How to find calm in the chaos of parenting

If you find it difficult to feel calm as a parent, you’re not alone.

Everything is fast, everything feels rushed, and there is an unrelenting pressure to do more, buy more and be more. What’s even harder to digest is that the pressure comes from a variety of mediums, meaning we are constantly inundated, even in the comfort of our homes.

It’s overwhelming for our poor brains, so imagine how it must be for our children whose brains are not yet completely developed. Moreover, our stress perpetuates their stress. So, finding calm in the chaos is crucial.

Something has got to give and it can’t be you.

The single greatest action you can take in finding calm in your day is to relinquish control of what is happening outside of your power. The reality is, you are only able to manage what is happening in your mind, how you react, and to some extent what is happening in your home.

I struggled with stress when I was parenting my boys, a time before smartphones and digital demands and the pressures placed on parents in the modern world. The stress I felt came because I was simply doing too much. I was on the school committee, volunteered at a hospice, coached and played basketball, and helped run my husband’s vet practice – all while raising four boys.

Research suggests a small level of stress is normal, and in some instances, healthy, but I was overriding my stress response system regularly while operating at full capacity. I’d reached the point of breakdown which was affecting my day-to-day function, behaviour, and empathy towards my precious children. I was at the end of my tether.

Functioning from a place of high stress means we are forgetful, irritable, irrational, listless or reactive; not the best space to be in to make good choices for our family or our children.

For me the turning point came when I remembered what calm felt like. I started practising Tai Chi once a week and, after a month, I felt a palpable shift.

I realised it had been such a long time since I’d felt that sense of calm, where life felt slower, more enjoyable. My to-do list was pushed to second priority and I started dedicating time to myself.

Like stress, feeling calm is contagious and addictive, soon I started to seek it out more, and with a few minor tweaks, the day-to-day minutiae became less like a burden and infinitely more enjoyable. I made a conscious effort to take mindful pauses. I enjoyed my morning cup of tea outside and watched the world go by. I went for slow walks instead of quick ones. I made bath time a ritualistic experience for the senses. I played more calming music, and regularly listened to creative visualisations. I set aside time to do things that nourished me, even just for a few moments.

Each of these small activities helped counteract the cortisol flooding through my stressed system with positive neurochemicals. The result? I felt grounded, more capable, and it made me a compassionate and attentive person and parent.

How to create calm in your home

  1. The breath is powerful – use it

Regularly make a point of taking three mindful breaths or three deep sighs. The process of breathing calms the brain and nervous system and releases serotonin. If regular, slow breathing becomes a habit, your kids will likely begin to mimic you meaning calmer kids and nurturers. Remember to also take a few deep breaths before you react or respond.

  1. Embrace imperfection

It’s nearly impossible to get in front as a nurturer (is the washing basket ever empty? Is the kitchen ever really clean?). Please let go of striving to be perfect. Research proves ‘good-enough’, imperfect parents raise happy children. I subscribe to the 80:20 rule, where you aim to do your best 80% of the time, with the other 20% occasionally meaning beans on toast for dinner. Be realistic with your expectations of yourself and your children.

  1. The brain loves routine

Especially when our children are young, routines and habits help the brain make less decisions, and feel less stressed. Have clear routines around mealtimes, bath times, sleep and getting ready in the morning to make life a little easier.

  1. Cultivate a calm atmosphere

You don’t have to have an uncluttered, Zen-like home to induce calm. Burn some relaxing aromatherapy oils in an electric oil burner and turn on calming music and the mood will instantly lighten. Display beautiful pictures – of happy family moments or peaceful scenes with positive messages – to lift the spirit.

  1. Quietness and stillness

When we are silent and still, we quiet our busy minds and allow our hearts to be heard. This is an important skill that we can learn from childhood. Every family can benefit from regular quiet time where everything is switched off, allowing you to simply ‘be’ together. Listening to creative visualisation or calming audio tracks together can also be helpful.

  1. Lighten up

Laughter and lightness make our children feel safer and our homes happier. Share humorous moments from your day around the dinner table and even on the harder days, try to always look on the bright side.

  1. Get outside

Being in nature is proven to have enormous benefits. Ensure your family gets outside often – whether you go to the park, have dinner on the back lawn, go bushwalking, hit the beach or simply lay on your deck looking at stars.

  1. Slow down

Rushing exacerbates stress and leaves children feeling tense and anxious, so aim to mindfully slow down. Try to allow a 20-minute buffer for when the unexpected happens – which it inevitably always does – so you’ll have time to deal with it. Also, make it a practice to walk slower, talk slower, and be more present in everything you do.

Maggie Dent

Commonly known as the ‘queen of common sense’, Maggie Dent has become one of Australia's favourite parenting authors and educators.

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