School, work, sports, play dates, birthday parties – the non-stop schedules can sometimes leave us feeling scattered and overwhelmed. If you have already been able to evaluate your family’s schedule and make the decision that the benefits of so many different activities outweigh the costs, there are some steps you can take to keep an active family life from becoming a stressful one.
- Identify stress points, and take a step back to problem solve. Look for the times when tempers run short or your own stress level as a parent is too high. Is it the short turnaround time between the bus arriving and needing to leave for violin on Wednesdays? Is it the morning routine, every morning? Is it trying to get dinner on the table after soccer games that can run too long? When we don’t have a lot of downtime, one of the things we lose is our ability to step back and evaluate what is driving our stress. From the middle of a situation, it can seem like everything is just too much and nothing is working. By taking some conscious space to reflect, we are better able to identify what needs to change. Maybe it would flow better to do parent pick up on violin days. Potentially a family meeting is in order to reset morning routines. Perhaps there is a better strategy out there for fast and healthy weeknight dinners (more on that in a minute). Don’t wait until you feel ready to crash and burn to make some changes.
- Don’t repeat actions needlessly. Cutting fruit for lunches? Cut enough for the week and portion it out accordingly. Take time to map out your week and group errands together in ways that make sense logistically and geographically (hey, this is Rhode Island – I’m not going to Route 2 more often than I need to in a week!) Have a run of birthday parties coming up? Shop for age-appropriate gifts all in one outing to have them on hand. If you have many out of the house sports or activities, avoid packing for each individual outing. In your car, keep a sweatshirt for everyone, a change of clothes for each child that could double as pajamas, a few diapers and/or pull-ups, wipes, sunscreen and bug spray, shelf-stable snacks, a towel (because, kids), a few plastic grocery bags and a roll of paper towels (ditto), and pens and pencils and a clipboard for a mobile homework station in a large tote or bin. Replenish as needed, which is far less often than you would think!
- Make yourself redundant – teach your kids skills! Part of the reflection process about stress points for busy families usually includes one parent (most often, mom) feeling like the planning and execution of every moving part is on them. Even if mom is the general life cruise director, it doesn’t mean she needs to pack everyone’s luggage, too. Teach them to pack their own lunches with a checklist of what needs to be included. Have them unpack their lunchbox at the end of the day. If your children play sports or do music lessons, help them come up with a checklist of the things they need for practice, and set up a place for them to keep those things together. Help them make it their responsibility to pack up what they need. Teach them how to tie their cleats. Keep water bottles where your children can fill and bring them themselves. Have your children be responsible for bringing their things out of the car an putting them where they belong. When you are feeling like you are doing too much, you probably are.
- Create pressure release valves in your schedule. Know your limits. Know your children’s limits. Be willing to look at the week’s schedule and plan to skip practices one night in favor of family dinner and early bedtime if everyone needs it. Block out a weekend afternoon to practice being bored and aimless for a few hours, even if it means missing Aunt Mabel’s neighbor’s housewarming party. The world will keep spinning. Don’t lose sight of the fact that your choice to be an active, on-the-go family is a choice and not something that you are contractually obligated to do every moment of every day. Stop, reset, recharge, and avoid burning out.
- Take hold of what is important, let go of what is not. Keep in mind what your priorities are for your family. If sports or music or art or church groups are important to you, stay focused on why – and make sure that your goal for that activity is being met by the reality. Be willing to outsource things if your budget allows. If you are frustrated by an out of control lawn, see if you can swing a landscaping service. If your child wants to do a club or activity that conflicts with an obligation you have, find a trusted sitter who can bridge the gap. If you want to have healthy family dinners at home but can’t cook every night or often find yourself with no time to grocery shop, think about incorporating a service like Feast and Fettle into your life. Find the places you can easily outsource your mental load and reclaim some time in your week!
Feast & Fettle is a Rhode Island-based meal delivery service that takes the stress out of deciding what to eat for dinner. Each week, seasonally-inspired, chef-prepared meals are delivered directly to members’ doors to enjoy in the comfort of their homes.