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The day I realised MY STRESS was KILLING MY KIDS!

...and how that realisation has saved us all...

It a bit of an understatement to say I’m an ‘intense’ kind of person. I love, laugh, cry, swear and get angry like every other person – but I do it with the kind of bridge burning mentality that leaves those around me reeling. When I’m on form there’s no one more engaging and fun to be around but when the dark clouds descend you better get outta my way!

I am ambitious and push myself to the limits constantly. I’ve burnt out more than once yet keep going back for more… There are so many euphemisms for my type of personality… go-getter, high energy, type A, motivated, determined… but they all mean the same thing. They all mean that I blow very hot and very cold (and rarely in between). They all mean that when I’m stressed and tired I’m not very good (actually – I’m really rubbish) at keeping my temper even.

Recently it seemed I was ALWAYS stressed and CHRONICALLY sleep deprived.

That’s all well and good in a work environment (somehow it’s OK to be pushy with colleagues and sometimes even clients)… but at home the lows leave craters like meteor impact sites. It’s my kids who often bear the brunt for no other reason that they’re kids (and therefore annoying), and that’s not good.

It’s never good to let your stress impact your kids – but when you have a sensitive child with ADHD who also suffers from extreme anxiety it’s actually bloody terrible.

Until now I thought we had been ‘coping’ with my sons needs quite well. We are lucky to have an incredibly supportive network so he gets lots of attention… Just not always from the person he needs it from the most. His Mama.

Until now I thought things were going ‘OK’ and we were ‘doing our best’ to help our little person.

Until now I thought the ‘greater good’ was justification for the price we were all paying

Until now I had been KIDDING MYSELF!

It all changed when my son suffered somewhat of an extreme setback. Without divulging the gory details suffice to say a life threatening incident shone a VERY bright light of how none of us were coping… AT ALL. It rocked me to my core to see the human beings I love most on the planet suffering so terribly. Although the incident in itself was shocking enough, the sudden epiphany that my ‘intensity’ (such a terribly inaccurate euphemism) was the root cause of it all was like a sucker-punch to the gut.

I couldn’t breathe.

It was MY FAULT.

All the goals I had been killing myself to achieve with 120 hour working weeks were actually killing my kids. I thought I was the one paying the price for my families happiness and success – but in fact the REAL hallmarks of happiness and success were missing and it was my kids paying the terrible, terrible price. Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t created the ADHD or the predilection for anxiety… the fuel was always there but I’m the one who lit the fire.

That night and for several nights afterwards my husband and I had the most honest conversations of our long and happy marriage. We talked long into the night about what we could and should do in the short, medium and long term. Although there were no accusations or ‘mud-flinging’ it was a tough process to go through as we deliberately ‘owned our sh*t’ and mapped out all our options to put it right.

Number 1: My stress levels needed to decrease… NOW. It had to happen immediately and it was non-negotiable. It was easy to identify the sources of my stress (primarily workload and financial) but to fix them instantaneously would require a magic wand and I was clean out of fairy dust…

Number 2: Reprioritising our lives so the kids came first. ALWAYS. Making more time for them, engaging with them and being truly present, doing fun stuff not just the functional activities…. Basically we had to stop outsourcing our parenting.

Number 3: Getting them involved in grand plan. We realised we were raising our kids to do what they were told immediately and without question (because parenting is easier when you have total control) and god help them if they didn’t. We were disempowering them which was making them feel insignificant and worthless. Involving them in honest discussions (at an appropriate level) and helping them take joint ownership of our family would both help us and instil some much-needed confidence and a sense of self-worth into our munchkins.

The theory was easy. The practical implementation of it? Much less so. We had some tough decisions and big changes ahead of us (which would be even more disruptive in the short term) – but we knew if we got it right it would be TOTALLY worth it.

Although we couldn’t ‘fix everything’ instantly we made a plan to create a light at the end of the tunnel. By gaining a sense of purpose and direction we were also able to gain a sense of control.

I think the hardest part for me was letting go of goals that I had been striving towards for so long. They had been so all-consuming it had been a long time since I had stopped to assess whether they were still the RIGHT goals… but the ramifications of staying on the same path were too profound to argue with.

Our plan was drastic:

· Adjust career goals: This was a big one for me. I had worked all my life to be a ‘heavy hitter’ and all of a sudden I was resigning from the board and selling my share parcel. I had to refocus on having a fulfilling career without the ‘gravitas’ that comes with trying to run the world… a new plan needed to be hatched.

· Sell the house: This was the ‘big house on the hill’ that we had lovingly renovated over the years and it was the only home our kids knew – BUT – the social status of our address really didn’t matter anymore.

· Reduce debt: Using the proceeds from the house we would pay off all our debt including credit cards and family loans (which we often didn’t think about as ‘true debt’). Being debt free would reduce our outgoings each month and give us certainty and control over ‘where we were at’

· Live ‘the simple life’: Move out of the city and up the coast. Cheaper houses, closer to the beach, more land and better weather… (when I say it like that it makes we wonder why we didn’t do it AGES ago!?!)

It’s all very well to have an epiphany but there’s a saying I have always lived by…

“A goal without a plan is just a wish…

But a plan without action is just a theory”

…so hubby and I have been hard at work setting the plan into action.

· Our house is in the market and we’re in the process of finding a new home up the coast where the lifestyle is more relaxed and it’s much easier to do fun stuff with the kids.

· (Although still a work in progress) I am trying REALLY hard to be more patient with the kids. Less yelling, more play. As a naturally ‘shouty’ person this one is probably the hardest work for me and I still lose my sh*t from time to time… but when I do I apologise to the kids – letting them know that my behaviour is NOT OK and ask their forgiveness.

· We’ve got our son some professional help and both my husband and I are working hard to implement the advice to give him the support he needs.

· I give myself a daily dose of perspective. Do I really need to get that done NOW? Would it be so bad if I said no to that client? As a result I have stopped working so hard. I no longer work weekends and very rarely work nights… from 120 hours per week I’m down to about 50.

· I resigned from my Directorship and withdrew from my shareholding. Although I worked bloody hard for those positions they required me to (sometimes) put work before family – and that was not OK any more. My new career goals are centred around my passion for helping women in business. They are centred around MY definition of success – not what others would find impressive!

We’re not out of the woods yet – and although it’s early days stress levels in the house are already much reduced. We laugh more. We play more. We are a family more.

Life’s a journey and so far it’s been a helluva ride and I am grateful for every moment of it… because the day I realised my stress was killing my kids is the day we started actually LIVING!

“KILLING IT (a girl’s guide to KICKING ASS in her career and life)” is a coaching programme designed specifically for women – to help THEM achieve the goals THEY want. For more information visit www.thatabstractcat.com

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