Parenting, Stress & Burnout: The rediscovery of time I thought I didn't have!Feb 06, 2023
Note: The transcript below may not be exactly the same as the podcast because it has not been edited for accuracy
If you’ve been following along I’ve been coming at 2023 with some pretty strong intentions. I’m a big thinker, a researcher… a questioner of status quo and I’m motivated by things that challenge me. It annoys some of the people in my life at times, but I’ve always been this way. It’s part of my charm, it’s also part of what shapes what I do here at Raising Resilient Children.
For example, I’ve never really taken behaviour at face value, or even the first layer… I’m always looking for the next one. This is the foundation behind my signature framework, Parenting Clues for Problem Solving. What does behaviour really mean and what can we do about it? And what are some things we need to be doing to help ourselves and our children be able to show up to regulate. It so much more than learning to breathe, that’s actually a few steps in.
This is not today’s topic though. Today I’m sharing something else I did some serious thinking, reflecting and research about. Time, parenting and the runaway snowball I’ve referenced in a couple of this year’s episodes so far.
Just before I sat down to review the draft of this podcast I was on IG, I have a great story about IG later, but it was fitting I had to share. Dr Marc Brackett shared this post: Tonight I gave a talk to a couple hundred parents. I shared how lonely students are these days. I then asked them what gets in the way of their ability to connect with their children. The top response was "time." What's happened to our society? For reference Dr Brackett is the Director of the Yale Centre for Social Emotional Intelligence.
So I might have an answer to his question, at least in part, because I stopped to figure one out.
Today I’m going to share a story about what I’ve learned about overwhelm, the mental load of motherhood, children with big feelings, pandemic parenting and the whole nine yards. Layered in there is supporting other parents struggling with new and difficult challenges. Ones not yet faced by previous generations and others challenges faced by every generation for as long as parent-child relationships have existed.
One of the most common complaints I hear from parents… I don’t have enough time. Time for myself, time for my children, time to make changes, time to do your program, time for… insert your thoughts here. I waiting for better timing, when things are calmer….
Just for reference, I’ve been hearing this for a really long time, not just during the pandemic. We have become a world of unintentional procrastinators and snowball chasers. I’m the first to acknowledge the pandemic has made this worse, but it wasn’t the cause of it. The reason I wanted to clarify this is because a lot of the challenges we are facing are being squarely blamed on the pandemic and the reason I think it’s important to bring forward the idea that they were there before is because the problem isn’t going away if we don’t stop and do something. We can find lots of things to blame, but it won’t help us right now.
I’ve often made the connection between starting a small business with parenting. The demands of feeling like you need to be present all the time, the overwhelm of marketing advice, the struggle between setting effective boundaries and floundering, working with challenging personalities…. My last couple of episodes have been dedicated to some of these ideas, little pieces of the story.
Today I’m gonna share the big piece… the game changer piece… the… this is hard work but at the end of it you come out with solid info piece. I’m sharing this piece, but I know it’s helped some of my private clients, it certainly helped me and maybe it can help you too.
So in late November I had surgery. It was major and I pretended it wasn’t. No it wasn’t to prove I’m a tough woman or mother. I’m beyond that phase. No it wasn’t because I can’t admit defeat, I’m not that person any more either and haven’t been for quite a while.
It was because life is hard, money doesn’t in fact grow on trees and I’ve worked so hard at this business I want it to be successful, seemingly at all cost because the truth is, in part I need it to. The pandemic has given me a personal perspective in things I never had to think about before and I recognize I’m still privileged in a lot of ways, but I definitely see things differently. Some of those things have really helped me understand more layers of parenting right now and how it impacts all of us so differently.
And, just like my business I also want to be a successful mother, where success for me means raising my children with essential life skills, being kind to themselves, others and the planet. Above all I want them to know I am here for them, in the good stuff and not so good stuff. That I’m authentically present.
In early December I had a serious AHA moment because I was seemingly failing at both things. I’m gonna pause here just for a moment. If you haven’t listened to episode 29 about my cautionary tale, it’s connected to this story.
