfect parenting handbook and as much as my hard work paid off in raising healthy and seemingly well-adjusted kids, I was on an endless treadmill of things that I should be doing. It was exhausting and more than a little debilitating. So, I stopped doing all of the things and slowed down. I stopped planning activities for every day I was at home and just made space to be with my children, I listened to the times I felt at ease and my kids felt at ease and decided to do more of that and less of the things that left us feeling strung out. All those little moments of peace led to more little moments of peace and so on until I felt more at ease in general with the parenting decisions I made.

So, if you’re feeling a bit stuck on the treadmill of perfect parenthood – switch it off! And start slowing walking towards the parent you’re meant to be.

1. Listen to your heart: What’s right for one parent, may not be right for the next. When making a parenting decision, stop and listen to what matters to you. Try and block out the noise of family, friends and popular opinion and ask yourself what truly matters to you and your family. The answer is always there.

2. Don’t feel the need to overschedule: At what times do you feel most at peace (yes, you’re allowed to say when the kids are asleep!!) What kind of activities do you enjoy doing with your kids. What activities do they enjoy most? You might find that there is a similarity between the two. There’s such a push towards organised activities that I always felt I was failing my kids by not enrolling them in this and that, so when we were at home I’d feel a bit of guilt creep in. However, what I found was that both my kids and I thrive with having at least one day to ourselves pottering around the house or neighbourhood. 

3. Leave time to amble: I find that rushing really stresses me out, so by following the tip above I have a bit more space in my day to take my time and enjoy getting from point A to point B without shouting ‘hurry up’ ‘c’mon’ and ‘mum has to get to work’. It doesn’t always work, but I find if I’m able to leave more time, I feel a lot less stressed.

4. Stop judging yourself: If you’re anything like me, you are your harshest critic. So, you had a bad day and yelled at the kids a lot and served them up maccas for dinner because you were so exhausted? Don’t sweat it, tomorrow’s a new day! Let your focus be on the greater good and allow yourself moments of human failings. Nobody is perfect.

5. Don’t listen to the ‘shoulds’: The ‘shoulds’ will take over your parenting life if you let them and before you know it, you’re spending all your time on all the things you don’t enjoy but feel like you should do, while the enjoyable moments slip past unnoticed. Notice what follows a ‘should’ – is it something you even need to be doing? Can it wait, until you play with your kids, walk around your neighbourhood or go have a well-needed nap. Start prioritising your ‘I’d love tos’!

I’d love to hear what you think of these simple steps towards stress less parenting – have they worked for you? What are your top tips?

Stress and the unspoken truth of postnatal depression

Stress and postnatal depressionSometimes stress hides a great unspoken. Unspoken truths that rattle around in our heads that we may only share with our partner or a trusted friend, or maybe no-one at all. Many times since becoming a mother I’ve stood in my living room surrounded by chaos and screaming children and felt like a total and utter failure, while feeling exhaustion down to my bones. Rationally, I know this is a feeling that most mothers have felt and rarely shared, but at that very moment I felt so completely incompetent and alone. As mothers, the message we’re fed is to ‘suck it up’, ‘get on with it’, ‘don’t complain’ and ‘surely you knew what you were getting yourself into?’ Is it any wonder that depression among mothers is so rife? An Australian study released this week found the highest rate of depression reported by mothers is four years after having their first child. Four years. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression in varying degrees since having my first child 4 and half years ago, this hit me like a lightning bolt.

Often, the postnatal depression we hear about is the sudden and abrupt kind. While this is a very real and a particularly tragic form of postnatal depression, there’s another kind. The creeping, destabilising force that undermines your confidence, that whispers words of failure in your ears, that paralyses your decision making with its anxiety, while you carry on doing your best, mothering, working, with an unpleasant truth nipping at your heels. Its insidious and when not dealt with, only continues. This has been my experience and, as this study shows, that of a lot of other women.

It’s only in hindsight that I realise how badly I was in its grips after the birth of both my boys, but particularly after my first child. Both experiences were different , but were nonetheless coloured by that very first experience of motherhood where I struggled and struggled, felt misunderstood and alone. Now I know I should’ve reached out and asked for help, rather than swallowed the belief that motherhood is hard and that I just should struggle on and get used to it. Maybe the following years may have been a bit easier in some ways if I’d been able to do that. So, if you’re out there right now feeling like you’re struggling, I’d encourage you to reach out and tell someone you know will understand how you are feeling. Someone who will take your feelings seriously and help you get the help you need.

