6 Stress Relief Ideas for Working Parents

Spot illustrations of ways to deal with stress as a working parent

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Being a working parent is not an easy task. Not only are you likely feeling exhausted and like you're being pulled in a million different directions, but you also may struggle with feeling like you can never give either responsibility—your work or your parenting—your full attention. Something is always pulling for your attention and there never are enough hours in the day to accomplish all you hope to accomplish. The end result is a heaping pile of stress that you may not know how to navigate.

To make matters worse, the pandemic has created even more stress for working parents than in the past. According to research by the Pew Research Institute, 52% of working parents with children younger than 12 say it has been difficult to balance work and child care responsibilities during the coronavirus outbreak. And, more than a third of parents say that trying to balance both work and family has become even more difficult in the midst of the pandemic.

So, how does a working parent cope with this stress and find balance in their busy lives? According to Kristin Rinehart, MSW, LISW-S, TTS, the director of behavioral services at Muskingum Valley Health Services and owner of Changing Minds, the first step in overcoming stress is to give up the quest to be the perfect parent and not let one bad day define you.

Here are some other tips on how to relieve the stress that comes from trying to balance work and parenting.

Kristin Rinehart, MSW, LISW-S, TTS

As parents, we need to recognize that we can’t be perfect. Each day is a new day to practice life.

— Kristin Rinehart, MSW, LISW-S, TTS

Focus on Quality Not Quantity

Most working parents worry that they don't spend enough time with their kids. They fret about the time their kids spend in daycare or with a nanny and wonder if their kids are going to be negatively impacted by the amount of time they are away from them. In the end, these concerns increase their stress levels and can feel overwhelming at times.

But, Rinehart encourages parents to focus on making sure the time they do spend with their kids is quality time rather than worrying about the quantity of time they have for their kids. Doing so can really reduce your stress level in so many ways, she says.

Remember, you only have so many hours in a day. So instead of worrying about how little time you have with your kids because of your work obligations, focus on how to make the most of the time you do have together.

For instance, set a goal for having dinner together a few nights a week or establish a game night and stick to it. As your kids get older, set aside one night a month or a Saturday afternoon where you spend a few hours doing something together. Even if it's just playing catch in the park, this hour or so together is a chance to talk, laugh, and bond.

You also can use your flex time or vacation time to spend quality time with your kids. The key is that you are creative and intentional about the time you have with your kids.

"[Remind yourself] that quality becomes more important than quantity," Rinehart says. "And don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and family at times that balancing is most difficult."

Set Boundaries

Another way to alleviate the stress that comes from being a working parent is to set boundaries. In other words, draw very clear lines between your work life and your family life.

For instance, once you leave the office or turn off your computer for the day, leave it there. Resist the urge to check your email, respond to messages, or do extra work. In order to find balance and reduce your stress levels, you need to define where work ends and family begins.

"As much as possible, my husband and I try to leave work at work—although that goal became more challenging with the pandemic logistics," says Angie Frencho, MEd, a mother of a 3-year-old and an 11-month-old, who is also a gifted intervention specialist with Olentangy Local School District in central Ohio.

Just as you focus on leaving work at work, you also shouldn't try to make up for the time you're away from your kids by adding to your to-do lists. Don't feel obligated to volunteer at school, bake a dozen cookies every time someone asks, or join the PTA—unless these are things you truly want to do. If you take on these extra responsibilities because you feel a sense of obligation, it will just cut into your time and increase your stress levels.

Setting boundaries and learning to say no can be particularly challenging for parents. But it's an essential part of reducing your stress levels and finding a balance between your work life and your family life, says Rinehart.

Get Creative

Frencho says that one way she de-stresses is by doing something creative. Since having kids, she combines her love of art with spending time with her little ones.

"In the past, I did a lot of painting," she says. "Now, if I don’t have a painting project, I am often finding something on Pinterest that I can create for my 3- and a half-year-old daughter. That way, the time spent feels like I’m killing two birds with one stone. I get to de-stress and I get to share something fun with my daughter."

