Growing up, it seemed like every time we left the house there was a lot stress. This was manifested by yelling, arguing, and a lack of patience. My Dad was impatient, my Mom was stressed, they argued, and they were very impatient with us boys. We were always late. It wasn’t fun – and it took away a lot the joy of the journey.
A few years ago, my brother shared an experience with me. He and his family were getting ready for a trip, and it was stressful. He was impatient, stressed, and suddenly found himself yelling at the dog. In reflection, he shared with me some of his thoughts. He realized this was the issue in our childhood and his stress was merely a reflection of his memories. In other words, he discovered that going on a trip was rarely a pleasant experience and he was merely projecting those memories on his own family.
This reflection struck me hard. While I didn’t have a family at the time, I knew he was right – and I’m certain I held those memories too.
“For me, it’s about developing good systems to avoid the stress”
Now, as a father, a husband, and a man of peace, I do not want to continue this cycle.
Usually, if I make three small changes in my approach, I am able to avoid most of the stress associated with getting my herd out the door and arriving to our destination on time.
- Better Scheduling
- More Rest
- A New Perspective
Here’s how this works:
The one change I have within my control is better scheduling. When I was single, and younger, it used to take a half hour to drive across Portland. I could usually make it in 25 minutes – and that was often with a Big Mac in one hand and a cell phone in the other. As the city grew, I was slow to realize that I could no longer make this drive in 25 minutes – let alone 30. In fact, it takes at least 45 minutes, but only if traffic is good.
“the one thing I can do to reduce stress in the lives of my family is to be realistic on time expectations“
So, the one thing I can do to reduce stress in the lives of my family is to be realistic on time expectations. This includes drive time, prep time, and loading time. What I do is work backwards in time and add buffers along the way. If it realistically takes 30 minutes to make the drive when traffic is good, I add 15 minutes – if it is going to be during rush hour, I add more time. If it “should” take five minutes to load the car, you know from experience that this never happens. I usually plan on 15 minutes – this accounts for distractions, whining, stalling, and minor emergencies (eg; scrapes, bumps, quarrels, and potty urgencies).
Then there is the prep time. Of course it should only take a few minutes to throw together a lunch, some snacks, or a change of clothes. But as a parent, you may have realized that “should” is a word that causes you to live in denial. Reality and should never seem to be congruent. You are constantly interrupted, distracted, and often called upon to keep the kids from killing themselves or each other.
You have to plan for these contingencies, or you will be stressed and late. You will never catch up.
For me, the biggest obstacle to being a good parent is being well rested. But as you know, this is almost impossible as a parent. The only way I can truly accomplish this is to do less. Contrary to the words of Adele, I can’t have it all. I can be rested, or I can do more – but I can’t do both.
“As a parent, my first priority is to take care of myself“
As long as I’m a parent, I have resigned myself to several realities. a) I will not read as many books as I used to; b) I cannot stay up as late as I used to; c) I cannot stay current on every TV show, the latest music, or any other hobby that used to be a part of my life; d) I cannot be the social butterfly that I’ve ever pretended to be in my past; and finally, e) I probably can’t accelerate my career as quickly as I could when no one else
As a parent, my first priority is to take care of myself, so I can better take care of myself. This starts with getting enough rest. And I cannot get enough rest as long as I try to live the lifestyle I lived when I was young and single. It is time to move on, give up my selfish desires, and focus on the needs of my family first.
As I’ve hinted above, several things need to change in your perspective. You can’t do as much as you used to, you can’t run out the door at the last minute, and you can’t push your kids to hurry. A good parent cannot be a selfish parent – your needs have to come secondary to your kids’ needs (Their wants are a different story).
“By eliminating the stress, the rush, the busy – you can help your kids enjoy the journey”
By eliminating the stress, the rush, the busy – you can help your kids enjoy the journey. You don’t have to make every errand a thrill ride, but you can eliminate the stress, the yelling, and the push to get everyone out the door. If you can learn to enjoy the journey, you will teach your kids to do the same.
The other game changer I’ve discovered is to quit stressing about being on time. If the above two suggestions fall through, I simply resign myself to be late. Pushing kids to hurry is like stuffing toothpaste back into the tube – it doesn’t work. Yelling only makes it worse, for now not only are you stressed, but now the kids are melting down. The best thing I’ve found is to simply accept the fact that we will be late, and go with the flow.
Granted, all of this is easier said than done, but I think you get the idea. And in all things I believe in progress, not perfection. It is better to make small steps forward, than to give up because you can’t do it all. If all you do is build in a few extra minutes getting out the door, that will help. And if you merely accept the fact that you’re going to be late, maybe you can “enjoy” the drive without acting like you’re being pursued by the Russian Mafia.
My kids will only be around for about 18 years. When I think back to 18 years ago, it seems as if it were only yesterday. I don’t want to miss these times. I don’t want to shortchange my kids. I certainly don’t want to pass on the family dynamic of making every so-called fun event (eg; camping, birthday parties, the beach, etc) into a dysfunctional memory of pain.
For me, it’s about developing good systems to avoid the stress – because waiting until the last moment, to solve an habitual problem – well, that never works.
What about your family? Do you find getting out the door to be a pleasant, or painful experience? Are you often stressed, rushed, and busy? Would you like to change this? How have you and your family solved these issues? Do you have suggestions for the rest of us?