A few years back my friend’s 16 year old daughter was hospitalized due to complications of the flu and the next morning we were stunned to learn that her daughter had passed away.
It shook all of us to our cores because it was so sudden and even though I didn’t know my friend well at the time, we shared the bond of motherhood and all mothers grieve the loss of a child.
I have since grown closer to that friend and have had many heart to heart talks and watching her navigate her grief has been an ever-present reminder that we are never promised tomorrow.
But if I’m not careful, I can let that thought cripple my life until I am so riddled with guilt over how the day went that I feel like a complete failure as a mother. There is a balance between not taking moments for granted and letting that mindset rule your life. And even my friend will attest, it’s a fine line and a hard one to walk.
So what if we’re an overwhelmed mom who struggles with getting through the day? Do we just give up on that dream of having a good day? Do we forget that desire to have some normalcy in our lives? Or do we keep trying and hope for the best?
I am not an expert in this area nor have I arrived as a parent, but I DO know a thing or two about what it’s like to live as an overwhelmed mom. In fact, as much real estate as that has taken up in my head over the years, I could probably be the mayor, no problem.
But dealing with overwhelm on a near daily basis has also forced me to dig down deep and understand what it is, why it happens and how I can minimize it’s effects on my life and my family’s. And what I have learned has been life-changing.
Recognize the Problem
You know what problem I am referring to. The one that leaves us feeling guilty after the kids are asleep in their beds, with their peaceful, angelic faces that only a moment ago were whiny, tired and pushing us to our max. The same problem that raises our blood pressure every time we try to get out the door with kids in tow. The one that makes us lose our mind.
We all seem to experience it at some point in our lives, whether we parent little people or not. The dreaded word: overwhelm.
Admitting to ourselves that we are dealing with this problem is surprisingly hard to do. In this day and age we have adopted the mentality that we are supposed to have it all together and any show of weakness if unforgivable. But that thinking has only hurt us.
Maybe we look at our mothers and grandmothers and see all that they took on in their day and think, if they could do it, I should be able to, too. But without getting into the facts of why things are different now, we need to just accept that it’s true. It’s a completely different world than it was in their mothering days.
And if they were honest with themselves, they would agree, the dynamics of life when they were raising their children were different from when their own mother’s raised them. Life has evolved with every generation and will continue to do so until our own children are living in a world completely different from the one we are seeing today.
So once we understand this, we can start to breathe a little easier and give ourselves the grace we deserve. Because there are some things about being a parent that never changes and there are things that always change. If we find that what works for someone else doesn’t work for us, that’s OK. We are going to figure this out.
So the first thing we need to do is accept that overwhelm is part of our lives right now, give ourselves a little grace and the freedom to figure out what to do next.
Wipe the Slate Clean
Now that we have recognized what is going on in our lives, we need to take it one step further.
We need to address this problem with our family. We need to sit them down and have a heart to heart.
Our husbands and our children can see that we are struggling, they know us better than we know ourselves, sometimes. And as much as they want to make everything better for us, they won’t know how. If we take the time to express to them that we know we’re struggling, we are going to open up some serious lines of communication with them.
This is very humbling to do but essential. We need our family in our corner. They can give us strength and understanding that no one else can. Please don’t skip this step.
And remember, this is not just about us. When we do this, we are providing the most incredible example for them to follow in their own lives. That it’s OK to admit when we’re struggling or to ask for help or even admit we’ve been wrong.
Because when we struggle with being an overwhelmed mom, we are going to struggle with blowing our patience or simply losing our joy. Telling our families that we recognize the problem and are working on it will do amazing things for our relationship with them.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve asked my kids for forgiveness over the years and every time I have, they lovingly accept me, faults and all. And they make me want to try harder. They have quite literally made me a better mother. But if I tried to go it alone, I have no doubt I’d be a mess right now.
Learn Your Triggers
The one thing that has helped me most as an overwhelmed mom, is recognizing what sets me off. We all have triggers and they change over the years and with each stage of child-rearing.
In fact, they have changed with each pregnancy. Some of what bothered me with one child changed when I had three. (It really is amazing what making a human does to your own body, both physically and emotionally.)
