The easiest way to simply my life would be to pack up and move to some island in the Caribbean without telling anyone where I’m going. But they’d find me. Your kids always find you. It’s like Mother Nature equips children with a tiny little homing beacon designed to track their parents and locate small objects to put in their mouth. It certainly isn’t a helpful device — it doesn’t track lost loveys or their left shoe that’s been missing for a week, and it always finds you when you are sneaking candy.
Overwhelm is an inevitable part of parenting that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t escape, prevent, or avoid it because life happens. I don’t know about you, but I know in the last couple years it’s been about survival for me. It’s been about whittling down the list of must-dos to the most important things because I can’t do all the other things too.
Sometimes, stuff gets in the way, and that adds to the pile. We’re forced to pick and choose what we have to do, and that’s a good thing. In an effort to make my must-do list move as freely as possible, I quit:
For the most part, it never really helps any situation to complain about it anyway, especially stressful situations. When your husband is trying to fix a busted pipe as fast as he can, it’s counterproductive to stand there and complain about how wet you’re getting because the pipe is busted, as if the person fixing the pipe and sitting in 3 inches of water doesn’t already know that.
So complaining isn’t an effective tool. Towels are. Still, it’s been really hard for me because I love to complain. It’s like my Netflix, or my double venti latte. I’m so good at it — I mean, we all have to be good at something. Maybe you juggle. Maybe you broke your 400-meter hurdle record in college. I complain, and I do it with ease and grace. So it’s not an easy thing to quit. I fail at it — daily. But I still try.
2. Expecting Things
If life has taught me anything, it’s that 1) expectations usually lead to disappointment, 2) no one owes me anything, and 3) toast always lands butter-side down. So by letting go of expecting things from myself, my spouse, and my kids (and the toast), I’ve freed up a whole new pocket of stress that can be used for other things, like how to get the cat out of the Tonka truck without losing one of my eyes. I don’t expect anyone to do anything for me anymore. Do I ask? Yes. Do I appreciate? Yes. In doing this, not only am I more positive, I also feel disappointed and frustrated less often. On the flipside, because I don’t expect anything of anyone, I expect them to not expect anything from me. See what I did there?
3. Worrying About What I Can’t Control
I am by nature a routine-oriented person — so much so that my entire day revolves around the same process. This is not easy to do with kids because they wreck process. They destroy it and interrupt routine. That’s their job. I have actually spent time worrying about what I will do if we end up off-schedule, and it stresses me out, which in turn, stresses everyone out. I’m here to tell you: Worrying about anything is not only useless, it’s also a time suck. Learning to let go of what you can’t control is both difficult and liberating.
4. Being Hard on Myself
I want to be able to do it all. If you don’t believe me, you’ve never seen me carry 75 bags of groceries inside on two arms. The truth is, no one else is hard on me — just me. I’m the person who demands more than I can deliver. I need to have a clean house, presentable kids. I need to stay ahead of laundry and have the sink clean at all times. For whatever reason, I gave birth and decided my mission in life was to martyr myself looking for rogue socks. Reminding myself that I don’t have to get all the things done is not only a huge relief, it makes me happy too.
For a while, my daughter was involved in dance and gymnastics. Then she started kindergarten and wanted to join Girl Scouts with her friends. It got to be a little too much rushing around for both of us. Having to adjust to school all day, rush to beat the pickup line, get to gymnastics on time, and then be at dance on the weekends and sell Girl Scout cookies? When she started to cry every day on the way home, I pulled the plug. Why go if you aren’t enjoying it? She got to choose one activity. She chose Girl Scouts. It’s twice a month. We’re happy. I enjoy not having to be everywhere every day of the week.
6. Doing Laundry on the Weekends
One load a day during the week — that’s what I do. It’s low stress and fits into my day. No pressure. Gone are the days of sitting and sobbing in 10 piles of laundry wondering how I got to this point in life.
7. Doing Dishes on Friday and Saturday Nights
I’m the person who cannot have dishes in my sink. If I have no control over anything else in my life anymore, I will control the dishes. I am the ghost that materializes out of nowhere at 9 p.m. when my husband quietly places a single fork in the empty sink. “Put it in the dishwasher. I’ll show you how it works,” I whisper. Of course, doing the dishes never takes a few minutes, especially after dinner around bath and bedtime. I hate doing dishes — I really do. I’ve never liked it, so giving myself two nights off a week feels great. Sure, my sink looks like my kitchen exploded, but I get a couple of nights off. Win!
8. Constantly Cleaning
No one in my house cares how clean it is, so why should I? I’m not a caddy. This isn’t golf. It’s not my job to follow people around the house picking up discarded items as they hit the floor.
9. The Internet
I know, right? A parent’s most convenient link to the outside world. I absolutely would rather read about the story behind Princess Diana’s iconic haircut than wash my floors — which will stay clean for approximately 45 seconds. Still, when I fall down the rabbit hole of any kind of online anything, it takes time away from my kids, my house, and myself. Before I know it, I’ve wasted an hour or two and have to get dinner ready, but have forgotten I needed groceries. For me, this added way more stress than it was worth. Now I set aside time at night and give myself the option of opting out. And it’s worked nicely. Real life is kind of a nice escape from the virtual one.
10. Arguing With My Spouse Over Who Is More Tired
This is an argument my husband and I have been having since we had our first child. I work hard all day long to keep the house standing, care for our children, make mostly edible food, and ensure everyone’s needs are met. He works hard all day long earning money for our family, food, insurance, etc. So of course he’s tired at the end of the day. It’s a silly argument because we’re both tired — just for different reasons. Instead of complaining about how exhausting my day was, I pick neutral topics like the kids, weekend plans, or anything interesting that happened that day. It allows us both time to decompress and gear up for the nighttime madness that is bedtime. For the record, though, I’m more tired than he is.
I’m not sure that life as a parent can be simple, or at what age it starts to get easier — if it ever really does. What I am sure about is that there are traps we fall into because things get hard. If you can find those traps and learn how to maneuver around them, it makes the days easier to manage.
Parenting is overwhelming. What other stage of our lives are we trying to care for multiple people at one time? What other season of our life do we have to fight to make things easy for our own peace of mind? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay. Feel it, be it, and find ways to move around the things that trip you up. I promise it’ll help — even if you need to hide in your closet for a little while. Just remember: They’ll find you. They always find you.