Frencho says she has made sensory table materials, a mini ice cream shop, puzzles, cardboard tube slides, and a mailbox complete with a garden of fake flowers around the post. 

"The project that has been most enjoyable so far is a cardboard brick oven [I created] with lots of felt toppings for pizza making," she says. "I also love to watch HGTV, look through old photographs, and listen to music. In especially overwhelming moments I rely on breathing exercises."

Learn to Prioritize

When it comes to reducing stress and balancing work life with your family life, Frencho says she has found that identifying core values also is an important part of the process. Determing what's really important to you, helps you prioritize things and remove expectations that really don't need to be there.

"Being a parent is stressful, with or without having a career. But, adding in the demands of a career on top of the unique demands of parenting can certainly make things difficult," Frencho explains. "When my daughter was younger and the balance was becoming more challenging, my husband and I discussed what is most important to us and our family—our core values."

Frencho says that keeping a sparkling clean home did not make the final list, but other things like their faith and spending quality time together did. Although they still make time for cleaning, more time and energy is consistently given to their core values.  

"If it's not a core value, sometimes we have had to learn to let it go," she says. "Honestly, I am still working on this one. With the added influence of social media, it can feel like I need to measure up right next to perfection in all of my roles, as a mother, wife, teacher, friend, daughter, party-thrower, etc. but realistically, time and energy are limited resources."

Work Smarter Not Harder  

One way to keep stress at bay is to learn how to manage your time and use it to your advantage. In other words, if you know you have a big project coming up, break it down and work on it little by little. Or, if you know your kids will need your help with homework or have a big game coming up, plan for these obligations so that work doesn't interfere.

"Per the advice of a principal I once worked for, I try to work smarter, not harder," says Frencho. "As a parent of two, I try to be very purposeful and deliberate in working smarter. I try to think ahead and chip away at large tasks so that I am not overwhelmed when the deadline arrives. Supporting six different grade levels and two subject areas, I have lots of materials and resources to keep in order. I have learned the payoff in carving out time to stay organized with my work materials."

Frencho says she and her husband also have established routines that help them get through the day-to-day tasks. 

"We have some clearly defined separate roles in parenting and housekeeping and some roles that are shared," she says. "If we need help, we ask. We also rely on the help of our extended family. We are very fortunate to have both sets of grandparents living close by. They are incredibly supportive and help regularly with child care."  

By staying on top of things that are on your calendar, working ahead when you can, and anticipating time spent away from the office, you can reduce your stress levels significantly.

Look for ways to get ahead of things rather than letting them sneak up on you. Of course, you won't be able to anticipate everything, but if you do what you can to chip away at the things looming on the horizon you will have more flexibility for those last-minute demands that crop up at work or at home, which can significantly reduce your stress levels.

Keep Guilt in Check

Unfortunately, parent guilt is a real thing. And almost every parent experiences at one time or another. But, by learning to keep it at bay or refusing to allow it to creep into your life, you can reduce your stress levels.

"I am still amazed at how much guilt comes with parenting," Frencho says. "I try to remind myself that I am doing what is best for our family. I am working hard so that my children will have opportunities that we otherwise may not be able to provide financially. I am also working to set an example for them that sharing our talents and passions with the world is important."

Instead of feeling guilty, Rinehart encourages working parents to recognize that they are teaching their kids some important life lessons like having a strong work ethic or the importance of time management. You also can be role model in goal setting and decision-making.

"You also are teaching your child important values," says Rinehart. "We all have choices [and] it's our choice to build a working-parent family."

A Word From Verywell 

There's no doubt that being a working parent can be stressful. But there are ways to reduce your stress levels and find a balance between work life and family life. Look for ways to remove things from your to-do lists and learn how to set boundaries. Doing so can provide a tremendous amount of relief.

In the meantime, if you find that your efforts to reduce stress are not working or that you're having trouble coping with the stress you're feeling, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider. They can evaluate you and offer suggestions on how best to navigate your situation.

1 Source
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  1. Pew Research Center. A rising share of working parents in the U.S. say it's been difficult to handle child care during the pandemic.

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.