Parenting is wonderful, but it can be exhausting, trying, tiring, and full of doubts, at the same time. From the sleepless nights to the online classes to the teen drama, parenting demands a great deal of physical, mental, emotional and logistical work!
But that’s not it, there’s more to this story of parental exhaustion. While we have bestselling books about child psychology, I wonder why much has not been written about parents’ psychology. There is a commonly overlooked stressor in bringing up a child, which I think is the fundamental cause of much parental overwhelm.
It’s a very well-known psychological term called “Decision Fatigue”. While the term is not new, it has often been used only in the context of high-pressure corporate or political work culture.
So what is “Decision Fatigue”?
The definitions by various psychologists is just a Google search away. In simple words it means that your mind does get exhausted, you tend to lose motivation and willpower due to long periods of decision making. After repeatedly having to make good choices, we become less and less capable of making the beneficial ones.
Imagine your decision making capacity as a finite resource just like your mobile phone battery. With each app, game or activity using up a portion of charge in that battery, over time your phone battery drains and your phone switches to power saving mode where it no longer functions at its fullest potential. Likewise, every time you are going through your choices you are using up your battery of decision making skills, sanity and willpower.
And it doesn’t have to be big, critical or difficult decisions. Even the smallest of decisions like “what to wear today?” requires our conscious attention. That’s why founders of many successful companies and political leaders speak about automation of insignificant decisions so that they can focus on big things. Remember Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s post that proudly claimed owning a wardrobe of all grey shirts.
So the question is how all of this is relevant to parenting? Well, everything!!!!
Think about how many decisions you have to make as a parent, you go through this bombardment of options to choose from the day in and day out involving every little thing like, “What’s an ideal babywear? Is synthetic ok or organic cotton? Plastic or wooden toys? What is the ideal routine? How much should they sleep? What about screen time? And what sport should they be playing? What book should they be reading? What extracurricular classes should they be taking? What’s my parenting style? Should I childproof the house or am I an overprotective helicopter parent??!!!
Phew! I bet just reading all of that in one paragraph was a bit intense. It was just a sneak peek into a mushy parent brain who by the end of the day questions her/his own sanity!
Everywhere, you are faced with a zillion options to choose from. Burnout is bound to happen. Largely because no matter what you decide you can never be sure that it was the “right decision”.
All of this choice making will surely wear you out. And this is why you need to address this salient stressor.
So what can you do as a parent fight and avoid Decision Fatigue?
1 Set a Family Routine
Have a family schedule in a place where everyone can see it. This helps in avoiding any last-minute decisions due to lack of time. This makes the timeline more predictable. The more we can systematize and routinize things like cleaning, meals, after school, bath time, bedtime, etc., the fewer the small decisions we have to make on a daily basis.
Following this routine consistently enough to make it into your habits and habits requires limited or no decision making. It is like putting the less important tasks on autopilot. It helps you limit the conscious decisions you make on a daily basis.
2 Have a Meal Plan
This can save not only your time but also your precious energy. Trim down everyday dilemmas by planning and shopping for a week’s span of grocery. You’ll minimize impulsive trips to grocery stores or browsing through distraction-laden shopping apps or debating takeout options. Stock a fridge drawer and pantry shelf with snacks so your kids can choose independently.
3 Simplify Your Life
Hobbies, activities, and volunteering all are good things. But what’s the point if you have reached the point of “overwhelm”! It’s time to recognize and drop the excess commitments and free yourself.
Consider crowdsourcing some decisions that are less important. You want to add another stainless steel Sippy cup that doesn’t leak, to your collection? (Yap, been there done that!), just ask. Be a part of an online like-minded parent’s community, and pop your questions there. And there you go tried and tested solutions at your service.
5 Reconsider Your Children’s Activities
With a range of activities and classes available for even a few months old babies, choosing can feel compulsive and high stakes. This choice overload lead parents to think that they have to make it all happen from a very young age. But what matters for real is your family bonding, rituals, quality time, sense of contentment, sanity; it is alright and in fact sometimes even beneficial to just opt out!
6 Turn Off Notification
The constant barrage of alerts and notifications throughout the day makes it difficult to stay focused. If drawn to app alerts, and other notifications on our devices, we’re always having to decide what’s more important our current activity, or the ping waiting for us. Let close folks know if someone needs to reach you urgently they can call you. Turning off these notifications especially on social media apps can serve a great purpose. It will help you not only to stay focused but also help you be more present for those that matter most.
7 Invest In Yourself
When you are parenting you will need to have a range of skills from disciplining to counseling to problem-solving. Now think about what do we do to acquire or master or scale up our skills in other areas of our lives? We opt for an expert’s help! When can go for training for everything else, from power yoga to cooking, don't you think you need more help for one of the most important jobs which are parenting? Invest in yourself, so you can get equipped to fulfill your role to your best capacity.
Raising children means making millions of decisions about their care, food, education, enrichment, and health. From selecting the right healthcare provider for your curated birth plan to selecting the right outfit for their graduation day, and everything in between and beyond is about decisions – decisions that can make or break you! Picking up any of the above suggestions can surely reduce the load for you as a parent. That’s one less decision for you to make!