Parenting is hard, but when you're a stressed out mom, it's even harder. These 11 tips will help moms and dads with stress management and relief every day and just be happy.
I have a dear friend who is a stressed out mom. She worries about her kids misbehaving at home and in public. She worries about her kids being too scheduled and also about them missing out on activities. She worries about them not having enough friends, and she worries about the friends they do have steering them wayward.
I feel so bad for this friend because she literally gives herself heartburn over her kids.
Perhaps it's a personality thing, but I don't stress like that. I have faith that I'm parenting in God's plan for my kids, and I rest easy. I let my kids run a little wild (a loose version of free range kids, though not to her extreme).
Instead of getting stressed out over things kid-related, I focus on fun. I try to think about life lessons and good times rather than shoulds and coulds. I live in the moment for the most part, and sometimes I prayerfully consider the consequences of my decisions. But I mostly trust the wisdom of The Holy Spirit to guide me through the moment to moment decisions, and I don't stress about much.
How do you move from heartburn parenting to stress-free parenting? It's not as hard as you might think.
11 Tips for Being a Stress-Free Parent
- Relax. Perhaps this goes without saying, but you have to relax. Pray your worries to Jesus and let Him fight your battles. My favorite prayer when I'm stressed about something is "Jesus, I am weary and carrying a heavy burden. You said that you would give me rest, so please take this weight from my shoulders. Help me to release this stress to you and accept your easy conscience" (Matthew 11:28-30)." I pray this all the time, whenever I feel stressed about anything, not just parenting.
Beyond prayer, there's something else you can do to mitigate the stress you feel about parenting. Ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?" So something like this, "What's the worst that could happen if we are late to our play date?" Maybe our friends will be disappointed or leave without seeing us. That would be unfortunate, but not the end of the world and, more than likely since they are our friends, they are going to offer us grace and just wait for us.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that you should blow people off or disrespect your friends. What I am saying is that the things you make big calamities are more than likely really minor details that will be overlooked by the people who matter. Relax, say the prayer, and move on. Everyone else already has.
- Schedule less. This is a hard one for me personally because I have major FOMO - fear of missing out. I want my kids to have all the fun all the time. But the simple fact is, the more things we schedule, the more stress we have. We have to worry about getting ready and stopping fun stuff at home and having less time to relax, play games, and go to the pool. Before the quarantine, my girls were in soccer, basketball, cheerleading, Girl Scouts, 4H, piano, guitar and ukulele, and more. We had commitments every single night of the week and some on the weekends. When the quarantine came, we were instantly un-busy, and it was glorious. We had free time in spades and we all loved it. When things started opening up again, we didn't rush to rejoin everything. We went to the community pool almost every day, and we spent lazy days at home. It was a very good lesson to me about what we really want in our life. We're paring way down next school year.
- Make time for self care. Self care gets a bad reputation, I think, because we are so used to ignoring ourselves. Most of the moms I know claim they don't have time for self care, and to that, I say, do you have time for stress-related illness? Because that will inevitably happen if you don't take the time to rest and relax and recharge your batteries.
I understand how hard it is to take care of yourself. I spent more than a decade topping the scale over 400 pounds, and it was because I did a whole lot of eating (mostly sugar and fat) and no exercising at all. I was chronically stressed out and ate my feelings. I read and slept a lot, but I did neither because they refreshed me and both because I had no energy to get up and actually do something.
Those days are past. To be honest, I'm still overweight, but I have lost over 100 pounds. I walk between 2 and 3 miles every day, even at my current weight, and I don't ever compromise that time. I feel good when I walk and after. I listen to audiobooks and look forward to that immensely. Self care for me, at this stage, looks like an hourlong walk around my neighborhood and listening to my stories. It also looks like writing in my journal and crocheting.
My point is that the things I do I do because they make me feel more like myself. They reset my brain and help me to feel good about myself. You need those things, too. Find out what will make that happen for you and then make the time to do it.
- Hug your kids. There was a study done that showed that a hug from your mom can actually reduce pain and make kids feel better. I didn't need that study to know that physical affection makes my kids happy. I reach out and touch them often, usually with a pat on the head or a rub of the back, but there is something special and enveloping about a real hug.
When your kids are hurting, such as when my kids' Nana passed away, they both came to meet to be held. Even at 9 and 13, they wanted to sit on my lap and have my arms around them. (Fortunately, they wanted this at different times, so I was able to accommodate both of them.)
Bonus, hugs release endorphins in your body, too, so hugging your kids will make you happier and less stressed too!
- Embrace imperfection. There is no law that says your kids need a hot supper every night. Chicken nuggets and frozen pizza are food. Cheese and crackers is food. Put some fruit or veggies with whatever, and you have a well-rounded meal.