Before kids, chaos was welcomed; I thrived in it. I was quite literally the ideal babysitter and I never lacked for jobs. It was nothing for me to have a house full of kids to babysit; the more the merrier. But now…I can barely survive my three, let alone anyone else’s kids. Ha!
My tolerance level for noise and activity have changed so drastically over the years that I hardly recognize myself at times. There came a time when I had to realize that I am not the same person I once was and need to stop putting myself in situations that are stressful.
That was so needed and has helped me tremendously. When I recognize my limits and stay within them, I am a much more patient person.
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Head Them Off
My kids have learned to recognize what their mom can and can’t handle. They know my limits with noise, crowds, etc. I have been very open with them in this area.
Some may see this as a weakness, but for me, their attention to this detail can be the difference between a good day or a bad one. If I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I only need to tell them and they give me the space I need. (I know this works best when kids are older but there are ways to de-stress even with younger children.)
- Retreat to a quiet room. When I tell our girls I need some time alone and head to my room, the house better be burning to the ground or someone bleeding before they knock on that bedroom door.
It’s not harsh, our children can survive just fine without us for 20 mins or so. If you have little ones, there is nothing wrong with setting them down to a movie or in their crib with toys so you can take a moment to yourself. Sometimes, a few minutes to breathe is vital.
- De-Stress This bottle of Zen Drops has been an amazing addition to our family. Not only does this help me “step back from the ledge” mentally, but it was a lifesaver for my daughter when she struggled with anxiety.
Maybe you have another means of relaxation. Taking a bath, perhaps? Or drinking a cup of coffee alone? Maybe eating a Snickers in a closet? Whatever works for you, have it on standby because you know you are going to need it and will be much happier if you can defuse the situation as soon as you see the trigger rearing its ugly head.
- Phone a Friend This one will have to be left to your capable judgment because we all know that picking up a phone can attract children to you like magnets. If you can go somewhere private, take full advantage of this lifeline.
Asking for help is probably the best thing you can do for yourself and your family. I don’t know a mom who has it all together, so why do we always feel the need to pretend we do? Leaning on another overwhelmed mom when we need a little help is what is going to get us through the hard times.
Once we have taken the time to find what triggers our overwhelm, the best means of averting a situation is prevention.
- If mornings are not your thing *hand raised* than prepare for your mornings the night before. Lay clothes out, pack lunches and prepare the coffee pot before heading to bed. I do not function properly the first hour I am awake so these tips keep things running smoothly for our family.
- If you find you are ALWAYS picking up after your children even when they are not home, don’t do it. That’s right. I found I was getting so frustrated with all the things three little girls could disperse in one day so instead of seething while I cleaned, I bought a decorative basket that I could keep on my stairs and anything I found that was theirs went into the basket. When the girls got home they had the basket to empty. Anything left by bedtime went in the trash. Simple. If you are firm with this, you’ll be amazed at the reduced amount of things left out and you won’t feel stressed while cleaning.
- Plan meals that are easy to make or can be made in advance and popped into the oven or crockpot before dinner. Prepare your meals while the kids are napping or in school. This will lessen the stress when you have a house full and everyone is vying for your attention. Besides, who doesn’t like to come home to hearty aromas of dinner?? Instant mood lifter!
- Keep a clean house. Picking up the night before or first thing in the morning will start your day off right. If my house is not clean, I am a perfect depiction of a frazzled mess. I NEED a clutter-free home in order to feel calm and relaxed. My Cleaning Packet has been SUCH a help with this!
- Plan a set time for homework, etc. If the days are nice, I usually let the kids play outside until dark. After dinner, they finish homework as well as practice their instruments. When the days are colder, they get those items out of the way immediately so we have the rest of the day to ourselves.
- Set the mood for bed. Turn off the TV; play soft music; light a candle; dim the lights; maybe give the kids a bath. (Unless you’re like me and bath time is stressful, then skip that last suggestion.) If you are setting the mood, the kids will know how to act accordingly. Having minimal noise in our home 30-60 minutes before bed makes a world of difference for everyone. I’m much calmer and the kids do not need to settle down for sleep because I already set that in motion earlier.
