Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Teves 5761 - January 3, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Your Questions - Some Answers
by Masha Wolf

Our child therapist, Masha Wolf, M.A., has been appearing in our section for the past half year, during the course of which people have directed their questions to her. Her answers should provide basic, practical, concrete help to any young mother.

I am exhausted and stressed out most of the time, dealing with a large active family. How can I cope better and make my home more stress-free?

Raising a large family is a big challenge, especially on a tight budget when there is less ability to get child care and cleaning help or even faster (pre-cooked) foods. There are, however, several ideas that can reduce the stress that a woman finds herself under and techniques that can help her stay in control when she feels challenged by the children's behaviors. The suggestions below have been found effective by professionals as well as experienced mothers.


Women tend to push themselves to the limit. There is always a little voice telling them to do one more load of laundry, bake an extra cake, wash the floor, help the neighbor and so on. Often this is the voice of the yetzer hora. Women need to know when to leave things alone even if they will be less than perfect. A woman can let go of perfection in the home in order to be more relaxed with her children. Someone once told me, "I care more about the people who walk on the floor than the floor itself."

Women often lose perspective as to what is truly important. A good way to gain a sense of balance is by writing up a list of priorities in the home. If a woman is feeling particularly tired or stressed due to a lack of sleep or other difficulties, she can look at the list to determine what must be done and what can be left undone at least temporariy. It may be wise for a mother to consult her husband as she is making the list, since he may help her to balance her compulsive need to get things done or may have things that he finds to be a priority to him or the home. Together they may find ways to reduce the daily and weekly stress and remove some of the burden from the woman.


If you are sleep deprived, it is imperative to find a way to get some sleep! This may entail getting a babysitter or even asking a neighbor to take your little ones for an hour so you can sleep. Every mother knows that she should sleep when the baby sleeps, but few actually do. Remember your priorities and take care of yourself so you can be a better mother. Some mothers train their children to play quietly during Ima's rest time but this is not always practical. Even a twenty minute rest can be very invigorating and can give renewed energy. Short rests can also be very beneficial when doing housework, especially under stress.

Although it may be hard to believe, when one has a lot to accomplish, taking 10-20 minute breaks can relax the muscles and calm the frenetic atmosphere in the house. I know a woman who has a muscle problem which once caused her tremendous pain, especially on Erev Shabbos when she was under pressure. She had a habit of working frantically without breaks, telling herself that once everything was done, she would rest. Often she would decide to do extra cleaning or make one more dish for Shabbos, and the break she was planning to take never came. As a result, by the end of the day she was in terrible pain from the muscle strain and her family suffered the consequences of her short temper and exhaustion.

This pattern continued until she was forced to rest during a problematic pregnancy and was only allowed to do very limited amounts of housework and only sitting down. She needed to take breaks after every slight exertion. As a result, her muscle pain disappeared. She learned the benefits of short breaks and prioritized working and now suffers less pain and stress in her daily life. Today her family reaps the benefits of the lesson which was hard to learn. Everyone can learn from this story. Is it really worth causing yourself and your family pain and tension for one more kugel or a shinier floor?


It is important to find activities that give you pleasure. Pleasure and enjoyment help a woman refill her energy reservoir. It is very difficult to spend an entire day giving to others without taking the time to give to yourself. Every woman has a different idea of what gives her pleasure and what recharges her batteries. Some women enjoy reading a good book or visiting or talking on the phone, while others like to go for a swim or to a shiur. Some women enjoy taking classes to learn new skills like sewing or painting, while others enjoy working on art projects at home. Sometimes exercise can be fun and can give renewed energy. A nightly walk with a good partner can be very refreshing, physically, and mentally stimulating as well. Some women enjoy a little pampering which they may get from special soaps and creams or a long hot bath. A woman who is tense and stressed out much of the time may benefit from learning progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery or Yoga. These techniques are both enjoyable and highly effective when used regularly. [Ed. A reminder: all extracurricular activities should be under the proper auspices of RELIABLE sources.]


Stress can be multiplied when a person feels alone or abnormal. Consulting with an experienced educator, guidance counselor, and with other mothers helps one feel normal and may also produce solutions that were not considered earlier. Going to a parenting group with a trained educator can help a parent to identify problems, find solutions, feel normal and let off steam. [Ed. There is an excellent postpartum support group for women after birth and young mothers called NITZA, based in Jerusalem.]


A woman who eats healthily will have more energy and patience than one who has skipped meals or eaten a lot of sugary foods which may provide instant energy but a delayed setback and may cause irritability.

A woman who learns to reduce the expectations she has on herself as a homemaker during times of stress will be able to be a more patient mother. In order to have the resources to give time, love and attention to her family, a woman needs to take care of her own physical and emotional needs properly. Doing these things will help her to be happier and more relaxed in general and will give her the tools to deal better with stress.

Next week: Giving yourself a pat on the back; learning anger control and other helpful anti-stress tips and techniques.


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