How to Slow Down and Enjoy Life as a Parent

Sometimes it feels like my days just fill up. On good days, that means I’ve participated in fulfilling work and have taken a step closer to my long-term goals. On bad days, I’m left wondering if any of the multitudes of tasks I did all day were actually useful.

Welcome to being busy.

Some of us are busy by necessity. We need to work long hours in order to support ourselves and our families. However, a growing number of us are busy by choice. When we talk about how busy we are, we feel good about ourselves. We feel in control. After all, if we’re busy, we must be moving forward, right?

The Problem with Being Busy

Hopefully, you’re not nodding your head in agreement. Being busy doesn’t mean we’re always being productive, or that we are even happy for that matter. But even if you know that on some level, it’s hard to not feel useful when you’re schedule is full of tasks.

The problem is, overworking and over scheduling doesn’t actually put you in control. Instead, you’re at the mercy of your obligations. Plus, overbooking yourself can lead to serious health problems. Not only that, but parents who are stressed and constantly overbooking their children can create problems for their kids down the road.

The Dangers of Stress

Have you ever gotten sick at the worst time possible? Usually when a big project is due for work or when you have a thousand things happening at once? That’s because stress compromises your immune system, making it easier for you to catch colds and other diseases. Studies have also shown that stress, even mild stress, can:

  • Make it difficult for you to control your emotions
  • Cause heart problems
  • Make it difficult to sleep
  • Negatively affect your love life
  • Make you gain weight

Long-term stress can also lead to anxiety and severe depression. And not just in yourself. According to researchers at John Hopkins University, children exposed to chronic stress are more likely to develop a mental illness if one already runs in their family. So, if you’re not willing to slow down and de-stress for yourself, consider doing it for your children.

What You Can Do

Activity is not the enemy of peace. In fact, if you’re invested in and enjoying what you’re doing, chances are you’re decreasing your stress levels. The same goes for children. The problems arise when we commit to too many activities (or fill up our kids’ schedules) in order to feel productive.

Here are some tips to help you slow down this summer and re-prioritize:

Cut out activities. This first step is the most obvious. Take a look at your schedule and your children’s schedules. If your children are involved in multiple weekly activities, let them pick one or two they really love and drop the rest.

  • Minimize obligations. Prioritize the councils/committees/groups in which you’re involved. Pick a few you want to stick with and drop out of the rest. When a new opportunity comes along, take a long, hard look at it and decide if it’s really something you want to be involved in. Don’t look at this as letting others down. What you’re really doing is minimizing your obligations. That way you’ll be able to devote more time to the areas you really love. Leave those other commitments to people who will be passionate about them.

  • Unplug. Turn off your social media and leave your phone on the counter for a while. If you work, promise yourself you won’t answer emails past a certain point in the evening, or on the weekends. The key is to set limitations. You don’t always have to be available. You don’t have to answer every email immediately. Take some time each day to go off the grid and get in touch with your real life.

  • Leave unscheduled time. Or, schedule unscheduled time, if you must. However you decide to do it, try to leave a certain portion of your day completely unplanned. Avoid the temptation to fill up your time. Not only will this give you time to recuperate, but it’ll also provide you with time to handle any unexpected items that need your attention. This same rule should apply to your kids. Let them have unscheduled play time. It’ll encourage their creativity and help them feel more in charge of their own time.

  • Plan family time. That’s right. It’s okay to have a few things scheduled, and family time should be one of those times. Give your family some time during the day or in the evenings, perhaps at mealtimes to just relax. Don’t look at this time as another obligation. You don’t have to have a planned activity every time.

  • Relax. This one is clearly easier said than done. But it’s really important! Apart from your unscheduled time, make extra time just to relax. Read a book. Go on a hike. Watch a movie. Call a friend. Try some breathing exercises. And let your kids do the same. Don’t stress if they want to laze around occasionally. It can be a good thing.

As you work to cut out the “busy,” get your family, friends, and coworkers involved. Let them know what your plans are this summer and enlist their help. Social support will help these changes really stick. If you stick with it, you should notice a decrease in stress in no time. Take your time. It might take a while to get into a new rhythm and learn how to avoid unnecessary activity. Just remember, the key to slowing down is giving yourself the time to do it.
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