Gretchen Rubin is the bestselling author of several books, such asOuter Order, Inner CalmandThe Happiness Project, about how to be happier, healthier, and more productive, and she hosts theHappier with Gretchen Rubinpodcast. For Oprah Daily, she’s weighing in on how we can all find a little bit of calm, even during a pandemic.This week, she answers a few reader questions.
Nothing about the past year has been easy for parents. In fact, according to a recent report by the American Psychological Association, nearly half of all parents surveyed said the level of stress in their life had increased compared to before the pandemic. Not to mention that parents were also more likely than those without children to have received treatment from a mental health professional since the coronavirus pandemic began.
So it should come as no surprise that when we asked readers about their biggest happiness challenge, many people reported that they were feeling overwhelmed and burned out by all-consuming parenting responsibilities. "Balancing my own wants and needs with those of my kids—particularly with no sleep and as a shift worker," one woman responded. Another wrote: "I want parenting to be mostly joy-filled with some hard spots, but the reality is the opposite of that." And another mom said, "Enjoying alllll the extra time with my kiddos (whom I love & adore) when I need me time!" One simply wrote: "Exhausted from parenting."
While the pandemic period may feel like it’s starting to draw to a close—especially as many schools and day care centers across the country have started to reopen at least part-time— the truth is that it’s not over yet. It’s not clear when the new normal will be under way, or what exactly that new normal will look like. Just this weekend, White House senior adviser Anita Dunn told CNN's Jake Tapper that it's still too early to say for certain whether schools could be fully reopened this fall. For many people, the uncertainty makes the situation that much tougher. “If I had a firm date, like everything will be up and running on September 1, I could pace myself,” a friend told me recently. “I’d know how much longer this situation would last. But the goalposts keep moving around, and that's even harder.”
So in the meantime, we need to find ways to make the present situation work for us. One way to deal with challenge of being an overwhelmed parent? Identify the problem.Now, I know what you're thinking: “I have identified the problem! My problem is that I’m an overwhelmed parent!”
But in fact, that’s a broad statement. Push yourself harder to try to answer the following question: What exactly is the problem here? Think about why you're feeling depleted and what makes parenting seem so hard. Of course, people will answer this question in many different ways, but some of the common responses include:
While each of these problems is equally legitimate, they would be addressed in different ways.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to every source of parenting stress—but by identifying the problem, you can start to brainstorm possible solutions. For example, one mother recently told me she struggling during the stay-at-home period because her young children needed constant supervision. Her problem: “I can’t get any work done, because I need to keep an eye on my kids.”
Her solution: She asked her mother to do a daily storytime on Zoom, which would not only keep her kids entertained, but it would also mean that they were supervised. That way, she could concentrate on her work, knowing where they were and what they were doing. Plus, there's the added bonus of quality grandchild-grandparent time.
It’s hard to think of a specific solution to a vague problem—but once you can clearly articulate your problem, I promise it'll be easier to see a constructive path forward.