Regain Presence Despite Mental Load Overwhelm
After conducting an anonymous survey with 225 Moms, to gauge how the ‘mental load’ from carrying the always-on to-do list, affects everything from careers to health and family relationships, 79% shared they experience increased anger, worry and distraction with their kids.
“…Throughout dinner and bedtime, I feel like I’m pushing my kids off, like ‘I’ll look at your picture…after I finish unloading the dishwasher,’ or ‘As soon as I’m done making your sandwich, I’ll be right there.’ All they want is my attention but I just don’t have it to give unless I want to do two hours of chores after they go to bed, which I don’t! I try to get it all done before they go to bed…(after) I can take a shower, then sit down and rest.”
Mom Is A Utility
We preach the value of attentiveness and focus to our children. Yet unmade beds and unread messages vie for our mindshare. Constantly. In most families, Mom-energy powers everything from hugs to planning playdates…leaving little space for the trial, error or antics of childhood.
“They view me as regularly stressed… There’s really no full down time between what I need to do and the kids’ schedules.”
“I have less patience when I’m overburdened, which leads to being short tempered…and less engaged with them. I feel like I can’t stop and play Legos® or help with a craft because I have TOO MUCH TO DO!!!”
“I get irritable with my daughter…I want her to help me more – but it’s usually less work for me to just do everything myself. Then I worry that she’s not going to learn how to take care of things on her own since I do it all! But I am so tired, I end up doing what’s easiest in the moment.”
Good mentors are patient. We know this, yet the always-on mental to-do list that plagues most Moms erodes calm and presence, often when our children need it the most. Can tools, like mindfulness and modeling, help us restore patience?
“I have trouble connecting with them when I become super stressed and yell when I get frustrated rather than utilizing my other preferred parenting skills.”
“I get very short-tempered at the end of the day when stressed and I have no patience for the typical toddler behavior that comes with bedtime routines. I just want them to go to bed and so I will snap at them and sometimes be forceful when putting them to bed… It’s an awful feeling.”
Obligations, like chains, restrict our buoyancy. Over time, our heads hurt, hearts sink and bodies rebel. If you’ve abruptly shut down the plea to wear a tutu to bed or felt teary sending email late at night, relief is probably needed. Dr. Ashley Smith, a Psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety, shared, “Kids don’t see the 99% of the time you’re coping well…they see the 1% of the time you lose it.”
Most surveyed Moms (98%) feel overwhelmed by mental load stress, whether working in or outside of the home, or both. Ashley has observed stress on the rise with her patients, half of whom are children. “More use of social media has many moving through life mindlessly, waiting for messages. The nervous system is always on alert…” Our devices chirp and we obey. Without checking, it’s hard to discern importance. For many the parenthood vigil, distance from aging parents and work expectations, keep us tethered in fear of missing something urgent.
Is Mindfulness the Antidote?
Although mindfulness, intentionally connecting with the present moment, has been proven to reduce the physiological response to stress, what about patience? I asked Julie Nason, Mindfulness Coach and Mother of two, for guidance. She suggests starting with a simple technique when you begin to feel stressed or angry:
Use Mindfulness to Hit ‘Pause’
- Stop or pause current thoughts or activities (i.e., step away from the situation, look out the window.)
- Take a deep breath (or two or three) to connect with the present moment. Proceed without an ‘automatic’ reaction, choose how you want to relate to the situation.
Julie explained, “When triggered it’s common to take shallow breaths or even hold the breath. Breathing pulls control from the amygdala (the ancient part of the brain wired to protect us with the fight or flight response) back to the prefrontal cortex…where you can see the big picture.”
Can Kids Learn Mindfulness?
When kids lose their cool, trying to contain the situation can feel excruciating. I shared with Ashley how my toddler was inconsolable when I refused to let her wear sandals…in the snow. “When a tantrum is underway, it’s a different part of the brain, not the logic center, that’s in control…” One approach, is to disengage and walk away. She said, “Parents can’t make it better in the moment, only worse by getting stressed themselves and possibly escalating the situation.” Noted. “…you have to redefine winning…attention is what they seek…show attention when they’re calm.” Can we do that? She cautioned, “…this doesn’t work right away, changing the rules takes time. It’s what I call the Coke® machine effect. If they’re used to putting money into the machine and getting a Coke every time (if) suddenly there’s no Coke, they’re going to kick and shake the machine.”
Start With Yourself!
Julie wisely reminded, “… Mindfulness is a tool for you first to develop…self-compassion and non-judgement.” She went onto explain, “We’re hard on ourselves. Judging yourself means you’ll judge others. We want to connect to our children so they feel loved and (can) create a roadmap for how to handle mistakes in the future. (Even when we lose patience) we can return to the loving relationship we’ve worked to cultivate.”
Ashley advises that “Parents can model the behavior they want to see as much as possible. Instead of saying ‘I can’t be late’ which models I have to be perfect, label how you feel. I don’t like being late it makes me stressed. But I know it probably won’t be a big deal in the end. Or I’m really feeling overwhelmed right now, so I’m going to count to ten.”
I also asked Ashley about her perspective on mindfulness, “As a former skeptic, based on my experiences and all of the neuroscience backing it up, it’s the number one self-care strategy for kids and parents.”
Many thanks to Julie Nason and Ashley Smith for their expertise!
Julie Nason, MA; Mindfulness Coach
Julie transitioned from a 17-year career in pharmaceutical research and development (with a focus in neuroscience) to explore a new way of being. She trained at the Center for Mindfulness, (University of Massachusetts Medical School), Andover Newton Theological School, and the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Julie is skilled in creating a space for clients to explore stressors in their lives – work, relationships, health, loss – with presence and kindness. Julie can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Ashley J. Smith; Psychologist, Speaker and Author
Ashley J. Smith,earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. She completed a pre-doctoral internship at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics before joining Omaha Children’s Hospital to help develop their dedicated anxiety services. She was then a senior staff psychologist at the Kansas City Center for Anxiety Treatment, P.A. before starting a private practice. She provides evidence-based treatment for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders, with expertise in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has several publications and regularly presents trainings on local and national levels. Follow her on Twitter, visit her professional website and enjoy her amazing blog ‘A Blind Quest for Happiness’ for more practical wisdom on managing anxiety and overcoming adversity.