Rushing Parent Syndrome – sound familiar?

Anthea spends her time rushing. She works, has a daughter in primary school and a baby in day care. Her day begins at 5.30 a.m. with warming up a bottle of milk and changing the baby’s nappy. She leaves  an hour later, and while her husband does the school run, she heads to gym and to work.

At the end of her working day, she collects the children, bathes the baby and defrosts dinner, while attempting (and failing) to catch up with her 9-year old, puts on a cycle of laundry, settles the baby, serves dinner (sometimes still cold in the middle), prepares lunch boxes for the following day, visits her parents on Facebook (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 lessons, drama lessons and play dates. “Off” means supervising homework while making salad, and minimising sibling squabbles while folding the laundry. “Off” means a constant balancing act, a constant rush to be on time, constant bossing of the children to hurry up. Something’s definitely “off” with this picture.

It’s called the Rushing Parent Syndrome. First identified as the Hurried Woman Syndrome in the early 2000s, this stress-induced condition impacted one in four American women. By now, it’s said to be present in one out of three Western households, usually striking at high-achievers and families with double incomes, affecting whichever parent does the more multitasking. The most common physical symptoms include:

  • fatigue to the point of exhaustion,
  • depression,
  • weight gain,
  • hormonal changes, resulting in decreased sex drive for women and increased sex drive for men.

The cause? Chronic stress brought on by a multitasking lifestyle and a hectic schedule. Our bodies evolved for hunting and gathering, not for writing emails while talking on the phone and watching the kids’ soccer game. Our acestors 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 Rushing Parent Syndrome’s chronic stress.

While it’s true that, as parents, we cannot 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.

  • 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 to eat and the people to share it with.
  • How important is having a balanced, home-cooked meal every night? Sit down and 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.

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

Incidentally, Anthea’s grandmother didn’t have a paying job. She did her washing in a big tub with hand-rollers, owned no microwave oven and grew her own carrots. Her time was just as filled as Anthea’s is today, but did she feel as rushed or as stressed as her granddaughter feels today? I’m guessing, not. Bread takes an hour to rise, no matter how much we yell at it to hurry up, so she probably just used the time to put her feet up. Sometimes it’s wise to learn from our elders….

What do you think? Does rushing parent syndrome sound like you?  What are your tips for coping with your hectic schedule?


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