We all get frustrated. Trust us, even the calmest, most even-tempered guy who has the demeanor of a three-camera-sitcom-dad-hits his breaking point during a day with the kids. Because of course he does. Stressors pile up. One thing turns into another turns into another turns into a tantrum turns into a demand for more crackers and so on and so forth because, life, man. Any day can easily become the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark bearing down on us. What really matters is how we deal with the stress. Yelling isn’t the way. Neither is anger. We must learn how to calm down when we’re at our wit’s end.
It takes time to learn how to calm down, to recompose yourself and return to being the parent your kids need you to be. Each of us has to find the method that works. That’s why we asked 14 dads how they calm down when they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by their kids. One has a “screaming pillow”; others go for walks, sit in designated chairs, or devote a specific time during the day to decompressing and thinking about the various button-pusing events that took place. What works for some won’t work for others. What’s important is that we all find something to help. Especially now during COVID when we’re all home far more than we used to be. Here’s what they said.
I Sit in My Lawn Chair
“I’ve always been ‘one with nature’, which is to say that I’ve always found a lot of peace just being outside on a nice day. So, I have a special Adirondack chair in the backyard — far away from the house — that I’m able to go and sit in when I need to detach. It’s hard to find time, because our kids are both young. So I can’t exactly just escape whenever I’m feeling stressed. That’s why I try to keep sort of a running tab throughout the day of everything they do that drives me nuts. When I’m back there, in my chair, it helps to recall everything one by one. Usually I’ll find myself laughing at most of it when I’m in a more peaceful environment.” – Matt, 37, Ohio
I Go on a Walk to the Reservoir
“I didn’t realize this until about four months ago, but our town has a reservoir like a mile away from my house. It’s a drainage feature because we live in a lowland area, and it’s basically a man-made wetland that has been set up like a preserve. There are benches, trees, observation decks — it’s beautiful. The walk there is enough time to burn off stress so, when I can, I like to go there and just vibe out for a few minutes, breathe, and come back home. We have two teenagers, and things have been pretty tense since lockdown, so I’m grateful to be able to do that when they get on my nerves.” – Kevin, 41, Florida
I Scream Into A Pillow
“I think I used to do this as a kid, too. If my son, who is seven, is driving me nuts, like if we’re arguing, or he’s having a tantrum, I’ll say that I have to go to the bathroom and ask him to wait patiently until I come back. I have a small pillow in the cabinet under the sink — my wife calls it my ‘sanity pillow’ — and I just hold it up to my face kind of like I’m about to smother myself and scream as loud as I can. Sometimes, if it’s going to be a really loud one, I’ll turn on the water or flush the toilet. It’s silly, for sure, but that momentary, instant release of anger and frustration really helps.” – Charles, 36, Pennsylvania
I Schedule Time to Think About What’s Causing Me Stress
“I deal with diagnosed anxiety, and one of the tricks my therapist taught me is to budget time each day — usually at the same time of day which, for me, is right after dinner — to specifically think about all of the things causing me stress. So, if I find myself worrying about something during the day — say, my current job situation — I have to consciously say to myself, ‘Nope. Not now. Save it for after dinner.” And then I use the specifically scheduled time to devote to actively worrying and catastrophizing the situation. I’ve lumped the stress of my kids driving me crazy into that technique. I’ll brush off the stress in the moment, but save it for ‘my time’ later, and then really just give it all the energy I can while I’m allowed to.” – Michael, 39, Connecticut,
I Watch My Fish
“I have a tropical fish tank in my office. Best investment I’ve ever made. When my kids are driving me crazy, I go in there, sit in my chair, and just watch them. It’s hypnotizing. The colors, the movements, the sounds — they’re all just so calm and perfect that even just a few minutes watching can bring me down. Sometimes, my kids will see me in there — not knowing they put me in there — and come join me. Because Finding Nemo, of course. Those are actually my favorite times, because then we all just zone out, regroup, and come back to real life together.” – Jimmy, 35, Indiana
I Scream in My Car
“It’s pretty simple. I go out into the garage, turn the car on, roll the windows up, blare some rock music, and scream for about five minutes. It’s exactly like that scene from The Whole Nine Yards. I’ll hit the seat, beat my head against the steering wheel, and just let loose. For those five minutes, or so, I am angry Matthew Perry. Tip for those wanting to give it a whirl: time it to a specific song. I’ve found that anywhere between three and four minutes is good enough for me. Then, when the song is over, I turn the car off, take a deep breath, and head back into the warzone as good as new.” – William, 38, North Carolina
I Take a Bath
