Rest for the Weary

Redefine What Really "Needs" Doing

My mantra when my boys were toddlers came from a New Yorker cartoon posted on my refrigerator: In a disheveled living room, an unkempt woman is lounging on the couch and talking on the phone. "I'm running a loose ship," she says.

You don't want to totally let things go, of course, but relaxing your standards can be healthy for a mom with young children. Your hands are simply too full to keep things in tight-ship shape, explains Parents advisor Alice Domar, Ph.D., executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, in Waltham, Massachusetts. "If you can get yourself showered and keep your baby fed and in diapers, you're doing well. You have to lower the bar."

Deficit-Reduction Plan
Exhausted moms who can't finish the tasks on their daily to-do list might consider breaking it into two lists, Dr. Domar says: one for genuine "must-do's" -- like buying diapers -- and another "would like to do" list, encompassing everything else. You can immediately move your daily laundry load off the "must" list, since slacking on this won't actually harm anyone. (If keeping a spotless house feels like a must for your own sense of sanity, delegate specific parts of the job to your spouse.) Most shopping trips aren't a must, either. "For a few years, life is not going to be how it used to be," says Dr. Domar, coauthor of Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health.

What should be on the must list? Aim for one "you" task for each sizable "everybody-else" errand. Things that sustain you personally are vital to your health and well-being, Dr. Domar says. So you may start with "Schedule dentist appointments for kids," but the next item should say "Call a friend." And don't forget exercise: One study at Duke University Medical Center showed that moderate aerobic exercise could be as effective as the antidepressant Zoloft.

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