While I can’t change what I chose back then, I can change how I face today and tomorrow and help you to do the same. I can ask for help and say it’s OK for you to ask too. I can speak about this great unspoken and encourage you to do the same. In doing so I believe we can change the dialogue. If we can be kinder to ourselves, we’ll end up being kinder to each other and maybe then the societal message to mothers will be ‘let it out’, ‘you’re not a failure’, ‘there’s no right way’ and ‘you never know what you’re getting into, but you can do it’. Maybe we can change the unspoken truth?

If you feel like you’re struggling contact the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) helpline on 1300 726 306.

Is balance an achievable goal?

is balance an achievable goal

One of the things I’m constantly struggling with as a mother is whether I’m getting the balance right. Getting some sort of perfect balance between work, life and family is something I’ve always strived for, but the further I get along the motherhood journey, the more I realise that the pursuit of perfect balance is somewhat futile. With all the competing demands in our lives, is true balance ever fully attainable? Are we ever really going to feel that all our ducks are in a row and our time is evenly split between all the things in our lives that require attention? Or does this goal in fact leave us always searching for the ever-elusive magic balance land, grappling for extra time to distribute to the things that we just never get a chance to get on top of. I’m finding that if I shift my thinking towards priorities rather than balance that it becomes easier to take care of the things that I need and want to do.

My children and family are always on the top of my list of priorities, so when it comes down to decision making about any of the other areas of my life they are my first consideration. This has sometimes meant that I’ve had to turn down or miss out on things that I would have loved to be able to do, which if I’m trying to achieve balance makes me feel completely askew and resentful, but if I focus on them as my priority I feel like I’m honouring my personal values and stage of life, rather than fighting against it. It gives me a greater feeling of peace, I guess.

While work is a necessity for me and I’m lucky to enjoy the work I do, both in my paid work and here on the blog, for the season of life I’m in right now, it definitely has to come second to my personal life. And that’s OK. That doesn’t make me any less capable or ambitious, it just means that the decisions I make regarding work are always made with my family situation in mind.

When I was trying to balance it all, I thought working from home was the answer to evenly split my time between work and family. But what actually happened was that I was always trying to do both at the same time, which left me completely stressed and burnt out. What I found was that I couldn’t switch off from work while I was with my kids and I couldn’t switch off the nagging sense there was housework to do or I should be with my kids while I was working. It seems that I’m not alone in feeling that working from home may not be the answer to work-life balance. By letting go of the idea of perfect balance, I can just enjoy life as it is now in it’s sometimes chaotic form. It means I turn off the computer completely when I’m playing with my kids, that I’m present at the park without checking my emails or putting a sneaky update on facebook. When I’m at work I’m at work and I plan out certain days and times to work on my writing and bl0g that work for my family and work for me. In doing it this way, I feel less stressed and by having my main priorities as my guiding lights means that sometimes hard decisions are easier to make. And biggest of all, by letting go of the idea of balance means that I’m allowed to step off the tight rope and drop a couple of balls I’m juggling if they are just not my priorities … and that’s totally OK.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think that life balance is totally achievable or are you more a priorities girl like me and realise that something’s got to give? I’d love to hear what works for you!

Healthy ways to manage stress

Healthy ways to manage stressWe’re at the halfway point on the stress less journey and today we’re going to talk about stress management techniques, and more specifically healthy ways to manage stress.

If you’ve been following along with me, I’ve looked into what’s REALLY stressing me out, I’ve considered how I react when stressful situations pop up unannounced and I’ve started my stress less action plan. Now I’m going to talk about things I try and do every day to help me manage stress.

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes feel you’re stuck in an eternal juggling act trying to keep all the balls in the air, all the while racing around between work, kindy/school pickups, appointments … the list, depending on the week, feels never ending. It was a few years into my motherhood journey, feeling completely burnt out, that I realised I really wasn’t taking very good care of me. While eternally juggling, the ball that fell quietly and rolled under the couch was an important one – self care.

I rattle on a bit about self care here, but I really believe taking good care of yourself is the key to managing stress. It doesn’t have to be the celebrity treatment like regular trips to the spa, endless massages and mani/pedis – but, hey if you can afford it, go for it! Self care is looking after your needs, desires and interests in a way you can afford and a way that makes your soul sing just a little bit. It helps you forget your worries, even just for a moment, and look more positively towards the future.

