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How to Cope with Parenting Decision Fatigue

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Here are seven coping strategies for putting things into perspective and lightening the tension of making decisions.

Feel like you can’t decide between apples and blueberries for snack time today? When you’ve got a young child, it can often feel like every single decision parents make feels like the most important decision in the world… even when it is about something as mundane as a snack.

Decision fatigue—the idea that after making so many important decisions, your ability to make more decisions gets worse—is real.

And there is a reason for it, explains clinical psychologist and author Dr. Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco, who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for maternal anxiety and stress. 

“Sometimes the anxiety from all these decisions manifests as overcontrol,” Dr. DiMarco says. “For others it comes more in the form of resignation, where it’s like ‘I’m throwing my hands up’.”

Right now the thought of making another decision—even the most mundane, like what children’s bath soap to buy—feels so charged and important. That is decision fatigue in action.

Dr. Dobrow DiMarco says her patients and so many others are truly feeling it. As hard as it feels, there are ways to recognize and ease the difficulty of decision making. Here are seven coping strategies for putting things into perspective and lightening the tension of making decisions.

1. Acknowledge Things are Terrible

Putting a name on our feelings is important. It is how we take a step back and recognize what is going on. And what is going on right now is that life is hard.

Give yourself space to feel and accept negative emotions, Dr. DiMarco says. And remember to be compassionate to yourself. Parenting is hard.

2. Decatastrophize

In making decisions that feel heavy, look at the facts and try to decatastrophize.

When deciding things like whether you should buy organic or non-organic bananas or send your child to preschool, DiMarco says look at the evidence; Google can sometimes be your best friend. Maybe a simple fact check can help you make your decision, or maybe you’ll need to look up some evidence to see if your worry is valid. Sometimes we worry about things that we can just actually not worry about.

To finish decatastrophizing, Dr. DiMarco says to follow that up with imagining the worst case scenario in your situation–and think about how you would handle it.

3. Dial into a Community

When struggling with decision fatigue, tapping into your community can help with support and guidance. And remember, your community does not have to be irl.

“You can find your people online,” says Alexis Barad-Cutler, founder of the online mom community Not Safe for Mom Group. Her NSFMG platform gives moms the digital space to connect with each other and discuss various parenting-related topics.

“Personally the people I talk to most in the day don’t live near me or they live in another country, and I feel extremely close to those people because of the virtual connection we have”.

If virtual just does not work for you, Barad-Cutler suggested picking one real life mom friend to lean on for decision making support. This doesn’t have to be your lifelong best friend or your soulmate, rather she suggests finding a “mom-mate” – someone you can lean on and confide in about similar things during this time in your parenthood journey.

4. Find a Trusted Caregiver

Parents need more than just child care during work; parents need personal time. Having reliable, trustworthy child care for time to yourself is essential. 

“I can’t stress how important it is to find someone who can take your kids off your hands so you have some time alone,” Barad-Cutler says. “There is no prize at the end of the day for being a martyr.”

5. Support from your Co-Parent

If you have a co-parent, talk with them about how to divide responsibilities–but do not let the conversation stop there. The responsibilities list needs to be continually updated as your children get older.

Dr. DiMarco recommends Fair Play, a system for how to divide up household tasks fairly, based on your individual family needs.

6. Do an Instagram Cleanse

Unsolicited advice can leave you feeling decision-fatigued out. If the cacophony of voices from your IG feed makes you feel anxious or upset in any way: it’s time for a good old fashioned Instagram cleanse. Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow.

“What I tell my patients is find one or two experts, influencers, etcetera, who’s posts really resonate with you and who – and this is very key – don’t leave you feeling more anxious after you read their stuff,” Dr. DiMarco suggests. “Take those one or two people and use them as your gurus and try to ignore the myriad other voices.”

And if the posts that send you into that upset place come from personal friends you follow online, use the Mute button. Muting someone allows you to remain their follower, but not see them in your feed and best of all: they won’t know they’re muted.

“We all have those people in our lives,” Barad-Cutler says, “The friend who’s always taking a vacation or the friend who bounced back after pregnancy like one week later and you’re just like, “Oh my God, I can’t even…”, just mute it.”

Want to learn more about Decision Fatigue?

Check out our conversation with Dr. Ilyse Dubrow DiMarco and Alexis Barad-Cutler below.

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