Episode summary:

In this episode, Susan shares insights and practical ideas for reducing the sense of overwhelm that many parents are experiencing as we shelter in place. You’ll hear sensible advice for managing the endless tasks and demands of managing kids, work, and household during this challenging time.

Susan Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist, an educational therapist and a highly lauded speaker. She is the author Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and Parenting With Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (an Eckhart Tolle Edition).Susan offers online events for parents around the world on topics like Raising Tweens and Teens, Parenting in the Digital Age, and Raising Siblings and also hosts a monthly support group with Wendy Behary on Co-Parenting with a Narcissist.​​​​​​​ www.susanstiffelman.com

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

• Why we get overwhelmed—and what we can do to avoid it
• How to prioritize where we put our energy
• Simple ways to replenish when our reserves are empty

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Transcript:

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I’m your host, Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. I’m glad you’re here. So this podcast has become a really great way for me to share what I’ve learned over the 40 years that I’ve been a teacher and a marriage and family therapist. We cover a lot of topics often with wonderful guests, with the aim of providing you with practical support the wall make your parenting lives less stressful and more fun. But as you may have noticed these days, each episode is focusing on some aspect of parenting while sheltering in place. And the same is true for my work outside the podcast universe. So here are a couple of things you may find helpful. The first is a class I’ll be teaching with Dr. Laura Markham on helping siblings get along.

 

Speaker 1:

One of the biggest challenges parents are facing right now is the constant bickering and teasing and fighting between their kids. So this class is going to address the practicalities of helping kids negotiate and compromise and adapt as they shelter in place with each other all day, every day. So you can check that out at Susanstiffelman.com you’ll see all the details and the class will be live on Wednesday, April 15th or if you’re like most busy parents, you can tune in for the replay when you can grab a few minutes so you can find out more at susanstiffelman.com about that. And we also have a free weekly virtual support group called Better Together Mondays, which has been a great way for parents to get together online. I’ve been joined by some wonderful co-hosts including Dr. Michelle Borba, Dr. Tina Bryson, Janet Lansbury and Dr. Laura Markham. So this coming week, Debbie Reber from Tilt Parenting will join me as we address questions related to homeschooling or screen time or pretty much whatever you want to ask.

 

Speaker 1:

So find out more at susanstiffelman.com/better-together for the free weekly virtual support group and helping siblings get along is the class that will take place on the 15th with a replay available soon after. So let’s get started today. I wanted to address a topic that I think most of you can relate to, overwhelm, parenting, overwhelm. I’m going to dive into this in more depth than a masterclass very soon. So if you haven’t already, do subscribe for updates at susanstiffelman.com but I’m guessing that most of you are experiencing some degree of overload and overwhelmed right now. So I’m going to share some ideas with you that you can use hopefully today. The first thing I want to say is that whenever I’m faced with a problem, I find it really helpful to define it. So how would you define overwhelm?

 

Speaker 1:

One of the ways I would define it would be to say that overwhelm is the experience of feeling that we more to do than we can comfortably managed. So that might look like a pile of dishes in the sink and a child screaming for help with his math worksheet and an email our boss is waiting for and three loads of laundry in the hall floor and a desperate need to take a shower. But sometimes we can manage those things without feeling overwhelmed. Somehow we can pull it together and keep a sense of humor or let some things go without worrying about it. And sometimes we can get overwhelmed by something that might seem like a really small thing like falling apart because we can’t figure out what to make for dinner. So it isn’t necessarily the external circumstances that determine whether we’re going to feel overwhelmed.

 

Speaker 1:

But let’s be honest, if you’re on day 25 of sheltering in place with your kids and you’re also worried about your job or trying to file for unemployment and your children are resisting all your efforts to help them with their homeschooling and you just desperately want to spend some time with grownups or maybe all by yourself, then the simplest thing like your child wanting help on a math worksheet might tip you over the edge into overwhelm. I get it. I really do. I’ve been there done that. Sometimes I can handle all kinds of things and demands and then other times the littlest thing just feels completely impossible. So I think for me, overwhelm happens when there are things I need to do or needs I feel that I have to meet, that outweighed my capacity to comfortably get them done. And oftentimes it’s because I’m just plain tired physically, mentally, and or emotionally.

 

Speaker 1:

Is that true for you too? More often than not. When we have been able to take things in stride like the screaming child and the pile of laundry and the email for our boss, there was a big ingredient that made it easier for us to cope and that was a feeling of rest. In other words, when we aren’t running on fumes, when we’ve had some time to ourselves to mentally rest or we’ve had a nap or a decent night’s sleep, we almost always find it easier to handle the chaos of life with kids. So the thing I’m going to suggest, which some of you may find almost funny, but I’m going to say it anyway, is that rest is essential at warding off overwhelm. Again, it might be physical rest, but it might also be mental rest or emotional rest because when our cup is empty and we’re still being asked to give, we can move into this heightened stress response.

