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Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D.

Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D.


Reframing Parent-Child Time Can Reduce Stress

Saying "I get to" instead of "I have to" can lessen stress.

As a parent with one daughter in college and one applying soon, I can appreciate what Today Show contributor Amy McCready means when she says that she dropped off her oldest child at college and "gracefully exited a life" that she would now "dearly love to tag along on." "There are days,” she says, “I’d do just about anything to have some of those precious minutes back." Here, here. In so many ways, it seems like it wasn't that long ago when I gave birth to my two little girls, yet in another year, both of those "little" girls will be out of the house and pretty much living on their own hundreds of miles away.

Time truly does fly, but in today's fast-paced world where overscheduling (of ourselves and our children) is the norm, we as parents can sometimes forget that the time we have with our children before they grow up and go off to lead their lives—the lives we’ve worked hard to prepare them for—is limited. It’s easy to get caught up in the frantic pace of life and get stressed out by all of the racing around, driving, waiting, carrying, waiting some more, and worrying that comes part and parcel with raising children in the 21st century. Instead of being something we look forward to doing, we often think of it as something we “have” to do. According to McCready, when your thinking starts to move in this direction, a “healthy dose of perspective can make all the difference.”

In her Today Parenting Team post, A Three Letter Word for More Joyful Parenting , McCready shares a story she heard from a minister who was preparing for her son’s wedding. Reflecting on the last 20 years she had spent with her son, the minister encouraged the audience to reframe their “I have to” thinking to “I get to” thinking when it relates to spending time with their children. According to McCready, this small change in her mindset not only helped her better appreciate ALL of the time she spent with her children, but it also reduced the amount of stress she felt by reminding her that she should embrace the moments she had with her children, even if those moments often included driving them to lessons, waiting in lines, or helping them with school work. She suggests thinking, “Instead of I have to shuttle my kids to school and sports practice—I get to spend uninterrupted time with them without the competition of the TV, internet, friends or any other distraction. I get to make that our time to catch up, belt out tunes, be silly, talk, relate—and enjoy their presence—just us. Think: Instead of I have to volunteer at the school, I get to be part of that world, to help make a difference, to shape the kind of learning environment my kids are part of.”

Using this kind of simple reframing not only reduces stress and improves your mood, it also can make the time you spend with your children more productive, positive, and meaningful. In fact, this kind of reframing can be helpful in just about all aspects of life. We all have things we’d prefer not to do, don’t we? For example, some people wish they didn’t have to work, but at least they’re able to work. Many people aren’t physically or mentally able to work, and some who can work aren’t able to find a job. Some people don’t like to go to the grocery store, but just think of all of the people in our world who have no food and no ability to buy food. As I told my children when they were very young and continue to tell them, there are people who have more than we do and people who have less than we do; be grateful for what you have and appreciate that you have it.

So when you’re on your second or third trip to your child’s school because you forgot to drop off that critical permission slip, or you’re going to a PTA meeting to discuss decorations for the dance, or you’re driving four hours in the pouring rain to a dance competition, take a deep breath and think about all of the amazing things that you were able to do that day and all of the great things that you will get to do the next day, and smile—because there will be a time in the not too distant future when you’ll wish you had a permission slip to sign, a gymnasium to decorate, or a dance competition to watch. Time flies. Make it memorable while it lasts.