This is me, pregnant with #2 and freaking out as #1 digs her razor sharp elbow into my belly. For some reason, this seems like an appropriate picture to share with this post.

Here’s my latest response to an anonymous reader question…

A few questions: How do I introduce chores in a young family of three? What are best practices for limit setting? How do I get my kid to stop playing when he is overtired and needs to get some sleep? How in the world am I supposed to feed my family healthy nutritious food? How can I get them involved so that they will eat well and help out? What do I do to stop my kids from fighting with each other so that they won’t drive me crazy and I can feel like a good parent? What’s the best response to a kid ignoring their parent because they are on the iPad and can’t handle the stimulation but are totally addicted to it?

Dear Reader,

You submitted these questions a few weeks ago, and I’m just now responding to you. I’ve been thinking about what I want to say, and I keep changing my mind.

At first I thought I would pick one question and write an entire post about it. And then I thought I would address all of your concerns at once, with a few bullet points for each. But neither of these responses sat particularly well with me. Something wasn’t right.

I think it’s because I’m worried about you. You seem so stressed and overwhelmed by parenting, by how you should be setting limits and responding to your kids and teaching them and planning for their futures and keeping them healthy and making sure they’re solid citizens in the world, and just getting through each day without losing your mind.

Don’t get me wrong; we all feel that way sometimes. I was completely flattened just last night as I tried to figure out what to feed my girls for dinner. (After some rough calculations, I figure I’ve served up approximately 3,000 dinners in my years of parenting; you’d think I’d have a better handle on this one by now. Apparently not.)

But there is something about your questions and the way you wrote them that feels a bit more pressured than my nightly dinner freak-out. And that’s what I’m worried about.

Now, one could reasonably argue that this level of angst and anxiety is unavoidable for those of us parenting of the 21st century; we’re supposed to be covering all the bases, real or imagined, enjoying every moment of a game with constantly shifting rules and no clear way to win, all the while smiling for our adoring fans on Facebook so we can prove just how much we’re loving every moment.

To take the metaphor a bit farther, we’ve got an endless number of coaches offering up contradictory advice about how to manage every play. As the onslaught of research and expert advice is constantly reminding us, our parenting errors, whether intentional or accidental, may have dire consequences for our children, both now and for the rest of their lives. (For the record, I don’t actually believe that. Our kids, and human beings in general, are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.)

The point I’m trying to make here is that we are raising kids in a particularly challenging point in history, and if parenting feels insanely hard for you, it’s not because you’re a bad parent or somehow failing at it. It’s because parenting is hard.

I get why you’re looking for answers; if someone would just tell you how to tame the daily chaos, maybe parenting would feel just a little bit easier. That’s true, to some extent, but the bigger truth is that raising kids is the ultimate game of whack-a-mole (except you can’t really whack them, no matter how much you may want to). The minute you figure out one thing, something else pops up, demanding your attention.

But in order for any of that advice to feel useful, relevant, or even possible in your daily life, you need something else first.

You need a little ease.

You need to find your way back to solid ground, to a place where you can get a little breathing room. Once you have a different perspective, you can decide which moles to whack and which to ignore. You can decide what you want to focus on, what you want to let go of, and what you want to delegate out to family members, teachers, or tutors.

Most importantly, you will realize that you already are a good parent, even if your kids ate boxed Mac n Cheese four nights this week and had a code red meltdown when you tried to take the iPad away.

I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking this all sounds fine and dandy but you don’t have the time or energy for this and even if you did, you have no idea where to start. I have a lot of ideas about what could help, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll start with my Big Three.

First, you must sleep. I suppose it’s possible you are already getting a solid 7-8 hours each night, but I suspect it’s unlikely. You cannot function well without sleep. It’s just not possible. We humans simply can’t think clearly or stay calm when we’re exhausted. If you’re not sleeping well, you need to make this a priority. It might not be easy, and you might have to seriously rearrange your current schedule, but it will be worth it. Sleep is a game-changer.

Next, you need to get yourself some more support. You might already have a lot of nice people in your life, but you need to make sure you’re connecting with your peeps on a regular basis.This might mean more time with friends or family, or it might be professional support, such as more childcare for the kids, or a therapist, counselor, parent coach, or parenting support group for you. Either way, you should come out of these conversations feeling less alone, more connected, less anxious, and more empowered. (Interactions that leave you feeling confused, concerned, or ashamed about your parenting are not helpful in any way, even if the other person has good advice or intentions.) You should feel like you got this, and if you don’t yet got it, you know how to get it. That’s how you know it’s really support.

Finally, you have to cut yourself a lot of slack. A huge amount of slack. All the slack. The fancy term for this is self-compassion, which is just about reminding yourself that this parenting stuff is hard, it’s hard for everyone, and you don’t have to be a perfect parent to be a great one. Having a little compassion for your imperfections (rather than berating yourself every time you miss the mark) will help parenting feel easier and it will help you get into a better headspace faster than you might have otherwise.

Sleep, support, and self-compassion. Those are your power plays. Once you start integrating them into your life on a regular basis, it will all become easier and clearer. I promise. If you’d like a little more help with any of these, or want to get into the nitty-gritty of limit-setting and sibling rivalry and screen time, give me a call. I’d love to talk about it with you.

Want to submit an anonymous question for the blog? Here’s the link.

Want more tips, tricks, and ideas for easier parenting? Sign up for my newsletter. It’s got all the good stuff.