You may feel like the only one in the world struggling, but I promise you EVERY parent experiences times when they struggle. I have had more difficult days than I can remember, something that seems to surprise people when they speak with me. Regardless of my job, I’m not immune to the stresses and strains of parenting. I’m human just like you and I have inherited a short fuse from my own mother. Add to this the stresses and strains of everyday life and the problems and challenges it brings, alongside having to parent in a society that is not at all supportive of parents and you have a perfect recipe for burnout.
It’s not your fault that you lose it at times. It’s not your fault you don’t love every minute of parenting and it’s not your fault that sometimes, you wonder how you’re going to make it through the day. Parenting is bloody hard.
So, what can you do if you’re having a hell of a day (or week – or more)? How do you get through the day when you feel you have nothing more to give? Give these tips a try:
1. Start with accepting your limitations.
You cannot do everything and be everything. Stop trying to be superhuman. Be kind to yourself and know that you are doing your best and that is good enough. Try to avoid comparison, or temptations to try to be perfect.
2. Set boundaries.
Learn to say “no” (it doesn’t make you rude, or make people hate you, I promise!). It’s time to prioritise your own wellbeing if you’re feeling so wrung out you don’t know how to go on. You can only do that when you put your needs as close to first as possible.
3. Reset your expectations.
Often, when we’re struggling with parenting, it’s because we’re expecting something of our children that is developmentally inappropriate. If you’re trying to get your baby to sleep through the night, your toddler to stop tantruming, your four-year-old to have impeccable table manners, or your tween to stop back-chatting, you are wasting your time. You are doomed to failure – why? Because what you’re expecting of them is not in line with their physical or neurological capabilities. Your will always feel like a failure and be overwhelmed with frustration when your attempts go awry repeatedly. The thing is, it’s not you, it’s not your child – rather it’s your expectations that are problematic. Understanding what behaviour is age appropriate is incredibly freeing.
4. Let go of some control.
You don’t need to uphold every boundary you ever think of with your children and it’s OK to be flexible with them if you need to. For instance, if you’re feeling exhausted and you would normally cap screen time at an hour, it really isn’t problematic to let it go on for an extra hour or two, if that time gives you some much needed rest. What can you do to make things a little easier for yourself right now?
5. If you feel the need to shout – go out!
I’m a huge fan of the healing properties of nature. Whatever the weather, put some appropriate clothing on you all and get outside. Go for a walk, jump in puddles, hit the local playground, or beach. Getting moving and getting outside helps to release endorphins and will help you all to be calmer.
6. Switch off the parenting advice.
Yes, this is incredibly ironic coming from me – but I find when parents are really struggling, they bury themselves in parenting advice. Out come the books, the videos, the discussion forums – begging for answers. But, actually, the more you rely on external experts (even me!), the more you disempower yourself and experience ‘over-analysis paralysis’. If you’re really struggling, my best suggestion is to ignore it all (yes, even me again!) – watch a funny movie instead of a parenting video. Read a great fiction book instead of a parenting book and stay well clear of social media (unless it’s catching up with friends and family who make you feel happy and valued).
7. Check the basics: Sleep, diet, and exercise.
This is a catch twenty-two, isn’t it? When we’re feeling rough, we tend to neglect ourselves. Our sleep goes to pot, we feel too lethargic to exercise and we tend to reach for the sugar and processed carbs. Trying to focus on getting these back on track a little can really help. Get moving, it doesn’t have to be an expensive class there are plenty of freebies online, check your essential nutrients (top of my list when I’m struggling with my mental health are B vitamins, sleep wise I’m extra aware of magnesium and if you’re feeling really wrung out physically keep an eye on your iron levels).
8. Find some support.
Do you have a good friend? relative? partner? or someone else you can offload to? What about an online support group (that makes you feel good about your parenting?), or a local group you can attend? If not, consider calling a national charity helpline (such as Samaritans). Having somebody to speak to and offload can really make an enormous difference.
More than anything else though – know you are not alone and, most importantly, know that ALL parents lose it at times, what matters most is how you repair any rupture with your children afterwards. Take some time to calm down, regroup and collect yourself and then apologise and reconnect. It’s not slipping up that’s the problem – it’s what happens afterwards that matters the most.
….and, if you’re reading this article, I’m pretty certain that you’re already a GREAT parent!
For lots more tips on understanding your emotions and actions as a parent – and how to be calmer -check out ‘How to be a Calm Parent’
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