The research is clear: our kids are stressed to the point of developing pathology, while parents are running around like chickens with their heads cut off and suffering the same. Nobody is happy. We know we need to heed the advice to just SLOW DOWN… but just how do we begin to simplify family life?
Here are 12 ways.
1. Awareness. Spend a week tracking how you spend your time. Even if you can’t do a whole week, collecting some hard data on how you do spend your time as a family will be eye-opening. As you record the time, also record your mood. On a scale of one to five, just how happy are you when you are getting breakfast ready or doing tuck-ins? This is your baseline. You’ll be moving away from this state to a more consciously created family life by following the steps below.
2. Create a vision board. Together with your children, draw a vision board of what you would like your family to be like. What’s important? What do you like to do together? What is the climate of your family? What is the atmosphere of the house? What values and principles are important to you all? If you could make up your own family coat of arms, what would it look like? Everyone can take turns drawing, talking and collaborating on this piece of art together. It’s the family you strive to be. Everyone should have some input. Refer to the vision board throughout the year as you make plans together. Have regular check-ins as a family to ensure you are moving in a unified direction towards your vision. Are all oars pulling together?
3. Try the chocolate meditation, an experiment in mindfulness training. Take one square of dark chocolate and savour it for five minutes without chewing. Start by paying full attention to every detail and sensation. Listen to the sound as you open the wrapper, notice the first smell that hits your nostrils, notice your saliva starting to run in anticipation. Place the square on your tongue and notice how it sits there. Pay full attention to the flavour and sensations as it melts. Notice how different this experience is to mindlessly eating chocolate. You can have your children do this with you, too.
4. Practice mindfulness in your day. Once you have experienced the chocolate mediation, see if you can bring that same attentiveness, awareness and savouring to the interactions you have with your children and others. Have a mindful breakfast with your children where you are fully present, with no other thoughts pulling your attention away to things you need to do, or invisible lists of the day’s activities nagging at you. Don’t struggle with how your children should be acting or behaving. Just notice and enjoy them today. How did that experience differ from the distracted, mindless breakfast of the past? How would you rate your mood now?
5. Expand your mindfulness. Once you see the power of mindfulness to better connect you to your children, you will want to develop it as a practice. You can read meditation books or download apps, or you can simply continue to increase the amount of times you are able to use this conscious approach throughout the events of your family’s day. While I can’t give you more than 24 hours in a day, this will feel like you have been given more time because now you are awake and aware instead of mentally checking out.
6. Keep tech in its rightful place. You run your life, not technology. You may have developed a habit of carrying your phone with you and checking it regularly. While it’s great that people can reach you, it’s a quiet stressor. Find time each day to consciously be tech-free. Notice the difference in how you feel when you go to the park with your kids with your phone versus going without. If your kids are old enough to be on technology, limit their usage, too, just as you limit soda pop or candy. Like mindfulness, start small. Notice the greater satisfaction and grow the amount of times you are tech-free until it matches more closely with your values and the level of happiness you want to achieve.
7. Leave time holes. We rarely leave wiggle room in our lives for the inevitable last-minute search for car keys, or to accommodate a child who decides last minute they want to wear a different pair of shoes. Fighting the clock to be punctual creates so much conflict and stress for families. Adjust your schedules and expectations so that you can move more slowly and patiently between your activities. If getting to school should take 30 minutes, allow 50. This is not wasted time – this is time together without conflict that you can be enjoying each other's company.
8. Do less each day. We all have a to-do list. Never schedule more than three things a day to be completed. If you get to more – bonus! But the top three is enough, and celebrate if you get the number one thing done. Yeah, the laundry is done. I am going to pat myself on the back for that.
9. Say NO. You will be asked to help out a lot: volunteer for a committee, organize the end of the year party – you name it. There is no shortage of ways to be helpful and give your time and talents. However, many of us say “yes” to be polite or because we feel we should. But ask yourself, when I say “yes” to this request, what am I saying “no” to? We all have the same 24 hours, so something else is now being forfeited. Is that how you best want to make use of your time right now? If not, say no. Practice ways to say no. “I am sorry – I wish I could help out, but my time is fully committed at this point. Perhaps next year.”
10. More meals together. While it may not always be doable, try to have as many sit down meals together as possible. This is one of the most fundamental ways that humans bond. Coming together all in one place to break bread and have good conversations should be the focus – not nutrition and picky eating.
11. Less coaches and teachers, more parents and play. Today’s children spend the vast majority of their time with adults other than their own parents. They are starving to be with the people they love and cherish the most. YOU! There should be ample time each week for the family to be together in non-structured time that allows for natural and spontaneous activities, whether that is doing the dishes together or playing a board game. Seriously consider dropping the number of extracurricular activities in favour of family time this year. You won’t regret it.
12. Get into nature. Modern life has caused us to lose touch with Mother Nature, the natural order of life and our place in it. Kids and adults alike need to experience the wonders of feeling grass between their toes, catching frogs, smelling the forest floor and so on. Make it a priority to find time to get outdoors. Camping, hiking, canoeing, walks in provincial forests, or a trip to a farm are all great ideas. Notice how you feel when you reconnect to the natural world. Again, start small and then grow the amount of times you can do this gradually as you experience first hand the feelings of joy and connection that it produces for you and your children.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: