Surviving Stress: 3 Steps to Helping Your Family Through Stressful Seasons

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It’s been one of those weeks here, where the level of stress in the house is palpable. Everyone feels it, and it’s no one person’s fault. It just is.

Children have an innate connection with the emotions of their parents. Remember how the baby would especially not go to sleep on the nights you had plans after she was supposed to be down for the night? And the more anxious you became, the more difficult the baby was? Reciprocally, parents’ hearts are molded by the feelings of their children. If you’ve had teens or tweens you know how your heart breaks when they encounter situations you simply cannot solve for them!

Sometimes it becomes a mother’s job to manage the stress in her house, and that takes priority over the schooling and the cooking and the everything.

It can be stress over a big life change, like a pregnancy or a move. It can be stress at work or co-op. It can be stress with friends or sports. It can be stress about lesson plans and learning difficulties. And of course, there’s stress currently over covid everywhere.

To complicate things, when young children feel stress, they don’t know what those icky feelings are, and they often act out and misbehave. Teens and tweens become extra emotional, despite their determination to not let someone else’s problems affect them. Then we can feel like we are walking on eggshells, hoping not to unintentionally initiate a meltdown.

How do we get through these seasons? Truly, it’s only by God’s grace. But I have found a few practical steps that have helped me over the years.

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1. Take care of mom.

Take the time to have a little mama meltdown. It might not look like a toddler or a teen meltdown, but figure out what you need to do to release the tension. It’s like putting on our oxygen mask before putting one on the person next to us.

I have friends who go for long runs and other friends who workout. (that’s not me) A good cry in the shower or a closet can help let go of the anxiety. If I can get some quiet time (sitting in the van is an escape I’ve used) or go to church for prayer, that’s my chance to cry out to God and beg earnestly for His help. We can also think more clearly about what might help when it’s quiet. Watching a funny movie or having a dance party with the kids can also help with the stress, and these have the added bonus of helping our kids, too.

Also, we need to cut our workload when things get intense. Put the mom-intensive crafts or science lessons aside for the week. Scrap the elaborate meal plans and stick to tried and true basics. Use paper plates and cups for a few days (add some silliness by making some meals a picnic on the floor). We need to focus only on the necessities, so we have room to just breathe.

 

2. Take care of your husband.

(Disclaimer: if your husband is not a part of the day to day stress, for whatever reason, or your marriage is in crisis, this might not apply.) When I was a young mother, I read a book called The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. The author and the book were/are considered somewhat controversial, but the core of her message has stuck with me throughout my marriage and has worked countless times to get us back on track. Her advice is that if you take care of your husband’s primary three appetites, he will walk over hot coals to make you happy: his ego, his stomach, and marital intimacy.

Compliment your husband more. Thank him for the little things he does. Make his favorite foods or buy them at the store. Fix his coffee for him. And unless you have grave reasons not to, initiate more fun in the bedroom. These efforts are similar to the “Love Dare” concept, made popular by the movie, Fireproof, and there’s a lot of proof that they work to heal marriages. But my focus here is reducing the atmosphere of stress in the home.

Because I am his helpmate, and anything I can do to bring him peace will reduce his anxiety, also reduce mine, and through the grace of our sacramental marriage, spill over throughout the rest of the family.

 

3. Take care of the kids.

Just stop. Please give yourself the grace and the mercy to stop and focus on the hearts of your children.

Maybe that means we throw out the lesson plans for a day or two and find something fun to do together. We can plan a “Just Because We Can Day!” Maybe we just cut back to the bare minimum (our “Minimum Viable Day” a la Pam Barnhill) or let the kids choose which schoolwork gets done for a change. But it usually means simplifying the school for a day or more to give us all a little more breathing room.

And in that added time find ways to re-connect with your kids. When I am stressed, I tend to put up an emotional wall to steel myself, and that makes me partly inaccessible to my children. If this lasts too long, it’s time to plan ways to intentionally build our relationships. We play board games and card games and read stories. We go for walks and bike rides together. We make cookies and watch funny cat videos on YouTube. Have some fun together! By finding simple ways to bring extra joy to their lives, we activate those endorphins and teach them how to handle stress as they mature.

They usually can’t identify what is causing them stress, but we can help them by being open (in age-appropriate ways) about what’s making everyone so grumpy. If I can, I’ll talk to my kids about what is causing them or their parents stress and ask them to give one another a little extra grace and love. I try to ask them questions about their feelings and interests and really listen to their answers. Asking for their prayers can also help them feel useful in these seasons, and the prayers of children are full of way more purity than ours could ever be!

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Our Feminine Genius

Life is full of ups and downs. Our family has been through six major moves (5 of them cross-country), law school, infertility, family strife, surgeries, a deployment, and more. But I’ve learned that when things get intense, I can positively affect the mood in the family. You can, too. The beauty of our feminine genius is that women are often more sensitive to the emotions of others, and part of our place in this world is to use that genius to help others, most importantly our families.

As you face whatever stressors your family is encountering right now, you will be in my prayers. If you have read this post and feel despair or frozen in anxiety over the possibility of doing any of the above, please seek a trusted friend or counselor to help guide you out of that place. There are many times that we need to humble ourselves to accept outside help, just as Christ accepted Simon’s, to carry our crosses.

Take a deep breath. God is with you. He will give you the strength to not just get through anything but also to make a difference to others in the process.

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