This is such an individual thing, but there’s some key things to consider when you think about managing stress and bringing some self care into your life:

1. Exercise: There have been endless studies into the effects of exercise on wellbeing and the reduction of stress is almost a universal finding. The key here, I think, is to find the exercise you love to do or make it into a social occasion by walking, or go to a class or gym, with a friend. After many years of trying different forms of exercise, I realise the introvert in me craves some solo time to recharge, so I’ve found yoga and walking are what works for my body and stress levels. I get to combine exercise with thinking and unwinding, going within and emerge all shiny and stretched out. If you haven’t found your exercise happy place, go and try something new or something you’ve always wanted to try – it may just be the right thing for you.

2. Take time out: I find taking a few little snippets of the day to just relax, helps me to stay calm. For me that looks like a cup of tea and a magazine, some writing or journaling time or a short meditation. I try and stay off social media during those times and just breathe, reflect and recharge. Of course, these time outs are sometimes interrupted by small children demanding things, so flexibility is the key here.

3. Catch up with friends: I had a moment two weeks ago when I invited a few of my close girlfriends and their little ones over for a catch up and a play. After issuing the invite I’d had a stressful week and my house wasn’t as tidy as I’d like it and I just didn’t have the time nor energy to get it to the guest level of tidiness … so, it crossed my mind to cancel. I knew they wouldn’t judge me, but I was judging me and it was stressing me out. But the only way I could get over it was to keep it real, have them over anyway and be honest about how things were. Afterwards I felt refreshed and realised all the stress about projecting a certain ‘togetherness’ wasn’t worth it. I hope now that they feel comfortable inviting me over when their house is less than perfect as the reality is I wouldn’t even notice. So invite a friend over to your less than perfect house and enjoy their company!

4. Be in the now: It’s the central premise to nearly all new age, self help inspiration and you’ve probably seen an inspirational quote on Facebook already this morning telling you to do it. When we’re stressed, we’re almost always worrying about the future or regretting something in the past, but if we sit in the now and notice what’s around us it’s usually pretty good (if you overlook the piles of washing and crumb-strewn floors). It’s not always easy. The main thing that helps me stay in the now during my day is to notice the little moments of joy … they’re always there, even amongst despair and overwhelm, I just have to stay tuned in enough to notice … a smile from my boys, a little hand in mind and a voice that demands ‘come’, a certain kind of light in the afternoon, ducks in the pond up the street, a coffee and moment of softening. I tell myself that the ‘to do’ list can wait and I follow the boy with the small hand and loud voice and I get lost in the game he wants to play. I slow down for the boy who picks up treasures in the street, who can see gold in a bottle top and magic in a plastic cup. My children take me into the now if I let them, so I throw off those responsibilities for a little while and I let them.

Do these resonate with you? I’d love to hear your stress management tips!

Stress less action plan

Stress Action Plan Plan BlogThe start of another week is here, and I must admit I experienced a bit of a thud back to reality from my Mothers’ Day pedestal today. Back to the routine and the sometimes drudgery of the day had me a little down, but nothing a bit of morning sunshine and a neighbourhood stroll with my littlest man, after dropping my big boy at kindy, didn’t fix. Maybe you felt a bit of a thud too? So today might be the perfect time to put in place our stress less action plan.

Hopefully last Monday you were able to pinpoint some of the core things that are stressing you out. Today we’ll revisit them and note down a few key thoughts about these stressors.

So pull out your ‘what’s stressing you out list’ and ask yourself the following questions about one of the items on your list:

  • What about this can I change?
  • What can’t I change?
  • What could help me to accept the things I cannot change?
  • So, whatcha going to do about it … note down a three step action plan.

There may be more on your action plan list, and if that’s the case prioritise just the top three at this stage. Once you’ve started ticking those off you can get to the next lot. The key here is to not get too overwhelmed, you want to start taking action on what’s stressing you in a way that helps you to start feeling better about it, not scare yourself stupid and keep avoiding the issue. 

So, this week my aim is to tackle one of my biggest stressors at the moment that I mentioned in last Monday’s post:

“I’m stressing out about the realities of Jarvis having Global Developmental Delay (GDD), how we are going to afford the extra therapy required and make the right decision regarding his schooling.”