 

Speaker 1:

One part of us wants to rise to the challenge. We want to help our son with math and we want to do it with the laundry and get the email out. But another part of screaming does leave me alone. I can’t do it. It’s too much. So I’m going to suggest something. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, first and foremost, just be present with that. Name it, notice it, allow it. That’s what’s true for you. So bring it into the room as Jon Kabat Zinn beautifully says, put out the welcome mat, put it out the welcome mat for whatever you’re going through. And that may be overwhelmed, exhaustion, fatigue, resentment, frustration. And then once you’ve allowed yourself to acknowledge, I am completely on empty, I have nothing to give, and yet it seems like I have to give and give and give anyway. Start paying attention to the choices that you’re making about where you’re putting your energy.

 

Speaker 1:

A lot of times the things that we expend energy on are actually things that might feel good because we can check them off our list, but they’re not really that important. They can eat up a lot of our time. They can actually deplete our reserves, but we might gravitate toward them because it just feels like we could have that sense of accomplishment if we get it done. So we might focus on getting the dishes out of the sink and loaded into the dishwasher because they’re staring us in the face and it would feel good like we’d actually accomplished something. The problem is the dishes may not be as important as going in the other room for five minutes or eight minutes as long as it might’ve taken you to do the dishes. Putting our feet up, maybe putting a warm washcloth over your eyes while the kids play in the background, even if they’re noisy and just breathing for a few minutes or letting yourself notice that the birds are singing outside.

 

Speaker 1:

As you relax in the lawn chair for a couple of minutes and giving yourself a mental or physical or emotional pause. Now this might not feel very practical. It might feel like you’re wasting time, but sometimes the best thing we can do to meet the needs and demands around us is to just simply say no to the pile of the dishes or the pile of laundry. And except that not everything’s going to be done or done well. The house might be extra messy. The worksheet might not get completed by our child or he might fall apart and have a big crying meltdown in the middle of the floor because you haven’t helped him. And that’s okay too. Kids have big emotions anyway and in particular right now as everyone’s feeling so much frustration, so much pent up emotion. So if a child can’t cope with the fact that you’re not available to help with a math worksheet and they fall on the floor screaming and you know, pounding this and stomping their feet, allow them to move toward their tears.

 

Speaker 1:

It is a challenging time for all of us. And there’s nothing wrong with deciding for yourself. What are the most important things for me to do with the limited energy and attention that I have. And for some parents it’s going to be really helpful to write that down. These are the three most important things for me to get to today. For others, it might be simply staying very present in your body and noticing what feels beyond your mind and your mental chatter, what actually feels time-sensitive and sometimes that’s going to be despite the fact that you have a long list of household tasks to get done or things you have to do for work or promises you made to help a child with a project for their schooling. Sometimes when you get quiet and you tune into yourself, the thing that’s going to be most important for you to pay attention to is a child who’s been very quiet and kind of withdrawing a little bit and just spending five or 10 minutes cuddling with that child or telling a joke or taking a little bit of a walk might be the most important thing for you to do with the energy that you have.

 

Speaker 1:

And the funny thing is when we start listening to ourselves and we turn down that narrative or that story in our head that says, you should do this and then you should do this and you should do this too. When we just stop listening so carefully and finding ourselves panicking, every time we hear another to do come up in our mind or from somebody around us, when we start instead listening to that wisdom inside of us that knows the most important things for us to focus on, we can relax a little bit. Our shoulders drop, maybe the tightness in our belly softens and we realize that by honoring our deeper knowing about what really matters from our list and whether it makes it to the actual to do list or it’s just a look in our child’s eye that says, I just need some connection with you, mom or dad, that when we honor that and respect that and we fold in our own capacity, which may be very reduced because we’re so tired, then we can dial down that experience of being on overwhelm.

 

Speaker 1:

So I know this may sound, as I said, almost impossible when there are so many things pulling at you, particularly if you’re working from home. I understand that there’s no one size fits all recommendation for how you should manage the tasks of your day or prioritize your obligations and responsibilities, but I do know that when we’re on empty, first job is to refill our cup even if it’s five minutes of putting our feet up or spending a moment under under a tree or picking up the phone and connecting with a friend who would just listen and that the other thing is when we rearrange what truly is urgent and important to address those things that matter the most to us, that would be the most satisfying if they were accomplished. It may not be the dishes, it might, it might be the laundry for sure.

 

Speaker 1:

If you have nothing clean to wear, that might feel great to get the laundry done, but don’t be ruled by voices that tell you what you should be doing. There’s plenty of voices in our lives telling us what we should be doing and the wisest voice is the one inside of us, so I hope that was helpful to you. As always, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please tell a friend, leave a rating or a review, and if you have a particular topic that you want me to address, you can email podcast@susanstiffelman.com and don’t forget to check out Susanstiffelman.com to make sure you’re getting all our updates. We have Debbie Reber from Tilt Parenting coming up next week. We also have our class with Dr. Laura Markham on helping siblings get along, which I think will be a great help to many of you and I’d love for you to take advantage of some of the things that we’re making available to parents during this very challenging time. Okay, then remember, here it comes. No matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. Stay safe. Stay home and I’ll see you next time.

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