Parenting is wonderful, but it can also 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 development and 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 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 the 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 the founders of many successful companies and political leaders speak about the automation of insignificant decisions so that they can focus on big things. Remember Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s post, that proudly claimed to own 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 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. The 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.