Pesach. Wonderful family time and new family memories. For some, it is a time of family stress and misery :(. Stress can prevent our ability to focus and it promotes negative thinking. When stressed, we are irritable. Argumentative. Grumpy. We lash out. Perceive everything as a slight. Get miffed extra easily. Stress can also impair cognition, judgment and listening skills. And we can’t communicate well. Not the makings of a peaceful holiday atmosphere or of happy memories.
So much of that can be prevented. With planning and pre-emptive discussions.
Identify your stressors. Once you’ve identified them you will be in a better position to do things differently and face those stressors on your own terms.
Know your family’s particular stressors. Every family has something. A newborn, BH. An unwell grandparent . A tiny kitchen with only 1 portable oven. A child with special needs. No cleaning help :(. Lots of cases of food around the kitchen and people tripping over those. And then there are the typical stressors. Chol hamoed trips and food for those and for dinner afterward. Nap time for the kids (and parents) on erev yom tov. People constantly in the kitchen scrounging for something to eat.
Train yourself to recognize your physiological signs of stress. Perhaps your neck stiffens, your stomach clenches, or your palms sweat. These are all the result of what’s happening inside your body. The minute you start to experience stress, your pulse races, your heart beats faster and hormones [including cortisol and adrenaline] are released. This compromises your immune system and your ability to experience relaxation. When you’re able to recognize the signs — instead of ignoring them — you’ll be able to start addressing the underlying cause of the stress.
Plan ways to de-stress. Plan exercise into your day. Or 20 minutes of ‘me-time’. Or listen to your favorite music. And yes, you can tell your spouse beforehand that when you will be feeling overwhelmed that a whole bar of chocolate or cup of tea will help.
So much is about the way you think about it. Changing the way you think changes the way you feel. Instead of thinking “I should do this ….’, “I must do that …” it is much more effective to think “I could do that (or not).” This creates an opportunity to choose; having a choice is empowering. It can ease the stress or resentment you may experience when you think you have no choice. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to discern and consider options like simplifying, modifying, cutting back or just saying ‘No,’ and this can create more time for other things.
“I could use real dishes”, rather than “A beautiful yom tov table must have china.” Beautiful Pesach memories can be made around a dining table of plastic plates and cutlery. Conversely, memories of washing dishes all Pesach are not all that exciting.
Another way to change your frame of mind is to remind yourself of the times that you did accomplish lots in short amounts of time, rather than focusing on how much is left to be done.
One more strategy is to focus on positive aspects of the situation. Instead of dreading how much time it will take to clean and cook and cook and cook, think about how much you appreciate having your family together to celebrate yom tov, and part of that means that there is some hard work involved.
Plan with your spouse. Have a conversation about the vision for your yom tov – meaningful and creating happy memories. Discuss what you hope the seder and the rest of yom tov will be like for young children, for the guests and for yourselves.
If you talk with each other in a frank and honest way about what you expect for this yom tov, you can help each other bring those high expectations down so the overall experience can be more positive and manageable.
Rather than assuming that all will be taken care of by following typical traditional roles, go through step by step and agree on who does what and when. Shopping, peeling, cooking, washing the pots, dressing the kids, entertaining the kids during the long days of yom tov, sweeping, taking out the garbage, mopping, preparing the seder plate, and… and … down to the details of putting away Pesach. Be sure to include all the de-stressing pockets of times too.
Articulate everything; it is unreasonable to expect the other to read your mind or to ‘just know’ or ‘remember from last year’ . You’ll end up being resentful that something wasn’t done to your liking.
Beyond the tasks, there are other things to discuss – the unplannable. Who will and how will we diffuse the inevitable issues that the kids will bring up. How we will help each other calm down from stress.
Create lists and schedules. The act of writing and putting down ideas focuses the mind. Print a few copies.
Plan so you can preempt the stressors. You might cook dinners for Chol Hamoed first and freeze – the very first thing you cook, even before the main deliveries of cases of food arrive. (Somehow, the food for the seder will get cooked, regardless.) You might schedule some time every morning to cut up fruit, right after your cup of tea :).
Keep your expectations realistic. Not all will go as planned. That is to be expected. Have a sense of humor about it, and pivot. Not enough potatoes? Make mashed parsnip. Grilling burgers on a tiny bbq grill is taking too long? Bring it inside to the oven. Your kids will get dirty; and even possibly whiny. And you’ll run out of something and have too much of something else. Something will happen.
Acknowledge yourself and your small accomplishments. When you complete one of your to-do list items take a moment and give yourself a ‘pat on the back.’ It feels better and it’s more motivating to hear a little ‘Yeah for me!’ in your mind instead of another reminder of how much you have left to do.
Show genuine and full gratitude to the team working together. Don’t forget to give a few ‘shout outs’ of appreciation and encouragement to all who are working. “That’s a huge pile of peeled potatoes. Thanks. We’ll be able to make enough potato kugel for all to have as much as they want.” “That was such a creative way to keep the kids entertained for hours. And they are so proud of what they accomplished. Thanks for keeping them out of the kitchen for hours, it made it easier for the rest of us to move quickly through all these dishes we prepared.”
The main objective is that you and your children have a kosher and freilichin Pesach. That is a happy and pleasant Pesach.