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How to stop feeling overwhelmed as an exhausted parent and how to get more done

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Written by Vera C. Last updated on .

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Tired young mother with toddler - how to deal with feeling overwhelmed as a parent

Being a parent can feel overwhelming at times. It can feel like the to-do list has more than tripled in size, and there are just not enough hours in the day. You might be struggling with parental burnout and wondering how to parent when you are exhausted. Don't worry - here are solutions for this. Here is how to deal with feeling overwhelmed.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this should not be considered medical advice - it's parent-to-parent advice only. In addition, it's best to also see a physician or mental health specialist. If you're feeling tired of being a parent more than once in a while then definitely see a professional.

Don't try to do everything - learn how to say No

Notice that the title shows you "... how to get more done" and not "how to get everything done". Don't try to be perfect. If you're a perfectionist, you'll have to let go of some of this tendency now, otherwise you won't retain your sanity as a parent. Yes, obviously you need to do the most important tasks, so you'll need to keep medical appointments for anyone in your family, you'll need to feed yourself and your children, and so on.

But if you're already feeling overwhelmed, learn how to say no to things that aren't your responsibility, aren't mission-critical and don't bring joy. It's not forever; just try saying no to those things for a week or two and see how you go. For example: "No, sorry, I can't fill in for the flag football coach this Thursday." If there is no-one else to do it, think what the consequence would be if no-one did it - it may not be as dire as you think. For example, if the consequence is that there is no practice that day, so be it.

If you have kids aged 3 and under, you should not feel the least bit guilty about saying no to stuff.

If you need to give a reason, simply say "My hands are already full" or my mother-in-law's recommendation of "Sorry, that just doesn't work for me". You don't have to give a reason more specific than that. Once you get things back on track (hopefully not too long from now!) you'll be able to pitch in more with things, but while you're overwhelmed, strongly limit how much time you spend helping others.

Please don't persist with trying to help people if you're struggling yourself and if their situation is not a true emergency. Remember the sayings: you can't serve from an empty platter. Put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.

The first step in regaining your sanity as an overwhelmed mom or dad is being very careful about what you say yes to. Start saying no to things that are not mission-critical or do not bring joy. This allows you to have a little bit more time and energy for yourself and your kids, which will go a long way to fixing parental burnout.

Have a time saving system for groceries

Ah yes, groceries. These are essential, but I agree it's really hard to do groceries, especially when your kids are little, and this can make the simple act of meal planning feel like a nightmare. Don't worry - there are options that make life much easier such as pickup orders and home delivery orders. I recommend Misfits Market for home delivery because they deliver to almost all zip codes in the US - I've written more info about it here. But if you're trying to pick out things like fruit or meat, it makes sense to go in person to your local grocery store.

One tactic is to do a curbside pickup or home delivery order once a week for the majority of the items you need for the week, and an in-person trip just for meat, fruit, vegetables, and any items the pickup service didn't have in stock at the time.

When you shop in person, don't get too stressed about having a finite time to shop otherwise your kid will have a meltdown. Look at the bright side: it's an advantage that is keeping you on track and moving you along more than if you had all the time in the world to shop.

When your kids are young, it's best to be doing more short grocery trips than one long one, so that's another tip that makes life easier. Just because you did a week or more worth of groceries before having kids and it took you an hour and a half, that doesn't mean it's a realistic scenario with kids. Either do smaller trips more frequently, or go for home delivery or curbside pickup for big loads.

You really want to streamline groceries as much as possible because otherwise it can just sort of expand and take up way too much time. I'll talk next about integrating this with meal planning and getting organized in general. Once you've got that under your belt, you'll feel a lot happier and less tired.

Get organized as a parent using these free apps and tools

Over the years I have managed to streamline a lot of my meal planning, groceries, and more - simply by using free online tools. I explain in a separate article a typical usage for putting these together to be easily organized and make your weekly life run smoothly.

If you're experiencing parental fatigue, these tools do a really great job - it feels like you're outsourcing all of the stuff that's running around in your head, and then you don't have to worry about it anymore or caught out by forgetting grocery items or appointments. Whew!

Best of all, the example workflow accounts for (and expects) that you don't have tons of time to plan and that you'll get interrupted any second by having to care for your child.

Look at you, getting things done! The feeling of getting on top of your stuff is such a mood booster, so definitely check out the article I mentioned above.

Housework and cleaning

If you are a tired mom or dad, don't aim for perfection when it comes to cleaning. Yes, you'll still need to have some system for housework and cleaning, but aim for a "happy medium" - you don't need to have a spotless house (people actually live in it! It's a home!) nor on the other hand do you want it to be unsanitary.

Your child is more important than having all of the dusting done.

What's important - being sanitary

Yes, it's important to be sanitary, so for sure keep up with toilet cleaning, vacuuming the kitchen floor, wiping down countertops. Have a routine for this so you're not scrambling to keep up. Make a list of the important sanitary chores and allocate them to a specific day Monday through Friday. Example: Monday - vacuum kitchen floor; Tuesday - clean toilets; Wednesday - wipe down countertops, and so on.

Just do your chore for the day bit by bit. Don't attempt to allocate a chunk of time all at once, that doesn't happen with a baby or toddler anyway!

For example, just vacuum part of the kitchen floor until your child needs you - at that point, take care of your child. Later, move on to vacuuming the next bit of the floor, and so on. This means it may take ages for everything to be complete but that's OK - it's the only way to do chores and keep things sanitary when you have young kids.

Try this flexible change to the daily chore system

If you find you can't easily stick with doing a specific sanitary chore on a specific day, you can make it a bit easier and more flexible by turning it into a weekly schedule instead. So get your list mentioned above and list all the chores that need to be done in a week in any order, but don't have it be a day-by-day list. Think of it as a to-do list for the week.

Put up this weekly list of cleaning somewhere where you'll see it (e.g. fridge door), and aim to tackle at least one item each weekday, pick the item spur of the moment that day. If it's a busier day than usual, pick the shortest and easiest chore that day.

What's not important

Is it really critical to fold every item of clothing before putting it away? Probably not. After my children's clothes come out of the dryer, I just put them in piles according to whose they are and what drawer they'll be in, and then I just shove them, unfolded, into the drawers. And guess what? The kids don't care! The important thing is clean clothes, not folded clothes.

So at this point, eliminate non-critical chores which don't affect being sanitary. This will give you some of your time back, which is super-important when you are a tired parent.

Keep household chores to weekdays or weeknights where possible

Even though it's really hard to keep the chores from spilling over into the weekend, do your best to try to limit it to the week. This way the weekends can hopefully feel a bit more like you're getting a bit of a break, and not frantically trying to keep your head above water.

If you're working full time, it's going to be harder to do it, but try to at least grocery shop on a weeknight (bonus: stores are less busy) and do some of your cleaning on other weeknights. You'll still have things left to do on the weekends, probably laundry at the very least, especially if you work outside the home during the week. But by making a point to minimize the weekend chores, you'll make long strides toward feeling on top of everything and towards getting a little leisure time.

The feeling of accomplishment you get from having weekends "off" from cleaning is wonderful. Even though you don't get time off from parenting, just knowing you don't have chores hanging over your head in the weekend will make you feel happier. And having gotten things done during the week makes you feel awesome!


Remember that the important thing as a parent is your child. And yes, you can get things done as a parent without getting overwhelmed. It isn't easy, but it's possible, and the tips above show you how.

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