You wake up with a jolt.
The alarm’s been blaring for ten minutes, and you’re already late.
You’re so tired from staying up late, finishing the laundry, finally answering those emails, and then getting lost down the rabbit hole of Facebook. You wonder why you keep doing that, but it feels like the only free time left to you.
Your spouse is trying to rouse the kids, and you can hear frustration brewing already. The kids are grumpy and moving slowly. They’re arguing about God knows what, and your spouse is yelling at them to stop yelling.
You have just enough time to brew the coffee, pull together a quick breakfast for the kids, and make lunches before you must hop in the shower to get ready for work.
While you’re in the shower, one of the kids rushes in to announce they need three dozen cupcakes delivered to school this afternoon for the class party. Then you hear to bus coming down the street and yell to the kids to get out the door.
Your spouse comes in to say goodbye, and you argue about who’s going to deal with the cupcakes. You get the short straw. As you’re getting ready, you think about the day ahead at work. You have to finalize a big project for a client meeting in the middle of the day. What about those damned cupcakes?
Your cell phone starts pinging with emails, as you realize the shirt you need is still at the laundry. Your heart starts palpitating and a wave of exhaustion washes over you. Maybe this weekend you can relax and things will calm down.
Oh wait . . . there’s the soccer game on Saturday morning, and a birthday party in the afternoon. And you committed to help with the neighborhood yard sale. You can’t renege on those.
It feels like your life is pinwheeling wildly with kids, commitments, and projects. You feel so overwhelmed and have no idea how to get off the gerbil wheel. How can you create some sanity again? Why does it have to be such constant chaos?
Does this (or some version of this) sound like your life? It was mine for many years. I felt constantly overwhelmed by the demands of life with children, work, and managing a home. Every time I tried to think about simplifying, I felt anxious about deciding what to cut out.
Should I work less? Should I tell the kids no extracurriculars? Should we spend money to hire help? Should we move to a smaller, more manageable house?
Why does it seem like our grandparents weren’t feeling overwhelmed by life, even though it was harder and they had less conveniences and probably less money?
Here’s why. In our grandparent’s day . . .
- Families were parent-centered, not kid centered.
- Kids spent more time at home, helped with chores, and didn’t have as many activities.
- Parents didn’t feel guilty about saying no.
- Parents allowed kids to find their own fun that wasn’t organized by adults.
- Parents didn’t feel the need to push their kids to learn a second language, become a computer programmer, or master the violin by the age of five. They didn’t hover over their homework, or micromanage their academic success.
- There weren’t as many demands on parents to volunteer time at school and with extracurricular activities.
- There was much less time spent in the car, so other important tasks could get accomplished.
- There weren’t as many distractions (for parents and kids) with computers, a multitude of TV channels and programs, cell phones, and other electronics.
- In general, the work day was from 9 to 5 and people worked away from home (unless they farmed), so they couldn’t bring work home with them or work on weekends.
- There wasn’t as much focus on the accumulation of material things that had to be cared for and maintained.
- Male and female roles were more traditional, so someone was always available to manage the home and children.
I’m not suggesting all of these reasons are positive. Many of the advances and societal changes in the last fifty years or so have made our lives far better. But they’ve also made our lives far more complicated and demanding.
One thing that hasn’t changed in the last fifty years is the number of hours in a day. And our capacity to cope with stress or our tolerance for physical and mental exhaustion hasn’t changed much either. We have the same amount of time and energy our grandparents did, but we have much more to manage in our lives.
The tricky part is figuring out how to balance it all without sinking into depression, having panic attacks, or living in an adrenaline-fueled whirlwind every single day.
Looking back over the most hectic and demanding time of my life when I was raising kids and trying to work, there are many things I’d do differently.
Maybe you can benefit from these tips to not feeling overwhelmed by life:
Required my kids to do chores at a much younger age
Children are far more capable than we give them credit for. I should have started my kids on a daily routine of chores from a very early age (three or four) and added to the difficulty off chores as they got older. And I should have put chores as a priority over extracurriculars.
Allowed my kids less time in extracurriculars
I was driving my kids to something everything single day. I’m glad they had exposure to piano, violin, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, ballet, art classes, tennis, singing, and theater. But did they need something every day? No. I felt pressured because this is what every other parent was doing. And my ego was involved in seeing them perform. I wish I could have seen how unnecessary and frankly draining this was for me and my kids.
Lived in a less expensive, more manageable house
I love my house, but it required lots of hard work, time, and energy to pay for it and maintain both the house and yard. For a few years that was fun, but over time it became an energy drain. With a smaller house and smaller yard, we would have had more time and money to do fun, relaxing things as a family.
Felt less guilty
I wanted my kids to have a better upbringing than I did, so I felt guilty whenever I fell short of that in my own eyes. I wanted them to have healthy meals, great birthdays, a magical Christmas, wonderful vacations, etc. In retrospect, all they really need is love, consistency, and security. I wish I’d put less pressure on myself to be perfect.
Found my passion earlier
I did work part-time from home as a public relations consultant when my kids went to school. But I didn’t love it. I just helped bring in some extra income. I didn’t really have a creative or passionate outlet for myself that filled my tank (which was so easily drained with the demands and overwhelm of life with young kids). I wish I’d taken the time earlier to figure out what I love and devoted some time to it.
Restricted electronics more
I wish we’d turned off the TV, stepped away from the computers, and left the cell phones at home, and had more family adventures, walks in nature, bike rides, played board games, and gone camping.
Made one weekend day sacred
I wish we’d made the non-negotiable decision that one weekend day would be for fun and relaxing rather than chores, extracurriculars, cleaning, or work projects.
Delegated more tasks
If we had lived more frugally and cut back on extracurriculars, we could have afforded help with some of the tasks we hated that took up so much time. This would have freed up time to spend together or have more fun life experiences.
Done more for my mental and physical health
Because my life was so busy and complicated, I didn’t put exercise as a priority. I felt guilty taking this time for myself. Nor did I practice any mindfulness or relaxation techniques. I wish I’d prioritized my physical and emotional health more.
In retrospect, I see I complicated my life unnecessarily in many ways. I added pressures to myself and to my children that were well-intentioned but ill-conceived.
There are only so many hours in a day, and true happiness comes from spending quality time with loved ones, doing meaningful and fulfilling work, and being mentally and physically healthy.
Children will find their way to adulthood without our hovering. They will succeed in life without becoming an elite soccer star or a prima ballerina. And our lives won’t fall apart by working less, saying “no” more, and being kinder to ourselves.
If you feel overwhelmed by your life, take the time to prioritize what is MOST important. Have the courage to cut out most everything else. You don’t need to cram your days full of tasks and to-do’s. Life is meant to be savored and enjoyed. Give yourself that gift.