How to go From Merely Surviving to Thriving as a Family

There’s a good chance you read this title and thought, “Yeah, right.” We understand. We’ve been there.
When you find yourself stuck in the trenches, with babies who won’t sleep and toddlers who won’t listen, finding a way out seems like a pipedream. Or maybe you have teenagers and you run from one activity to sporting event to concert to practice to another. Tired yet?

As parents of a two and four-year-old, we get the pressure. We haven’t met a family who hasn’t experienced a season where they felt as though they were merely surviving. You will experience it. And just when you find yourself coming out of it, you’ll likely find yourself back in it again. Guess what? That’s okay. We’re parents. It comes with the territory.

On the other hand, some parents can get so entrenched in survival mode they rarely come out. Our tempers flare. We say things we never thought we would to our spouse and kids. We grow depressed. And worst of all, we feel guilty for not doing the job we know we could be doing with our kids.

Surviving is so often less about our kids and more about us. We cannot give on an empty tank. I believe social science researcher Brene Brown has it right. From her findings with parents, she writes, “Who we are and how we engage the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”

In other words, “Are you the adult you want your child to grow up to be?”[1]

To move from merely surviving to thriving, we need to rediscover (or perhaps discover for the first time) ourselves.

Here are ten ideas for rediscovering yourself in survival mode.

1. It only takes slight changes.
One of our favorite family principles comes from a book called The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olsen. The main idea is that it only takes slight changes in daily routines to make a big difference. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Keep this in mind for each of the following ways to reclaim yourself in the midst of parenthood.

2. Celebrate what’s going right. 
So many families today feel the burden. “If I focus on myself,” the thought goes, “then I’m not being a good mom (or dad).” Yet, no matter how much time or energy we put into our kids, we still lay in bed at night wondering deeply, in our self-imposed guilt, how badly we messed them up. And the cycle of guilt continues.

That’s because we tend to focus on what’s going wrong (kids acting out, spouse not doing dishes, etc.), not what’s going right (kids sharing toys, kids being kind, spouse affirming me, etc.).

3. Watch what you eat. 
This is difficult, especially if you’re like me (Christi) and food is your go-to when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. What I’m learning is that when I’m eating better, especially by cutting out sugar, I feel so much better about myself. And how I feel about myself influences greatly how I act toward Josh—and the kids. Again, focus only on today. Saying no to that little treat today is a big win. Celebrate it.

4. Find a way to work out again. 
I know, I know. It seems impossible. Yet, even if you can find time during the kids’ nap to do a 10-minute workout from Youtube, do it. If you get two workouts in a week, you’re probably ahead of where you are now. Again, make small changes and celebrate them.

5. Read more books. 
Whether you get up 15 minutes earlier than the kids, or choose the book over Netflix after the kids are down, carve out a few minutes each day to feed yourself from a book. Other people’s perspectives help drag you out of what feels like your own dungeon of four walls.

Here are a few of our favs and current reads:

     Restless –Jennie Allen
     Present Over Perfect –Shauna Niequist
     The Road Back to You –Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

     The Road Back to You –Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
(We can’t recommend this book enough)
     The Valley of Vision –Arthur Bennett
     The Seven Decisions: Understanding the Keys to Personal Success –Andy Andrews

6. Date again. 
We recommend this big time. If you have trouble with babysitting ideas, find another couple you trust and swap nights. One night they watch all the kids, the next weekend you watch all the kids. Or date at home. Either way, date. If your marriage isn’t watered, it won’t grow. And neither will you.

We know how hard it is to think of date night ideas. We’ve got you covered. We have tons of creative date ideas and conversation starters:

7. Find time to pray. 
This really should be #1. Lord knows without Him, we’re doomed. Even if it’s while you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep, pray. Besides, it beats worrying. Pray for your family—your marriage and your kids. Pray with your spouse and kids. And pray for yourself. Don’t be afraid to voice to God what’s really going on inside of you. Not only does He already know, it’s really therapeutic to bring it into the light.

8. Put your phone away. 
If you feel like you’re wasting time on your phone, you are. Start by decreasing the amount of time you spend on social media or browsing your phone. Replace it with the book, prayer, or exercise. Again, just 10 minutes less of the phone a day is a win.

9. Treat yourself. 
What energizes you? A pedicure? Working out? Sitting at a coffee shop with a book? Ask your spouse to give you two hours this weekend. We sometimes swap time with the kids on the weekend and give each other time to rejuvenate. Find what brings you life and make this a family routine.

10.  Surround yourself with trusted family and friends.
Parenting really does take a village. Press into your church family, especially if you don’t have family living near you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people you trust and who love your kids. And make sure you have a group of really trusted friends and fellow parents you can call when you need them most. Going at it alone will keep you in survival mode.

[1] Brown, B. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. 
Joshua Straub
President / Co-Founder
The Connextion Group