LIFE IS LIKE A GAME OF TETRIS: How to Tackle Daily Parenting Stress
A few years ago, I was in a session with an overwhelmed mother… and for many a good reason. She initially met me in order to receive parenting support for one of her three children. Her five-year-old boy was a daily challenge: outbursts at school; aggression towards peers; and opposition to every effort that she made. She was also a military spouse whose husband was frequently away on deployments leaving her to face all domestic and parenting duties on her own. This mother would frequently attend session late, out of breath, with many apologies … but always a smile on her face.
I had to wonder how this cheerful woman managed to hold it all together until one day, she completely broke down in session. She disclosed that her husband would soon retire from the USMC and had been diagnosed with PTSD, which was accompanied by many limiting symptoms including, avoidance, isolation, volatility. She expressed many thoughts of self-doubt, feeling like a failure, and too exhausted to keep up. I could feel that her overwhelm had finally taken its toll. I thought to myself, “this woman’s life sounds like an intense game of Tetris.”
In case I am dating myself, a quick gameplay explanation of this 1984 sweeping sensation: the format entails colored blocks of varying shapes dropping down the screen while you maneuver them in a way so that they fit together at the bottom. As you progress through the levels, the tiles only plummet down faster and faster in a nerve-wracking fashion.
I did a # search on the game. Surprisingly, there are multiple Tetris strategies that align themselves to the management of daily life stressors. When I next met with my client, we started plugging some of these strategies into her day to day life:
- Determine your playing style: Know Thyself & listen to your voice. In order to know one’s playing style, one must recognize his/her own strengths. A person needs to feel confident in who they are in order to be successful. In this case, mom’s strength was her sunny disposition. Once she was able to recognize that as a strength, she was able to utilize it in her daily interactions with others. In return, she received unexpected support from her son’s teachers, fellow parents, and even her son’s karate coach.
- Avoid garbage. I really like this one. There is no need to focus on the crap (pardon my French). For this mom, “getting rid of the garbage” equated to keeping it simple. Her calendar was over-booked with appointments, drop-offs, pick-ups, meetings, etc. I encouraged her to look at her agenda and reduce her commitments. We worked together to identify ways to prioritize and to also let some things go.
- Practice. Every time you fall down, there is a lesson to be learned. Pick yourself up & get back to it. You get better with time. What do they say? Wash, Rinse, Repeat! Mom’s constant worry put her in indecision overdrive. Her over-analytical chit-chat clouded her decision making. We discussed how it was okay to make a mistake here and there. Ongoing practice is part of parenting. Eventually she agreed that it was unlikely that one decision alone had the power to disrupt an entire life. In time, her decisions came more easily to her and her anguish reduced.
- Learn how to spin! There are different angles to each challenge; we must to be able to pivot accordingly. After simplifying her schedule, this mom still had too much on her plate. I probed to find more information about the support she received from her husband. She relayed to me that her husband deemed himself incapable as a parent because he could not leave the house. Upon my request, she had him join our next session via tele-conference.* Together, we discussed how her spouse was able to be useful in other ways from inside of the house: making phone calls, handling finances, prepping meals. His eyes lit up as we discussed all of the valuable contributions he would be able to make.
- You can never “win” the game. When you think about it, this can be a very relieving notion. I encouraged mom to remember that there is no “finish line” in life. I encouraged mom to remember that there is no final chapter in parenting. Instead of focusing on an end (that will never happen), I worked with mom to celebrate the day to day joys of life. Together we agreed that this was the ultimate strategy.
Thanks to the Tetris Treatment Plan, in three months’ time, this newly confident mother had cut out the excessive tasks. She had also learned to quiet her monkey-mind and let things flow (instead of obsessing over the right decision.) She felt a new bond with her husband as they worked as a parenting team. Finally, and maybe most importantly, she recognized that the day to day could actually be an enjoyable process and not an overwhelming end-game.
*This veteran later came to use tele-mental health to receive counseling for his PTSD. Many of his symptoms were alleviated and he felt great relief. Eventually, he was able to leave the house and was able to further contribute as a parent & participate in family activities. In due time, he returned to work which reduced a great amount of stress.