Parents today face enormous pressure; endless spontaneity, uncomplicated outings, and leisurely gatherings aren’t as easy as they look on TV. Somewhere along the way, the family calendar fills with work, sports, homework, volunteering, carpooling, and similar activities.
None of them are stressful by themselves, but what happens when they all pile up on you at once? Do you know how to downshift your family’s routine? Can you say no to an overcommitted schedule?
What Is Downshifting?
The term “downshifting” has been around as long as manual-transmission vehicles have existed, because it is traditionally the way to slow down a car without using the brakes. It wasn’t until the late 90s that this term made it into a cultural vocabulary as the act of giving your life some natural balance. Downshifting, How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More, by John D. Drake, awakens many working parents to the fact that the choice is theirs: live a super-busy lifestyle at the expense of some health and relationships, or take control and set some personal boundaries.
“Spend some time envisioning all the positive things that could happen after you downshift,” writes Drake. “Consider the time you might have to pursue favorite interests, develop warmer and closer relationships with those you love and enjoy, and reach out to others and delight in the satisfaction of helping [them].”
Drake’s philosophy was a welcome concept for harried parents struggling to keep up with the work and activities that had encroached on their desire to relax.
How to Do It
As impatient as you may be to downshift your life, start slowly. Making small changes over time is what will lead to lasting improvement, rather than slamming on the brakes right away. Before canceling all of this week’s appointments, consider one of the following as a more realistic starting point.
- Schedule a time for nothing. Once a week my family tells others we “have plans,” but what we don’t tell them is that our plans are to be spontaneous. When the time comes, give your kids a list of choices, and let them decide how to spend the day.
- Unplug your TV. Disconnecting appliances that aren’t in use is a great way to conserve energy, but it also fosters some much-needed calm throughout your home.
- Give yourself quiet time every morning. Getting up before the kids every day might sound tiring, but you won’t regret it twelve hours later. Meditate, work out, practice yoga, or just surf the web. Keep your heart rate low early so you’re not running on empty when assisting others later on.
What You Have to Gain
When our first baby arrived, I stayed at my posh desk job in Washington, DC. And for a year and a half, I enjoyed our child’s milestones from the office: Our nurse sent pictures to me throughout the workday. After clocking out and enduring a terrible commute, I rarely had time to see my family before bed. We were always in a hurry, and everyone suffered because of my stress level.
Eventually I made the choice to downshift, and replaced my position in the office with freelance work I could complete just as efficiently from the playground. You may not be ready to make such a sweeping career adjustment, but you can certainly opt for fewer items on your plate. From a working parent who’s been there, here’s what you can expect to enjoy once you slow down the busy cycle:
- More time. It may be obvious, but the ability to take a few deep breaths while the kids play among themselves is something I never had before.
- More humor. Laughter naturally implies a feeling of safety, so our family didn’t joke nearly as much when our day was one task after another. There’s no time to goof around when you’re constantly rallying the troops for an errand. Shoes on the wrong feet again? That’s funny stuff, and now we get to pause and enjoy life’s quirks instead of navigating them.
- More peace. With new wiggle room in your daily schedule, you may find your kids flipping through books or contemplating a fallen leaf—a lot. Some parents just call this “quiet,” but it’s more than that: it’s peace, and you’ll relish it.
Reallocating Your Focus
‘Won’t we get bored?’ You may wonder. “After cutting back, you’ll still be a busy, driven person,” writes Drake. “The upside is that you’ll be busy with more activities of your choosing and scheduling. Life could be more satisfying.”
To be sure, downshifting doesn’t mean slacking off. Rather, it allows you to eliminate unnecessary distractions so you can get even more done—after all, everyone has work to do. Having decided to trim the fat of less-pressing commitments, you’re free to focus on the lifestyle you want, and that includes knocking out the daily tasks that are more tolerable by approaching them differently.
Downshifting also means saying no to the time and energy spent on things that aren’t worth the payoff. If done right, you’ll be even more productive as a result. The only difference is the benefits may not be visible right away. Keeping children enrolled in multiple activities is tempting, for example, and you may feel that the rewards are immediate. But running around to each activity can become stressful on your relationship with the ones participating. Instead, have the family spend regular time with an elderly neighbor. This is a great way to make a positive difference in your community without any performance anxiety. Life with kids should have downtime built in; you both need space for spontaneity and unstructured fun. So enjoy it!
Parents who have made the intentional (and sometimes difficult) decision to cut back can agree. Once you’ve tried it, you can add to this list. How have you kept your life’s pace slower? Do you plan to downshift your family in the future? Tweet your tips to @TomsofMaine.
Image sources: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.