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Is Family Life Getting You Down?

Have you seen the Michael McIntyre sketch in which he reflects on how childless couples imagine their lives and families would be, spending idyllic, joyous days together?

All the parents in the audience laughed as they recognised the familiar story of fantasy becoming reality, with hard work, sleepless nights and ‘things that weren’t even a thing before’, like leaving the house and sleeping all becoming big issues overnight.

A 2024 survey of 1500 parents by family wellness brand, Zarbee revealed that 7/10 parents of younger children feel unwell most of the time. This is due to stress, lack of rest and weakened immune systems from constant pressure and ongoing demands, making them susceptible to germs and children’s coughs and colds.

There’s also the exhaustion that comes from realising that they’ve little choice but to keep going. If they become unwell, the need to juggle money worries, diaries and commitments is only heightened by staying in bed. Plus, there’s guilt at the extra pressure they’d be putting on their partners and families. Life is busy enough, without having to cope with health-related issues!  

Their partner could even become resentful if they felt that they were shouldering more than their fair share of the load, possibly resulting in them becoming unwell too, due to the additional strain they’re experiencing.

One contributory factor to a pressurised family life could be the number of young people who leave home to go to university and then establish lives with work, friends and commitments there. Or they choose to start their careers by moving away in anticipation of attractive and dynamic opportunities. They look forward to starting afresh, carving out a career, with all the associated relationships, friendship groups and interests.

But often reality is far tougher than was envisaged and if they add a new family into the mix it generates extra responsibilities, potentially resulting in stress and overwhelm.  Many families can’t rely on nearby support being available. Parents, siblings and extended family may live some distance away or have busy lives and responsibilities of their own to consider.

This means there’s no family support available to help with the occasional school run, baby sitting or childcare. There’s no family close enough to go shopping with, pop round for a chat or enjoy a quick pint with. The loss of those relationships can be significant.  

Many busy couples have their diaries booked weeks, even months in advance in a bid to maintain relationships with family and friends, trying to fit everyone and everything into an ever crammed schedule. Having to accommodate this, plus their everyday responsibilities can take their toll and result in overwhelm and burnout.  

Also, when family does come to visit it can add to the stress felt by an already busy household, with extra demands on time, finances and emotional resources. Rather than deliver support, a visit can generate extra work, with increased cleaning, catering and entertainment to arrange, especially if they’re staying in your home. 

Each area of life comes with its own agenda; the desire to do well, provide for family, impress the boss, achieve career goals, have fulfilling hobbies and interests, be seen to be successful, highly regarded and respected by peers as well as encouraging any children to do well, so giving them lots of opportunities to thrive.    

In the past it was quite common for only one parent to work, meaning that home duties were taken care of. Families often lived reasonably close together, so help was nearby or work was more 9am-5pm, could be planned around and only occasionally required travel or long hours. Weekends were often available for relaxation. These days evenings and weekends can be filled with shopping, catching up on chores and children’s numerous appointments.

So, it’s important to be firm about boundaries and not say ‘yes’ to everything or commit to too much. Learn to say ‘no’ if you’re in need of some time off. If there’s a backlog of catch-ups waiting to be planned, why arrange something bigger and include several people at once.

Family life can get us down when there’s no space for simply pleasing ourselves. Reflect and discuss making time for fun, either as individuals or as a couple, time for your own interests or for spending with friends. Remember who you are, not ‘just’ a parent, partner or work colleague. You may be limited to 30 minutes with a good book, a swim, a phone call with a good friend, but doing something positive can make a massive difference.    

Consider hiring help. Might it be worth engaging a cleaner, gardener, book-keeper if it allows you free time to do something else? Children can sometimes be offloaded too; could they stay at their friend’s overnight and you’ll return the favour another time?                    

Family life is meant to be precious, filled with love, affection and sharing the important relationships in our lives. But if we take on too much it can become a relentless, unremitting drain on our energy and happiness, leaving us feeling over-tired and flat. Implementing a few important steps can reintroduce balance and happiness, making family life once again a special time for all.

Susan Leigh, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist lifestyletherapy.net

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Susan Leigh
Susan Leighhttp://www.lifestyletherapy.net
Susan Leigh, counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. Author of 3 books, ‘Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact’, ‘101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday’ and ‘Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain’, all on Amazon. To order a copy or for more information, help and free articles visit www.lifestyletherapy.net

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