I think the pressure we moms put on ourselves is way worse than any pressure others could put on us. We want to serve healthy, fresh meals every night... but when it comes time to actually cook for the third night in a row, it just feels like too much. We want to have company-worthy homes all the time, but when it comes to a choice between picking up the living room or getting some much needed sleep, we pause. We want to have kind and polite children, so when they have been squabbling for the third hour in a row, we feel like screaming.
My point is that all these ideals are lovely goals to aspire to, but they are ideals and not reality for anyone among us. One person can't do it all and do it all well, and the sooner we embrace good enough, the less stress we'll have.
- Make your family help. If your standards are so high that you won't allow your husband and kids to help out with household chores, please see #5 above. You need help. Your kids need to have chores and responsibilities because responsible kids become responsible adults. Give your kids things to do and enforce that they do them.
Listen, I know how hard this is. My kids have a couple of jobs to do daily, and they balk at them every. single. day. I hate having to remind them all the time, and I know that need a better system to get them to do their chores. But still, the fact is that all kids need jobs to do in order to make the family and the home function. My most recent attempt at getting them to do their chores is to provide an allowance for completed chores. It's too soon to say whether it's working or not.
- Exercise regularly. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, "regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression, and it may also play a supporting role in treating severe depression." Is there any better reason to get out and take a walk? You don't have to go to the gym, and you can involve your kids. Just get outside and go for a walk, up the street, around the block, or in a state or local park. Whatever is waiting for you at home can wait an hour while you get some exercise.
I walk every weekday and some weekend days, too. I used to force my kids to come along, but they complained the entire way and that got to be a drag. So now, I listen to audiobooks and walk for about 55 minutes. I don't like being sweaty really but I do like the feeling I get after I walk.
I will admit that I often look for reasons not to walk and play a game with myself where I try to get out of it, but it is my routine and I always do it anyway. Here's a printable I created to remind myself to just do it.
- Focus on gratitude. Have you heard the saying, "It is not happy people who are thankful, but thankful people who are happy" ? There is a lot of truth to that, and it is backed up by science. Researcher Brené Brown found in her extensive studies that all people who reported themselves as joyful regularly practiced gratitude in some form, whether writing in a journal or praying or meditating on positives.
My family has a gratitude jar that we add to regularly. I wrote a Bible study on gratitude and thankfulness. You could also write in a gratitude journal. Recording 1-3 things you're thankful for daily will get you started on the road to a healthy gratitude habit.
- Stick to a routine. A routine is different from a schedule. A schedule says "we're going to wake up at 6:30. Breakfast is at 7. We will exercise at 7:30." and that kind of rigid schedule never works for most people. It's too inflexible, and getting thrown off early wrecks the whole day. It works for work meetings and such, but not for life.
What does work for most of us is a routine. The 5 days to a better morning challenge helped me a lot with creating morning routines, and I do the same thing every morning: wake up, take my medicine and vitamins, drink a full glass of water, go for a walk, write in my journal, and eat breakfast before sitting down in my home office for my first meeting of the day. It helps me to feel productive and like I've accomplished something before my day even really gets started.
Beyond your own mental well-being, kids thrive with routines. They need a life that's predictable, and they need to know what's happening next. Kids who have a set routine argue less because they aren't surprised by sudden changes in plans. They move from one thing (like playing) to the next (like getting ready for bed) with little fuss. Routines make everyone's life easier.
- Use kind words. Moms who are stressed tend to be harsh and unkind in their language. But it goes the other way, too: moms who use harsh and unkind language out of habit tend to feel more stressed. So take a preemptive step and focus on using kind words today.
Greet your kids warmly in the morning. I always say "Good morning sunshine!" to mine when they first emerge from their rooms.
Tell your kids that you love them. At a minimum, I say "Good night, I love you!" to each of my kids when they are getting ready for bed. But I say it more than that too.
It is kind to say something like, "I'm angry with you right now, and I need a minute to collect my thoughts." It is also kind to give consequences - but not angry consequences. Kindness doesn't mean always cheerful and lacking hard emotions. It simply means that you don't react out of anger and harshness. Think about how you talk to your boss, and do your best to talk to your children in the same way.
- Remember grace. I was going to end this list at 10, but I would be remiss if I didn't add a note about grace. God offers grace for all of our mistakes, and I bet your kids offer it too. So give yourself some grace to cover your mistakes and wipe them away. Apologize to whomever you've hurt, and move on. Dwelling on your missteps will only lead to more stress and heartache for you.
Listen, friend. I want you to be a stress-free parent. I don't want you to live with heartburn over every decision, every mistake, and every possibility of future disappointments. It doesn't have to be that way.
Choose one of the tips above and work on implementing it today. I would recommend starting with numbers 4 (because it's easy) and 7 (because it will help so much), and then move on once you're doing those consistently.
Here are some other posts that you may be interested in:
- 29 Life Hacks for a Simpler Mom Life
- 13 Bible Verses to Encourage You in Times of Stress
- 12 Tips for Stress-Free Living: Practical Ways to Savor the Moments
- 8 Things Every Overwhelmed Mom Needs to Hear