Rushing Parent Syndrome

Aim for less scheduling and more downtime in 2013, and avoid the modern day Rushing Parent and Child crisis.

rushing parent case studies

Anthea works for an IT firm, has a daughter in primary school and a baby in day care. She begins every day at 5.30am when she warms up a bottle of formula and changes the baby’s nappy. She leaves home an hour later and, while her husband does the school run, she heads to gym and to work. At the end of her office day, she collects her children and gets home just before 6pm, then bathes the baby and defrosts dinner, while attempting (and failing) to catch up with her 9-year-old. After dinner, she puts on a cycle of laundry, settles the baby, prepares lunch boxes for the following day, Skypes her parents (they’re in a different time zone), and collapses into bed, knowing the baby will wake up for the midnight feed.

Thomas has three children: two at primary school and one pre-schooler. His wife works full time and has a long commute, but he’s lucky enough to have a mornings-only job with the afternoons off. “Off” in this case means driving the kids to gym, ballet, soccer, piano, drama lessons and play dates. “Off” means supervising homework while making salad, averting sibling squabbles while folding the laundry, and maintaining his mother’s garden in exchange for her babysitting the toddler while Thomas is at work in the morning. “Off” means a constant juggling act, a constant rush to be on time, constant bossing of the children to hurry up. Something’s definitely “off” with this picture.

First identified as the Hurried Woman Syndrome in the early 2000s, this stress-induced condition impacted one in four American women. By now, Rushing Parent Syndrome, as it’s come to be known, is said to be present in one out of three Western households, and it’s not restricted to women. The syndrome usually strikes high-achievers and families with double incomes, affecting whichever parent does the most multitasking. The most common physical symptoms include:

•  fatigue to the point of exhaustion
•  depression
•  weight gain
•  hormonal changes.

The cause? In her book, Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, Dr Libby Weaver attributes it to the chronic stress brought on by our multitasking lifestyle and hectic schedules. “At a cellular level, we have the same human body as our ancestors,” she says. “Between our cell phones and email systems, our laptops and wireless modems, we are asking our bodies to go places they have never ever been before. Never have we had a mail system that was immediate, a communication system that makes us accessible 24/7.”

In other words, our bodies evolved to cope with a totally different lifestyle. We are made to hunt and gather, not write emails while talking on the phone watching the kids’ soccer game. Our ancestors used to work from dusk till dawn, but they would rest as soon as darkness fell – today, we switch on the lights and carry on with our activities. This unnatural routine triggers chemical irregularities in the brain’s Serotonin-Dopamine balance and leads to the chronic stress of Rushing Parent Syndrome.

While it’s true that, as parents, we can’t help feeling stressed from time to time (a sick child, too much work, not enough money, bullying at school, nits), we can – and should – avoid permanent stress.

things to consider

  • Ask yourself: is the dirty carpet worth all the energy you’re putting into the nagging? Save your breath for telling your children you love them and to fetch the vacuum cleaner.
  • Faced with dirty dishes, practice the art of feeling thankful for all that delicious food you’ve eaten and the people you’ve shared it with.
  • How important is having a balanced, home-cooked meal ‘ every’ night? Sit down, relax, order fast food.
  • Switch off the phone after-hours. Your friends can leave a message.
  • Make a deal with your family to help you with household tasks.
  • Make a deal with yourself to have at least two early nights a week and at least one more night in which you forget your chores and read a book or go for a walk. Don’t feel guilty about it: you’re doing it for your family. Your ill-health is detrimental to the wellbeing of your loved ones.
  • Rethink your children’s after-school schedule. Do the children really have to take part in judo, piano, gymnastics, soccer and art lessons? Whatever happened to the rule of two after-school activities maximum per school term?
  • Rethink your own schedule: do you need to volunteer at the toy library, the kindy, as well as the school’s PTA?
  • Learn to say no to those outside your family and yes to your loved ones. A picnic dinner tonight, mum? Sure.
  • Advice straight from Dr Libby’s book: “Doing something for the money never ends up being worth it.”
  • And another: “Organising your life around what feels good is the single wisest choice you can make.”

What your children need most in the world is you, unhurried and unstressed, spending time with them. And quality time is not driving to music lessons together: quality time is talking, laughing and playing those board games that are still sitting in the cupboard since Christmas because you are too busy to open them.

Live your life. Pick your battles. Love your family, and fight like a tiger to make your time together unrushed and stress-free.

are your kids suffering from rushing children syndrome?

If you are a Rushing Parent, chances are your children are Rushing Children. Here are a few signs your kids may be overscheduled, so aim NOT to tick any of these boxes:

  • They are often exhausted. Not the ‘healthy tired’ of a kid who spent the afternoon playing soccer, but the glassy-eyed tired of the over-stressed.
  • You never see them run around for the sheer joy of it. They are always busy doing something educational. If they’re blowing bubbles, you can bet it’s for a science experiment.
  • Things that used to make them happy don’t please them anymore.
  • They don’t have time for play dates, sleep overs or a stroll on the beach.
  • They are becoming moody and anxious.
  • If they do end up with free time on their hands, they find it difficult to fill it.
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