Find Your Focus
My friend has helped me with this so much and I’m sure she doesn’t even know it. When she remembers her daughter or talks about the wonderful memories they shared, it reminds me that the things I thought were so important, really aren’t. And some of the things that I see as most important now, weren’t getting my attention for a long time.
We live in such a fast-paced world that I find that even when I’m not in a hurry, I’m still hurrying. When my kids were young, I felt like I said “hurry up” more than any other phrase. And I hated it. At the end of the day I would promise myself to slow down more. I was constantly working on it.
Every young mom has heard the phrase “enjoy it while you can” and I’m telling you now, I HATED to hear it. Because I was TRYING to enjoy it. And I felt like something was wrong with me because the only time I could truly FEEL joy was when my kids were sleeping.
And that feeling was despicable to me. But it was the cold, hard truth. And I have learned it was the truth because I was often letting things have importance in our lives that just didn’t deserve it.
Like needing to have it all together. To always look presentable. To teach my kids “all the things” before they went to school.
I was constantly plagued with the fact I wasn’t feeding them properly, wasn’t having enough play dates, didn’t take them to the library enough, didn’t do crafts every day. All the noise from magazines, mom groups, experts, etc. who think they know best for every mom. And maybe they do. But I wasn’t able to live up to their standards.
And to be honest, seeing other moms doing all those things STILL give me anxiety to this day. I STILL struggle with regret that I wasn’t a better mom to my girls in their toddler years. But it was enough just to make it through the day. It was enough just to tap out at bedtime. And it was enough to get through the night without the crippling guilt keeping me awake.
To say I was an overwhelmed mom is an understatement. When my girls were young, I hit my limits. To my breaking point. Almost daily. It was enough just to survive. (I can thank Dixie for screwing up my physiology so badly.) 🙂 It took years after delivering her to feel “normal” again. So, believe me when I say “I’ve been there, done that and bought way too many t-shirts.”
When we are just surviving, we are not living and we most certainly are not enjoying life. So separating the noise from the heart of the matter is so very important. What are we putting emphasis on that doesn’t need to be a priority in our lives? What are we wanting to spend more time doing? These are things we need to figure out. Write them down, categorize them. We need to make ourselves accountable to ourselves.
One thing I have done that has helped tremendously is focusing on each of our daughters, one on one. Because doing things together was hard when they were little. My anxiety meter shot up far too quickly when I had three needing me at one time.
So I started taking one child with me on an errand, allowing both of us to focus on our relationship in a setting where I wasn’t getting overwhelmed. I also started taking them on dates individually. If money was tight, I would play a game of their choice while we had hot chocolate. I would let one child hang out with me in my room before bed so we could talk about our days without interruption.
These adjustments started changing our family a little at a time. I found that I could focus on what I wanted to focus on when I wasn’t an overwhelmed mom just trying to cope. I was actually enjoying motherhood DURING THE DAY! And the changes in our girls was unmistakable.
*Disclaimer* If you feel you might be struggling with Postpartum Depression, please talk with someone and see a doctor. No one should ever have to struggle with that alone!
This ties in pretty closely with the first point. But I also feel it’s worth mentioning again.
Most of what we feel as an overwhelmed mom is caused by triggers from outside sources. It is rarely something we set into place. But that doesn’t mean we don’t blame ourselves for each and every “failure” we experience in a day.
We need to get to the point where we stop with the blame game. It isn’t healthy and it does nothing to make things better. We need to forgive ourselves for what we consider are our short-comings and decide that we are going to take back control.
There came a point in my life where I decided to stop letting the guilt drown me and started asking God for strength for the new day. Then I would plan out in my mind what I could do differently to make the following day a better one.
Almost without fail, having something proactive to focus on instead of dwelling on what didn’t go right that day, bolstered me through the night. Then when I woke the next day, I set out to do what I purposed to do.
This doesn’t mean I never deal with overwhelm anymore, I just have several methods now that help me overcome it. Some days that’s easy to do, some days, not so much. But I keep at it because they work and my family is better because of it. I am better because of it.
This won’t happen overnight, but if you build upon your successes, eventually you’ll see the changes in yourself and in your family, just as I have mine. But they are worth the effort and so are you!
What are some triggers you deal with as an overwhelmed mom?
What are some things you want to focus on less to make room for what matters?
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About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.