5 Pivots to Make When Parenting Is Soul-Sucking

There’s a lot of pressure to be happy as a parent. Whether it’s influencers sharing videos of their family trips, your friends posting pictures snuggling with their precious toddler, or the commercials showing the family that’s ecstatic to be on a cross-country car ride together, everyone is telling you that parenting is the best. The problem is that real parenting is hard. Most parents I know talk about being exhausted, frustrated, and stressed out. Not always, of course, but it’s also not rare. Sometimes parenting can just suck the life out of you.

But the thing is, it doesn’t have to. At least, it doesn’t have to as often as it does. Certainly, there’s no cheat code to joyful parenting, but there are several pivots we can make that can help us navigate the challenges of parenting with more energy, hope, and happiness. Here are 5 pivots to make when parenting is soul-sucking.

1. Slow down.

When our kids began moving into middle school, we were suddenly faced with a dilemma. We had four kids who each loved being involved in sports and music and drama. However, as the activities began to pile up, we realized it was getting out of control. We literally couldn’t keep up, and it was driving us crazy. So we had to make a very difficult decision. We decided, for our own mental health, to slow down. We did this by telling our kids they needed to stick to one activity per season. As difficult as it was to tell our daughter she had to choose between drama and softball, it created just enough margin for us that we could breath a little and enjoy our kids’ activities far more. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Be willing to slow down.

2. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

There’s a lot of pressure on parents to be a certain way. Not only is there pressure to be happy, but there’s pressure to be comfortable enough financially to enable your kid to do the things her friends do. At the same time, be sure not to work so much that you aren’t around to be with her. But also, give her space so you’re not always around and she feels some freedom and independence. In short, parenting is hard. And you will most certainly not do it perfectly. Cut yourself some slack. Be quick to ask for forgiveness, offer grace, and laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s a lot more fun that way—for everyone.

3. Say yes (to your child).

Kids are foolish and regularly want to do things that are bad for them. So, as a good parent, you need to say no a lot. However, sometimes saying no gets exhausting. And sometimes we say no to things out of principle when we probably could said yes. For example, we were arguing with our 16-year-old about why she shouldn’t be able to take days off of school just because she felt she needed a break. Then one day, I realized that I have PTO at a job that allows me to take time off for no reason except that I want to. And that can be a real gift. Maybe we should let our daughter do that too? So we decided to say yes to a certain amount of days off per year, as long as it didn’t interfere with her schoolwork. It immediately ended the arguments and improved her outlook, with zero negative consequences and one big positive one: We were happier, too! While you’ll have to say no a lot, do your best to find opportunities to say yes.

4. Say no (to obligatory things).

Of course, sometimes we say yes out of obligation. This happens with kids a lot. You’re told you should get them involved in activities so they can be properly socialized. Your family calls you and asks you to visit more often. His teacher emails you to encourage you to take him to that math camp. One by one, the obligations add up until your schedule is full of things that you didn’t plan but are feeling pressured into. Practice saying no. Parenting is hard, but it’s infinitely harder when you can’t set boundaries. You cannot do every good thing, and trying will suck the life out of you. Decide what your priorities are and set limits. You’ll be surprised how liberating a well placed no can be.

5. Develop. 

Often, parenting becomes soul-sucking because it takes on a life of its own. We wake up and realize  we’re running from thing to thing and there isn’t time for what really matters. The best way to begin to reclaim agency over your life and family is to begin to develop rituals. Do you want more time with your kids? Establish a seven-minute check-in every evening before bed. Are you interested in growing your kids’ faith? Commit to showing up to church each Sunday (even if it means skipping that game). Wish you could make more memories together? Plan a one-day annual trip somewhere close but fun. The key is to develop small, reasonable practices you can do again and again over time that will eventually develop the type of relationships and experiences you truly desire to have with your children. Well-developed rituals can create life-giving parenting experiences.

Sound off: What other pivots have you made when parenting is hard?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s the most stressful thing in your life right now?”