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How to Cope when Parenthood Drives You Crazy

Mom stressed out with her kids jumping around her

Parenthood, it’s not for the faint of heart. I love being a mother, and I wouldn’t trade my life for anything in the world. But I would be lying to you if I told you the past decade of my life has been a breeze—and that I’ve never lost my patience with my kids. I feel tremendous guilt when I’m not able to be my best self for my family, but I also know that I can’t pour from an empty cup. Here are a few of the ways I give myself a “factory reset” when I feel like I’m descending into mega-grouchy mom territory.

Is Parenthood Stressing You Out?

Whether you’re a brand-new mom or dad or have been doing this parenting gig for over a decade, you’re not immune to stress and exhaustion. The sources of parenting stress are numerous:

  • your children’s health,
  • their performance in school,
  • their social lives,
  • their behavior at home.

If you’re up all night with a new baby or a teething toddler, there’s almost zero chance that you’ve had adequate rest in recent weeks. When your child reaches the early preschool years, the tantrums, meltdowns, and nap refusals are enough to make anyone want to hide in the bathroom or laundry room. (Yes, I’ve done it. My only advice is to bring a snack with you to your hiding place.)

My daughter, who is the youngest of three, was born in February 2020—three weeks before COVID-19 shut the world (and schools) down for months to come. That meant I was trying to parent a newborn while entertaining my super-cute but clingy four-year-old, who suddenly had nowhere to go during the day. At the same time, my oldest, who was seven at the time, was trying his best to adjust to attending first grade via Zoom every day. If my husband hadn’t been working from home full-time and able to help me, I don’t know how we would have managed. It seemed like someone always needed something from Dad or me (including at 3 AM). I don’t like to be the mom who gets grouchy and snappish with my kids, but when I don’t have some time to clear my head, it’s inevitable.

frustrated woman hold her head with hands sitting on chair in living room
Feeling overtired is a normal part of being a parent. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

If you’re feeling the same way, I want you to know you’re not alone. Feeling overtired, overwhelmed, and irritated sometimes is a normal part of being a parent. In fact, if you never felt this way, I’d be demanding to know your secret. Most parents I know confess to feeling burned out more often than they’d like. Let’s check out some healthy ways to bust through your stress and frustration.

Self-Care for Moms (and Dads)

I’ve seen those articles about self-care for parents, and I have to admit that some of their suggestions feel a little out of touch. It requires an enormous amount of privilege, financial and otherwise, to be able to drop everything for a spa day or girls’ weekend away. With that in mind, I’ve tried to cover self-care in a more accessible way.

Dear Overwhelmed Moms, Self-Care Isn’t Selfish | Liz Carlile | TEDxColoradoSprings

Give Yourself a “Time Out”

There’s nothing like some time away from home to clear your head. I’m 100% in favor of going out for a manicure and pedicure or dinner with your BFF, if you’re able to do that. But that’s only possible if you can afford a babysitter or have a partner who can cover for you while you’re out. The good news is that you don’t need to drop a bunch of cash to take a little time for yourself. If you’re able to leave your children with your spouse or another responsible adult, try going for a brisk walk or jog in your neighborhood. Even fifteen to twenty minutes of exercise can help you to calm your nerves and refocus your mind.

When my older two kids were toddlers and constantly fighting, I’d sneak into another room and close the door so I could catch my breath. Sometimes I’d call my mom to vent, and I’d ask her to tell me something funny. It was amazing how much better I’d feel after a quick chat. If you can’t get out for a big break, make the most of a smaller one.

Prioritize Rest

Isn’t it so cruel how everyone tells you to sleep when your baby sleeps? Yeah, okay, and when are you supposed to do your ten tons of laundry and wash your dishes? One of the best parenting tips I’ve ever read is to just let stuff wait. If you have the opportunity to grab a much-needed nap, don’t feel guilty about your messy kitchen or your unfolded laundry. It’ll be there when you wake up. Yes, you might be a little behind on your cleaning routine, but it’s worth it to catch up on sleep.

 woman lying on comfy couch
Don’t feel guilty when you rest. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Make Peace with Screen Time

I know, I know—minimizing screen time in favor of fresh air, imaginative play, and socialization is ideal for child development. Sometimes I don’t think the people who came up with that stuff actually had kids of their own. I won’t tell you to park your kiddos in front of the tube all day every day, BUT I will say to use screen time when you need it. Are you desperate for a nap on the couch? Do you need to make some important phone calls in peace? Do you need to diffuse another sibling battle? After age, two, a couple episodes of Daniel Tiger or Bluey aren’t going to hurt anyone. As a parent, screen time is your friend. It’s not your only friend or your best friend, but it’s there when you need it.

Make the Most of Family Time

I find that I’m better able to cope with the more challenging parts of parenthood when I’ve made an effort to be my best self the rest of the time. In other words, I try to make the most of things when they are going well so that I can be a better parent when they aren’t. That means spending quality time with my kids, whether it’s on the ride to school or our evening family dinner. It means listening carefully to what they’re telling me (even if it is yet another spiel about what they did in Minecraft that afternoon). And it means going all-out for family holidays—not spending tons of money on gifts, but spending time together decorating, baking treats, and reliving our favorite holiday traditions. I can’t be my most energetic and entertaining self all the time, so when I do feel up to it, I try to maximize it. It helps me to feel a little less guilty on the days when I’m not feeling like Super-Mom.

Remember that parenting is a lifelong journey. We all have moments (or days) when our kids manage to push our buttons. Shake it off, do something nice for yourself (even if it’s small), and remember that your kids know they’re loved.