Here’s some of the stuff that was happening:
- Burning food
- Forgetting to flip laundry (every single time)
- Missing school emails, extra-curricular tasks
- Barely making it to pick up
- Unable to focus in conversations with my kids, I was there, but couldn’t focus on what they were saying to me
- Struggling to regulate
- Feeling pulled in a thousand directions: running to the computer when I’d get an idea because I was afraid I’d forget it, responding to messages immediately when they’d pop on my watch OR tell myself I’d respond later and completely forget to follow up.
So I know some of you listening are small business owners like me, I know others of you work in jobs that have long hours and demand a lot of your attention and I also know some of you are at home and everything in-between.
I’ve been a lot of these things, they all come with their own set of challenges and expectations but the common thread is that any parenting we do right now requires a time check.
So that’s exactly what I did, because I’m not okay with not being okay. That understanding you are not okay is only the first step in the process. Like every topic I bring up, there is nuance here connected to your own mental health and the supports you have in place. I’m not a therapist, my space is social emotional intelligence and education things like: big feelings, tools for feelings, empathy, awareness, kindness, stress and the stress cycle as it relates to emotions and emotional regulation and so on. At times it might feel like it overlaps, but I feel it’s important to make this clear. My goal is to make the basic tools accessible to everyone because in my various roles in education, particularly when I owned a preschool, there was one thing that was super clear. When caring adults have the tools to support their social emotional and mental well-being, and that of their child’s, everyone’s life is easier.
Okay, so here’s What I did. Now if you caught Episode 28 about Resetting Your Routine, this is the other layer I was referring to. Getting parents to reflect on their children’s routines is built into my program because it serves as a really helpful tool for digging into those deeper layers to find patterns, missing skills, underlying challenges and so on. That’s all part of the Parent Clues for Problem Solving System I was telling you about. You can find more about that under the program tab on my website taragratto.ca/BRTK (or in the show notes)
So, I took this idea one step further. I did a super honest time audit of my day for a few days. I detailed both mentally and physically all the things. I mean all the things. If I hopped on IG for two seconds while waiting for the pasta to boil, I took note. My very unpredictable working hours, I took note of those. Like running to the computer to jot down ideas for a blog because I was worried about forgetting (which I do a lot - I have awesome ideas that if I don’t write them down I lose them and I find that frustrating. Gone are the days when I could write whole sections of my thesis in my mind out on a run and come home and put it down on paper.) When I took my kids places and what I did when I was there. All things. Some I didn’t physically write down, some I just noted… because it was a lot, but it gave me the feedback I was looking for and needed.
For example, let me dig into that last one… taking my kids to things and what I did while there at their activity. A habit that I was very intentional about pre-pandemic was either watching my kids activities while knitting because I need busy hands OR doing something for the family, like grocery shopping. The pandemic shifted this because we spent so much time together that when my kids first started doing things, we were still home together so I needed those those moments to catch up on emails and work. And truthfully I didn’t feel the need to watch or be as present because I was present in so many other spaces. Here’s the aha for me though, I didn’t stop doing that this past September when my kids returned to in-person school. But we weren’t spending time together all day any more and I had a lot more time to work during ‘working hours’.
Now my point in sharing this isn’t to tell people they must watch their kids. In fact, I judge no one for what they are doing. I know when I was homeschooling I found it irritating when people judged me because let me tell you, we spent more than enough time together and I didn’t need to see all the things. I share this because I never turned work off and pre-pandemic this is something I thought through as a choice and I let that decision slip. It was part of my runaway snowball.
I am acutely aware that my work is an escape at times, the place that is all about me and doing what I’m passionate about. But, I’m also passionate about being a parent. I’ve never resonated with the messaging that it wasn’t okay for me to leave my career to be a mom and later run a preschool. I strongly disliked the well-intentioned comments that someone with my level of experience and expertise should be doing something more than running a daycare. There’s a lot of layers to that conversation that would make a great conversation topic for another episode.
Today I’m focussing on… time… where we use it, where we lose it and perhaps where we mis-use it. Here’s what I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you if your story is like mine or if you feel the same way I do about the way I was using my time BUT I can tell you there’s a big difference between chasing the runaway snowball and knowing exactly which things you want to let run and which things you want to do a better job of keeping in check.
