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.
REDUCE EXCESS STRESS
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.
GET SOME REST
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
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