Ever have a day (or 10!) when you're stuck in the trenches of parenthood and just want to run? Don't worry, Mighty Mommy has been there. Here are five smart tips on how to overcome the struggle and emerge stronger.
In the nine years I've had the pleasure of being the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast, I've shared the joys and hardships of parenting. Although I stand by my tagline, "It's the toughest job you'll ever love," I am also honest in admitting that as much as I love my kids, there have been plenty of days I have disliked everything there is about parenthood.
Taking care of a family (especially one with eight kids!) is a 24/7 job, and on those days when we get overwhelmed and think "If I have to wipe one more runny nose or pick up another tossed plate of mac and cheese..." well, on those days our kids still depend on us and the show must go on.
I've been at this parenting thing for 28 years now and I couldn't count the number of times I've wanted to throw in the towel and take a massive time-out. But that wasn't an option. So instead, I found coping mechanisms to help me through the tough times. Here are the five ways I survived the challenges of parenting:
Strategy #1: Figure out why you're down on parenting
During the quiet moments when our baby sleeps, when our first grader is quietly playing with blocks, or when our tween is studiously working on homework, parenthood seems like a piece of cake. But in a blink, that same baby develops colic, our first grader is now throwing his blocks at the colicky baby, and our tween hates school and refuses to pick up a book. Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason to each day and oftentimes parenthood becomes a game of wits.
If you find yourself struggling to enjoy your role as a parent, do some soul searching and see if one of these situations could be the culprit:
- Loneliness: Many parents go it alone and don't have external support systems in place. This leaves them feeling depleted and alone.
- Exhaustion: Sleep deprivation and physical needs not being met, including proper nutrition and exercise.
- Loss of Purpose: Taking a career break to raise your child can leave you feeling nonexistent and even resentful. Not pursuing personal hobbies and interests also has negative repercussions.
- Relationship Issues: Single parents, marriage difficulties, strains with colleagues if you're balancing parenting and work.
- Difficult Circumstances: Raising a child with special needs or handling a defiant child, financial strains, inadequate housing, employment issues, chronic illness.
If any of these issues play a role in your struggle to cope as a parent, seek an appropriate action plan based on your specific needs. If you feel like you're drowning, ask friends and family for help. If your child is struggling with delays, there are state-sponsored services in place to help. If your health is troubling, get to a doctor. Don't ignore the situation as that will only make things fester and get worse.
If it's none of these more severe circumstances, but rather an occasional "blah" feeling about not loving being a parent, know that this is normal. CEOs of top companies don't love their jobs every day, Olympic athletes don't rejoice in their training routines, the President of the United States has plenty of down moments in his position.
Accept that this is part of the normal ebb and flow of parenting, and then find the tools to move forward to avoid staying stuck. For starters, you can change your inner dialogue, as explained in my next tip.
Strategy #2: Nix negative self-talk
As we go about our busy lives, we often don't even realize that we create negative scenarios in our mind, especially when we face challenges. For example, for many years when I had four kids under the age of six, I probably isolated myself from friends and family more than I should have because it took all of my physical and mental ability to keep up with everyone's needs.
During these hectic years, I didn't have a lot of adult conversations happening in my life. Without even realizing it, I began to have discussions with myself! On a good day, this was just fine, but there were plenty of days when things were chaotic, cranky, and just plain difficult. During those time, my inner dialogue became negative, and although I didn't say it out loud, I'm sure my kids could sense that I was not in a good place emotionally.
In my episode Busy Parent? 6 Ways to Maintain Healthy Self-Esteem, I advise that nixing negative self-talk is critical. "Much of our thinking is so automatic that we barely notice it before we move on to the next thought. But when that little voice in our minds starts cranking out damaging and destructive self-criticism, we have to get a handle on it and nip it in the bud."
Be mindful of your inner dialogue. Then when you catch yourself in negative commentary, try to change course and think about what went well that day instead. For example: Instead of thinking, "Why can't he stop throwing his stuff on the floor? I have asked him a million times!" Try telling yourself "Well, at least he's playing so kindly with his little sister." This way, you reframe your experience in a positive way.
When you catch yourself in negative commentary, try to change course and think about what went well that day instead.
Strategy #3: Find a parenting pal
One of my biggest parenting challenges was helping three of my kids overcome significant language delays. I wouldn't change any of that heartache now, but 20 years ago, I felt as though I was doomed. I spent many intense years advocating for my kids to achieve development successes, even when the experts proclaimed they might never lead "normal" lives. (To those "experts" - I'm glad that I didn't listen to you. You were wrong!)
In the thick of those difficult years, I often wanted to bow out of parenting entirely. But, thankfully, I met another mom in the same boat as me, and we struck up an incredible friendship that helped me weather many a wicked storm.
In my episode, 6 Sanity-Saving Tips for Parents of a Child With Special Needs, I shared that I didn't discuss our children's delays with my close network because I felt I could manage the load alone.
Once I stopped isolating myself, I met one of my closest friends through our resource department at school. We had kids with similar disabilities, and we could lean on one another through good times and bad. Best of all, we were able to celebrate our kids' milestones together. Twenty years later, we still have a close bond.
Strategy #4: You're more than just a parent
I waited five long years to become a mom. But once I finally achieved this role, I quickly lost sight of the life I had before. Of course, motherhood is one of the most worthy titles of all time, but the life I had before adopting and delivering eight babies was equally important in my life's journey.
Try not to lose sight of your other interests and purposes after you become a parent. If you maintain your hobbies, pursue personal and career goals, and foster outside relationships other than that of your kids and partner, you'll always have other avenues to keep you inspired and excited, all while tending to your family.
Try not to lose sight of your other interests after you become a parent. If you maintain your hobbies, pursue personal and career goals, you'll always have other avenues to keep you inspired.
Strategy #5: Let the little moments define your life
One of my favorite books is Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach. This book has made such an impact on my life that I've gifted it well over 50 times to family and friends, including my three daughters.
One of my favorite life lessons is a quote from the author, "We think that it's the big moments that define our lives -- the wedding, the baby, the new house, the dream job. But really, these big moments of happiness are just the punctuation marks of our personal sagas. The narrative is written every day in the small, the simple, and the common. In your tiny choices, in these tiny changes. In the unconsidered. The overlooked. The discarded. The reclaimed."
This quote has long been at the core of my parenting philosophy. The milestones our children achieve, such as learning to walk, toilet training, getting a driver's license, and graduating high school and college, are meaningful. Still, they don't ultimately define their accomplishments.
Each time they fall and get back up when learning to walk, the first week they have dry pants after months of potty training, the first time they drive to the store alone, the struggle to figure out what they're going to wear to a school dance, and hanging out at the kitchen island after school while you get dinner ready -- those are the small, everyday moments that mark our role as parents.
Revel in those everyday happenings -- the good, the boring, and the ugly -- and you'll always have the most powerful tool available to help you through those tough days -- gratitude for the little moments that make the big difference in your life.