This is a bit of a three pronged one and by rereading it again the main issues that shout out at me are: realities of GDD, money, education decisions. You might want to do that with yours too – what are the main issues or worries here?

What about this can I change? I can change our budget to accommodate the extra therapy by trying to cut back in other areas, I can start meeting with our chosen schools about how their approach to teaching Jarvis to help with our decision and I can incorporate therapies at home to help facilitate his learning. 

What can’t I change? I can’t change that J had GDD and that therapy needed will be costly. I can’t change that despite all our best efforts that he either may not be ready for school next year or will need additional ongoing help. 

What can help me accept the things I can’t change?  I can focus on the fact that knowing what he has and the therapies he needs can give him the greatest chance of excelling in life to the best of his ability. To see him succeed at things that he finds difficult is a feeling like no other and is definitely priceless. 

ACTION PLAN:

1. Re-do budget to accommodate new therapy sessions and pinpoint areas to cut back.

2. Make appointments with school principals of the two schools we’re thinking of.

3. Approach home practice of therapies as fun bonding time, not another chore to be endured. Ask lots of questions about the main goals and how best to work towards them in the home environment. 

By writing this down, I already feel a bit lighter and the things that were stressing me out are now propelling me towards healthy actions instead of unhealthy thoughts.

It’s important to note that stress in itself it’s not always bad – the things we get stressed about are often things we need to attend with some urgency. So by looking at what we can actually change about the situation and then set a plan to do so gives us back control over the stress and minimises it.

So, I’m off into budget land as a first stop! How about you? Tell me all about your action plan in the comments below!

I’ve also designed a free printable to go with this task, as an exclusive to newsletter subscribers. If you haven’t yet signed up, click here.

Dealing with life’s curve balls

Copy of Stress (2)Today’s stress less post was going to be all about action plans. We’ve pinpointed the issues in our lives that have stressed us and now we’re ready to take action, yes?

But I’m going to change tack a bit today and talk about when the best laid plans don’t come to fruition, or when there’s stumbling blocks – which, let’s face it, is a daily event when you’re a mother.

Take my morning for example. I was finishing up getting ready for work. The boys were fed and dressed. I was dressed and coffee was consumed. I’d hung out washing and I looked at the clock and was surprised to see I had a little more time up my sleeve than I thought. I gave myself a mental smiley sticker and left my happily playing boys in the living area while I put on my makeup and fixed up my hair.

I was only five minutes, but the carnage that greeted me upon arrival back in the living room betrayed the short time frame. The eldest child scampered away in a clear admission of guilt, while the youngest was caught blue-handed, happily smearing blue acrylic paint all over the floor, himself and as my widened eyes scanned the room, the couch and his suede chair too.

I thought about taking a photo, as any good blogger would do, but I was overcome with the kind of white hot rage that could only be channelled into yelling and telling said children how angry I was, while simultaneously taking off clothes, washing hands, rubbing faces, mopping floors and trying in vain to remove thick acrylic paint from a textured fabric couch. It was mayhem. I was hot, bothered and beyond stressed.

I thought how ironic it was that I’d planned a post about action plans to stress less in our lives when shit like this can happen at any time, without warning, and far worse things too. So, perhaps the universe was proving a point to me this morning?

That stress isn’t always a thing that can be tied up in a neat little bow and dealt with easily. There are going to be events that shock us, that require us to dig deep, mop up and eventually recover from. My blue paint incident is just a superficial example of the shocks that life can sometimes inflict.

But when you get attacked by the blue paint of life, what is there left to do? Here are my tips:

  1. Know that you will get through it. Even the shittest moments in life are temporary and things do improve.
  2. Do what you can. Just as I mopped up the paint as best I could in order to still get to work, do what you can to deal with the impending crisis and know you’ll get to the rest later.
  3. Express your emotions. I don’t feel bad about yelling at my kids this morning as I needed to express how I was feeling at that moment. As much as yelling now seems to be on the banned list for parents, I think it’s healthier to deal with emotions when they happen rather than bottling it up. In this situation it’s helped me to move on quicker and go back to rationally talking to my children. Any emotion you’re feeling in a crisis situation needs to be expressed – the quicker, the better I believe. Cry, stomp, chuck a tantrum, yell – in private, in public, I don’t care … but express it!
  4. Cut yourself a break. I worked myself up by the fact I had to clean up, get the kids to kindy and then on the train to work. It seemed an impossible mission when I was in the blue sea of paper towels, but one thought saved me ‘You’ll get there when you get there’. I let go of the pressure of where I had to be and concentrated on what I needed to do now. That’s one thing about a crisis; it forces you to surrender to a moment. A particularly unpleasant moment, but a moment nonetheless. There’s no better time to exercise kindness to yourself, which then translated to greater kindness to my blue-handed offenders.
  5. Move on. This takes the time it takes. With my blue paint incident, it might take a day. A bigger crisis will take much longer, but whatever curve ball that life throws there will be a time for your own sanity that you’ll need to move on … in whatever form that takes for you.