“My wife introduced me to bath bombs last year, and they’re my go-to calming technique. Obviously, a bath is a time commitment, so I have to make sure that my wife knows I’m going, or my mother-in-law is watching the kids, but when they’re driving me nuts, I can usually destress pretty effectively with a 20 minute bath and a bath bomb. I think my calmness is triggered by the earthy scents — patchouli, lemongrass, sandalwood — so I’ve got a shoebox full of those in my bathroom drawer. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to ‘get away’ every time the kids drive you nuts, if only for their safety. But the bath is almost like a reward I look forward to after a particularly rough day of not keeping my cool.” – Nick, 36, Michigan
I Raid My Candy Stash
“I have an old Haliburton briefcase I got from my dad. It’s in my bedroom closet, and it’s full of candy. It’s just gluttonous and borderline disgusting. My kids know about it, which is why it has a combination lock. If my kids are giving me shit, it’s not uncommon to see me stuffing my face full of Skittles and Twix bars like I’m on a tour at Wonka’s. It’s actually turned into a Pavlovian thing, too, because the kids know I binge on candy when I can’t stand them. If they see me pigging out, they tend to ease up a little because they know they’ve driven me to a high of stress. So they know things are getting real.” – Marty, 42, South Carolina
I Online Shop
“You can always tell when my wife or I have had a rough go with the kids, because a few days later three or four Amazon packages will show up. It’s definitely not something we’re proud of. I mean, there are much, much healthier ways of dealing with kid stress. But, she and I both have wish lists that we’ll revisit when the kids are out of control, and just pull the trigger on one or two things. Somehow, the novelty of getting packages in the mail hasn’t worn off on either of us, so there’s that little high that comes with clicking ‘Check Out’, and that’s usually enough to stave off the stress for a while.” – Marc, 35, California
I Play With My Kids’ Legos
“I’ve always been calmed by Legos. Even when I was a kid, they just relaxed me. The specific clicking of the pieces, and the smooth edges when two pieces line up – it’s all very soothing to me. So, I have a stash of them in my desk drawer that I’ve culled from my kids’ mixed sets over time. If I need a break, I sit down and ‘build’ for ten minutes. I try challenging myself to not make the same thing twice, which is why I’m always on the lookout for new parts they leave on the floor…and I inevitably step on. When it comes to kids, Legos are a paradox — they bring such pain and aggravation, but such pleasure. At least for me.” – Al, 34, Ohio
I Open a Book
“I can escape real life pretty quickly through a book. The problem is, I have two young girls, and I can’t devote time during the day to just sit down and read through a novel. So I have a collection of short story anthologies, most of which I can read in 5-10 minutes. If the kids are acting up, and you hear me say I’m going to the bathroom, there’s a good chance I’ll hit the bookshelf first so that I can take one with me, do my business, read a story or two, and come back out reinvigorated.” – Jake, 38, Rhode Island
I Mow the Lawn
“Mowing the lawn is probably my favorite thing to do. I spare no expense when it comes to my riding lawn mower, because it never, ever fails to help me relax and feel good. Our yard is about an acre, so it takes me an hour or so to do the whole thing. My wife and I both work during the day, so neither of us can get away from our jobs, or our kids, who’ve become increasingly agitating as we’ve spent more and more time together. But, when the time comes, it’s like a checkered flag. I’m right out to the garage, turning the key, and hitting the gas. In fact, sometimes the kids drive me so crazy that I’ll just go back over my tracks a few times without the blade on, just for the ride.” – Gary, 39, Wisconsin
I Walk the Dog
“We have a walking trail right behind our house, and I can always count on a quick dog walk to calm me down when my kids are driving me nuts. It doesn’t even have to be by myself, either. In fact, most of the time, the kids will come with me. But they’re like different people when we’re walking the dog. I don’t know if it’s the dog himself, or the fact that we’re outside, or if it’s just the fact that it feels like a family activity, but a switch definitely flips in all of us. We’re more laid-back, more friendly, and just generally in better moods when we walk the dog. It’s a good way to break when we’re all feeling crazy.” – Aaron, 37, Illinois
I Quote Die Hard (and other movies)
“I’ve always been a big movie guy, and there are just some movies — movie quotes, specifically — that resonate with me when I’m at my wit’s end. ‘Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs!’ from Die Hard is one. He’s just so exasperated, and the odds are against him. Sometimes that’s what it feels like raising kids. So, I’ve been known to say that out loud a lot. Another one is from A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise is just exhausted with everything, and he says, ‘…and the hits just keep on comin’.’ I guess I’ve found that keeping a sense of humor about the endless stress of parenting helps me cope and not lose my cool.” – Nathan, 37, Washington, D.C.
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