Here’s the very very honest part of my story and I share it because I know others are in similar situations. If you follow me on IG you will not be surprised to know that one of my out of control habits was how often and for what reasons I was on social media. Again, when I owned my preschool I was super intentional with my posts. Not scheduled, but very intentional. Here’s a fun thing, a cool idea…. I didn’t check when I was working with kids, I didn’t check while I was making food, I didn’t check it first thing in the morning, I didn’t check it last thing at night… I just enjoyed posting here and there, commenting here and there. I treated it like media and less like social.
There are at least two layers to why my habits changed and I think it’s worth mentioning both. One, the pandemic. The pandemic changed the way I use my phone, the way I engage with social media, the amount of time I spent on it, the way I talked on it… That’s the part that might resonate with you. It’s became an escape, a source of information, a space for community and connection… also a source for great amounts of anxiety, discord, disconnect, disappointment… it can be a lot of things and none of them simultaneously.
The second layer is something I talked about in Episode 30: My Cautionary Tale. Social media for me is a form of marketing and my business relies on it, … but not as much as I convinced myself it did and especially for a team of one. I thought being reliable, present, serving community, building authority, meant showing up and showing up a lot. Well, it’s also what I was told and was reinforced by my engagement, growing audience, likes etc… Remember how I said I took advice that didn’t fully resonate… oh I fully became the person I never wanted to be. Not enjoying moments because ‘this would be great to share’ or ‘this will show my community how this thing works’ or ‘this example will help people value my expertise.’ At the end of the day though, I’d fallen into a marketing funnel belief mindset.
To support this, I justified my over-dependence on checking all the platforms, particularly IG, because it was just one more picture, one more video, one more webinar, one more post, one more piece of the ever complicated funnel. All this while simultaneously talking about how important it is to foster independence, confidence etc separate from likes, shares etc with my middle grade children… I justified my own connection to these things as being part of what my business needs. Well, when your business is a literal extension of you, there’s a big problem brewing here. I will also tell you I never felt great about it, it was an extreme source of parent guilt for me and I continue to feel a lot of mixed feelings about the time spent and what it accomplished (and didn’t).
So on top of my daily habits there was the stress of existence. The unpredictable stuff and the the stuff life throws at you and you have no choice but to tackle it. Things like a surgery to correct a life altering condition I’ve just lived with and a family member who needs occasional health support, and at times that’s been more than occasional. A global pandemic… that’s been a real party.
I’m no stranger to talking about stress. I teach it in my program and 1:1 support to help people understand emotional regulation, what’s happening to them and their children in big feelings moments and what they can do about it. I started teaching it because of that marketing heavy parenting advice that was promising parents they’d never yell or lose their cool ever again. Yeah that advice is missing a key piece, if you don’t understand why you are losing your cool and actively build skills and tools for it, that’s an impossible promise and spoiler alert… it’s likely an impossible promise altogether because we are not in fact robots. Can we get better yes, can we do better, for sure… will we never again transgress… not a chance.
I’ve actually had people tell me they are so ashamed of not being able to uphold the goals of the courses or programs they took with those promises that they felt like complete failures and that they worry they are causing serious harm to their children. This is not permission to lose your cool but an active acknowledgement that learning to lose your cool less often is not easy and requires awareness. Awareness that is the ultimate goal of this podcast.
Nobody can deny the layers of stress that the pandemic has added to our lives. In my program and picture book I call it DINO Brain, when your emotional brain takes control over your thinking and body brain and sends you into the 3f’s - flight, fight or freeze.
Not all stress is bad stress. In fact some stress is really important and it helps us, but when we experience bad stress for extended periods of time our brain is no longer helping us, it’s harming us. It’s also exhausting and unsustainable and they are just started to study the impacts of the sustained stress many of us have been feeling during the pandemic.
Now just like I teach in my picture book, side note, picture books can be just as effective for learning hard things for us adults as for kids… the best way to handle the stress storms of life is to build tools for it.
Team Brain uses the system: Stop, Breathe, Think, Act and we can apply it here.
