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How you can do less for your kids (and still stay calm)

How much do you do for everyone else?

A lot, yes?  You say that's the nature of being a mom.  You're always doing stuff for everyone else but then there's on time for yourself.

Ok, blunt question.

How much do you do for everyone else?

A lot, yes?  But you say, that’s the nature of being a mom.  You’re always doing stuff for everyone else and then there’s no time for yourself. 

Ok, blunt question.

Do you struggle with anger and anxiety?

I do.

I recently read a book by therapist Dr. Kathleen Smith about handing anxiety called, Everything isn’t Terrible.

Within the first few pages, a question sucker punched me.

“How much do you do for others THAT THEY CAN DO FOR THEMSELVES?”

Oh, damn. 

Um… a lot.  I know all the research and my goal is to make my kids more self-sufficient.

….But people-pleasing habits are hard to break.

Yesterday morning my husband and I were making our own breakfasts when my son – who already ate the two eggs I made for him – asked, “Can someone make me a bagel?”

I watched as he made his request and then sat down on the kitchen bench and watched.

Oh no… this is it.  This is a time I jump in to do something for him!

I paused.

“Bud, what about making a bagel do you actually need help with?”

“I need help cutting it and spreading cream cheese.” 

“Ok.  I can help with that.  How about you get the bagels and cream cheese out of the fridge as well as a knife?”

It changed my work from 2 minutes to 10 seconds.  It’s progress. 

(but… one can argue my son was also capable of cutting the bagel and spreading the cream cheese).

Got it.  I’ll do better.

I got my chance seconds later. 

My daughter broadcasts through our Google Home, “Can someone make me a smoothie?”

Normally… we’d do it.  But not today. I was on fire!

“Ok Google, Broadcast:   Sweetie, You have plenty of time to make your own smoothie this morning.  Dad and I are trying to make our own breakfasts.”


She sulked down the stairs and gave me the death stare, but I didn’t care…

Read: Are my kids spoiled? 3 signs of entitled behavior

Ok.  I cared.  

The death stare got me and I wanted to take back everything I said and make her her smoothie.

Stay strong JoAnn.  Stay strong.

I ate my breakfast at the kitchen table ignoring the death stare.

Ok, just take another bite of your eggs.  Breathe. Take another bite. Breathe. Mmm, avocado, yum.

I finished and took my bowl to the sink.

She was sitting on the arm of the couch, shoulders slumped and staring into nothing. 

Oh she’s so sad.  No… No… this is manipulation since I wouldn’t make the smoothie. 

It’s hard to break the habit of doing stuff for our kids.  

Real hard.

I don’t know about you but I equate being a good person with generosity and doing stuff for others.

But when I do it ALL the time, I feel my neck tightening and this feeling there isn’t enough time to get everything done.

Then I snap.

And my kids… if I did everything for them they wouldn’t know how to do basic tasks – like the laundry they do each Sunday or loading the dishwasher. 

It’s hard to break the habit.

So how do we do it?

Read: How to Stop Yelling at Kids when Angry

Let’s talk about stress

According to Dr Kathleen Smith, therapist and author of the book, Everything Isn’t Terrible, there are four main ways that families cope with stress:

  • Avoidance, 
  • fighting – like that constant fight about giving your sibling money or maybe its a fight over how much your son eats at the dinner table, 
  • triangles – where you’re mad at your sister so you tell your mom who then “talks” to your sister and finally,
  • over and underperforming – doing stuff for others that they can do themselves.  Or letting those things be done for you.

These are all normal human reactions, so there’s nothing wrong per se if you’re doing one of these. 

However, these actions may make you more anxious and less able to solve the problem.

Read: When you Need the Positivity: My Struggle with Anxiety

Let’s focus on the over and underperforming.  

When a person in the family sees the other as less capable, he or she does more than she should for them – tasks that they could do for themselves.

For instance, I always let my mom do my laundry when I lived at home because I was “horrible” at it. 

As parents, we tend to overperform a lot for our kids. 

When we do, it makes us more stressed. We have a mountain of a to-do list and no chance to help our kids become more capable.

I’m guilty of this. 

To see if you’re doing this, ask yourself, “what am I doing for my kids that they can do for themselves?”

Yes, they’ll freak out.  (But not for long)

As you saw with me and the smoothie, this could be the hardest part.  Anytime we do something out of our normal routine it’s going to be uncomfortable for everyone around us.

Brene Brown calls it the 8-seconds of discomfort you have when stating your needs.

Dr. Smith says that anytime we make a request to our family that’s out of character, you can expect a predictable response:

1. make the request

2. everyone freaks out

3. hold your ground

4. everyone calms down.


This is the hardest part. The part that fills me with the most psychological stress.  When I start thinking things like, 

“Oh my gosh, I’m a horrible mother.  This is going to completely wreck our relationship.  She’s never going to tell me anything again. She’s going to tell her future therapist how insensitive her mom is.”

Are you hyperventilating with me?

I know popular wisdom tells us to ignore this stuff to be “good, firm parents” but I call malarky.

Ignoring my own anxiety about the situation and trying to push it down has NEVER helped me feel better.  Has it ever helped you? Instead,

Focus on your response.

You know what you’re doing here, mama.  You know its important for your kids to take on more tasks to build their self-confidence.  Plus, it frees you up to focus on more important things than smoothie making. 

Remind yourself of this and focus on how you’ll respond.

Maybe it’s breathing calmly and taking one small step at a time like me counting bites of egg. 

Maybe it’s patting your child on the shoulder and leaving the room.  The situation may be too much for you right now, but you’re also showing your child that you’re confident they can handle this on their own.

That’s the process for getting our kids to do more.  

State what you want, wait and then focus on your response.

They’re not going to calm down right away.  But over time, you’ll see they’ll take over whatever task you did for them before.

My daughter did make her own smoothie. Within 10 minutes of drinking it, she ceased all death stares.

It’s going to be good.

JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

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