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Tips for "Survival Mode" Parenting

  • John UpChurch What topic related to Christianity, faith, and the Bible is trending online and in social media today?
  • Updated Aug 16, 2013

It’s confession time: I’m not a perfect parent. There, I said it. Most of the time, I’m consistent with discipline, generous with the bear hugs, and calm in the face of toddler meltdowns. I can juggle the ballerina dancing, hair pulling, and vacuuming with the grace of a heron hunting fish.

But other times, I throw shoes down the hall.

Granted, I immediately regretted doing so and slunk down the hall to gather them up. Still, the New Balances took a jog of their own because of my pedantic frustrations (which were made all the worse by my daughter acting out the moment of silliness from her high chair).

For all the systems my wife and I have put in place to bring our girls up in the way they should go, there are still times that we have to switch to “survival mode.” We’ve got charts, schedules, and routines. And they’re great… until crazy comes barreling into the house and hunkers down for a season. Keeping up with the normal can make us all start reaching for the sneakers.

Jen Fulwiler tackles this idea in a recent blog post on what to do as a parent when things are “too crazy to do anything other than just get by.” This mom of four kids under the age of five offers 21 tips for the harried parent, such as these:

3. Your whole family is living in a pressure cooker, so think very, very carefully before saying anything negative. Little wisecracks that would otherwise be blown off can trigger major arguments when everyone is stretched thin.

4. It’s hard when you feel like your life is made of fail. Setting a small goal and getting it done can give you a much-needed sense of accomplishment, even if it’s as simple as touching up your toenail polish….

7. Do what you can to strengthen your relationship with God — you’re going to need as much grace as you can get to make it through this phase. That said, don’t let your spiritual life become a source of stress. God knows that you’re having a tough time and is pleased with even your most feeble efforts at prayer.

8. It’s important to be consistent when you discipline the kids. But if you don’t have the energy for that, Shock and Awe parenting works too: make empty threats most of the time, but on the rare occasions when you actually follow through, make your punishments creative and memorable. The last time my big kids got rowdy and woke up the toddler, they had to sit and watch an hour of Barney with her. They haven’t woken her up again….

14. You won’t be able to keep the house as clean as you (or the Health Department) would like, so set cleaning priorities together with your spouse. Maybe you could make sure the kitchen’s clean each day but fold the laundry when you can get to it? Sweep daily but vacuum weekly? Approaching housework in an intentional way will help you use your limited time and energy to keep the house in a condition that both you and your husband can live with.

On the other hand, a long-term pattern of “reactive parenting” can get you stuck in a never-ending loop. You feel harried, try to just get by, and never get back to intentional parenting. Getting there requires a conscious effort, as a recent article on this site explains:

Keep God’s purposes for parenting in mind. Through the process of parenting, God is working not just in your children’s lives, but also in your own life. God intends for you to grow into a more spiritually mature person as you learn to apply His wisdom to the challenges of parenting.

Get to know more about yourself as a parent. Parenting reveals lots of valuable information about who you are as a person. Seek to learn more about yourself so you’ll have the perspective you need to improve your maturity, which will then improve your relationship with your kids. Ask three people who know you well and will tell you the truth these questions: “What have you observed about me as a parent?” “What are the strengths I bring to parenting?” “What are the struggles I bring to parenting?” “What do you enjoy about being in relationship with me?” and “What are the challenges about being in relationship with me?” Then pray about what they say, asking God to help you grow in specific ways.

Study your children. Get to know each of your children’s God-given temperaments well, and ask God to teach you how to work creatively within each child’s temperament rather than against it when helping him or her develop.

What about you? How do you survive the crazy seasons in parenting?

John UpChurch is the senior editor of and You’ll usually find him downing coffee at his standing desk (like a boss).