So, it isn’t the post I’d planned. But life is kind of like that, isn’t it?

How do you deal with the daily curve balls that life throws? I’d love to hear about it and any more tips you have!

 

What is really stressing you out?

Copy of StressAs the calendar flipped over to May, my stomach did a little flip along with it as I embarked on a mini-mission to stress less and document the process so that other mums like me could follow along. I felt so excited to be writing about an issue close to my heart, that could potentially make a big difference in my life and those of others, but at the same time I had to be honest about the fact that in a bid to stress less, I could be entering into something that could potentially lead to more stress.

As life would have it, on that same day (May 1) my eldest son was officially diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay. A diagnosis that means more intensive therapy than we’re currently doing and a fair bit of uncertainty around if/where/how he’ll start prep next year. Despite steeling myself for whatever news we’d take with us from the Paediatrician’s office, I could feel stress sneaking in through my shallow breathing and that dull ache in the pit of my stomach.

As much as I like to think I’ve built up ways of handling my stress levels or using them to drive a positive outcome, last week showed that the bid to stress less takes constant practise and a lot of resolve when times get a little tougher.

Which means sometimes always starting from the beginning and pinpointing exactly what’s stressing you out and how you know you’re under stress to begin with.

As I mentioned in my previous post, life’s stresses will ebb and flow and we’ll never be completely free of them. The only thing we can really control is our reaction and to change our reaction, it’s helpful to know the things causing us to feel stressed and what our default reaction is.

Using my last week as an example, if I sat down with a pen and paper with ‘What’s stressing me out’ at the top (and I recommend you do this today!), I would write:

  • I’m stressing out about writing about how to handle stress as I want my words to matter and to help others and don’t always have enough time to polish my words as much as I’d like.
  • I’m stressing out about the realities of Jarvis having GDD and how we are going to afford the extra therapy required and make the right decision regarding his schooling.
  • I’m stressing out that the house is more out of control than usual as I had to change my work schedule to accommodate some extra appointments this week, so the house looks like a pigsty.

My reaction to these stressful feelings is to:

  • Google until my fingers ache and my head feels like it’s going to explode.
  • Use avoidance tactics and not write at all until the night before my next post is due.
  • Not eat as healthily as I like to, leaving me feeling blah.
  • beat myself up for the messy surrounds.

These reactions haven’t been at all helpful as they’ve only served to add another layer of stress and leave me feeling flat, rather than helping me feel calm and composed.

Are you ready to get a bit up close and personal with your own stress? Sometimes it’s hard to name exactly what’s going on, but try and dig a bit deeper as to the ‘what’ of what’s stressing you out. It’s easy just to say ‘money’ or ‘not enough time’, but if you pick a pen and dig a bit deeper you might find something lurking behind the stress that may find it easier to deal with.

For example, if I re-read the reasons for my stress I can start to feel a bit of compassion for myself. Like ‘hey, you’ve had a tough and busy week. Forget about the house mess. I know it makes you feel stressed, but you’ll get a bit more time on the weekend’. A plan of attack could also reveal itself to you, so you could start making some calm progress.

So, for the next few days just become very aware of your stress triggers and note them in some way.
1. Note what triggered the stress or if you feel you’ve been carrying it around for awhile, note when it started and what daily events keeps you feeling that way.
2. Note how you felt to make you realise you were feeling stressed, What physical sensations were stirred up?
3. How did you deal with the stressful feelings and do you think your reactions were positive or negative?

Once we’ve done this, on Friday I’ll be sharing how to come up with your own little action plan to feel more in control of the stress in your life.

I’d love to hear how you go with this. If you’re comfortable sharing, please do so in the comments. I’ll also keep you posted with how I’m going,

Thanks so much for joining me for this! xx