First we have to Stop: That’s my awareness there is a runaway snowball happening,
Second we have to Breathe: We need to bring ourselves down so we can listen and process without the added layer of Dino brain. That includes listening to our inner voice.
Think: This my time audit and reflection on that time audit: what needs are being met and which ones are not?
Act: implement changes based on learning to support you moving forward.
I’ve made a lot of changes. For example, for the last week of December and first two weeks of January I completely removed IG from my phone. I did this after an aha moment thinking about work phones versus home phones. If I didn’t own my business and instead worked for someone, would I still do all the things the way I do them now. This is key. The way I do them!
Now as a long time educator I can tell you that is a system that is terrible for teaching people boundaries. It’s literally impossible to do your job within working hours and I’m seeing that play out right now as more educators draw important lines. They aren’t actually always getting things that need to be done done, because it’s not actually possible to do it all during the school day. The system is cracking.
Now, as I was reflecting about what changes I would make and thinking… I don’t have a separate work and home phone, but I need to break this habit this was the decision I came to. Let’s remove things from your phone that typically attract you to do here and there work instead of a more intentional and focussed approach. So, I removed IG from my phone, which forced me to use it on my computer. This wasn’t a long term solution because there are features that don’t work on the computer, but it was an important separation that helped me moving toward reframing my habit.
Here’s the thing about habits, we do them without thinking or realizing. I needed a layer that would remind me of the need to reshape my behaviour. As part of this process, I set up some intentional times I would be using it and what I would be doing. Now as I mentioned I couldn’t do this forever, I do have it back on my phone, but only operating in the background so it’s still an effort to open it.
Annoyingly this is also proof that social media doesn’t really care about your mental health and wants you to take them with you everywhere. The features that support some aspects of my business only work on the phone (things like IG lives & reels). But, I am now able to be super intentional about this. I also know habits take time to redirect into new behaviours so I’m gonna have to keep at this for several weeks to reprogram my mind away from the habit of regularly checking. This also relates to what I teach, there are no fast fixes for behaviour and even the immediate success I’ve had with doing this, there have been a couple times where I’ve caught myself wanting to return to those habits. It’s the path of least resistance and this new path is better for me, but it hard to implement on an ongoing basis, especially as things get busier.
As I round out this episode, I’m gonna give you some things to ponder while considering doing a time audit.
- It’s very uncomfortable, it will bring up some big feelings, have some outlets in place to manage those.
- Consider it collecting data. That what’s in the past is past, but the future is still full of possibilities. You can’t change what you’ve done, but you can change what you are doing.
- There is time, it’s there, you’ll find it. And free time can be uncomfortable. Part of the reason we will fill time is because boredom is a bit annoying and just like bored kids sometimes it brings up uncomfortable feelings that are easier to fill up with other stuff.
So much has changed in the month since I started this journey. I do in fact have more time. More time in my business to show up for my membership community, to create content for you and feel less like a spinning wheel. It’s starting to falter a little, but I’m keeping my awareness up to prevent it from going too far off line. I’ve been knitting up a storm. I’ve made 3 projects that I’ve been putting off for like a year, not joking. I’ve been communicating with my kids about my changes, including charging my phone across the room from my bed, narrating some of the things I’m doing on my phone or who I might be talking to instead of mindlessly consuming social media. It’s helped me identify boundaries.
It hasn’t solved all the problems or stress. My kids are actually a little bit annoyed that I’m more present because they can’t get away with things that don’t typically resonate with our family’s commitment to striking balance between our physical and mental needs and the world we live in. It’s harder to sneak and extra show in because I wasn’t paying as close attention to some of these things. Like I said in the last episode.
Kids need guides and mentors, even great kids need these things. These changes are really important ones. And I didn’t come up with all the ideas myself, I started this journey after reading the first couple of chapters of Devorah Heitner’s book Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and survive in Their Digital World. If you haven’t read that one, it’s a good one! What it did was help me start think about what exactly was I modelling and then I put that together with some of my expertise, experience and research for various things I do here at RRC and …. Ta da… time audit with actionable plan.
Okay, so I hope today’s episode gives you a point for reframe. I’ve started up podcast website page. Please head on over there and share your thoughts in the comment box or as a question for a future episode.