I’m guessing that at one point or another, you’ve become overwhelmed while parenting. It’s not that you don’t love your kids, but let’s face it, they know how to push your buttons. Your sweet toddler has suddenly become a lawyer and can argue anything you say. Your daughter is upset because you won’t let her eat her crayon. Your son removes his shoes and cries because they are not on his feet. Yep, parenting is exhausting.
It’s really easy to get overwhelmed in the midst of doing your daily tasks, working, taking care of the house, being a present partner, and trying to be the best parent in the world. When we get overwhelmed, it’s usually a signal that we are overloaded, trying to do too much, and our resources are becoming depleted. If you don’t find a way to cope with overwhelm, there are going to be some unhealthy consequences. It might be blowing up at your kid or partner, yelling at the top of your lungs, internalizing, blaming yourself, or feeling like a failure.
Here are some quick tips for overcoming parenting overwhelm:
Be Mindful of the Signs of Overwhelm
What are the triggers that you’re beginning to get stressed and overwhelmed? Use the red light/green light system. When things are running smoothly, what do you notice? Perhaps your house is free from clutter, you get to work on time, you don’t experience bodily pain, you’re eating right and exercising. This is your green light. Now, what does it look like when you are overwhelmed? You have clothes all over your house, you’re eating out every meal, you don’t do your hair, and your mail is piled up. This is your red light. The idea is that you start to notice small things that are moving you from green to red – your yellow light. Maybe for you, that could mean that your dishes haven’t been put away for a week. When you notice something that you’ve put in the yellow light category, you know it’s time to do something that will prevent you from moving into red light territory.
It’s ok to be skeptical about this. I was before I became a therapist and understood the real benefit of deep breathing. Yes, it’s a time to calm down and rest our minds, which is super helpful. But the science behind it is even more convincing. When we feel stressed or anxious, we start using shallow breathing, which comes from the chest and prevents oxygen from getting to the brain and other organs. Breathing from the diaphragm helps clean oxygen get to the brain, improves circulation, and allows our prefrontal cortex (the problem solving and critical thinking part of the brain) to turn back on and work effectively. You can literally think more clearly. Watch this video to see how it works.
Acknowledge your Progress
One of the other things that happens when we get overwhelmed is we start to make mistakes in the way we think. We generalize, we make things bigger than they are, we think in terms of “always” and “never”. So when our toddler is throwing a temper tantrum in the kitchen, we start thinking that they’re always going to be this difficult, we’ll never have a relaxing day again, they’re going to be badly behaved kids forever, they’ll never do well in school, the teacher will judge us, and we’ve failed as parents. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but this is the general thought process that takes place for many parents. We pretty much always come to the conclusion, consciously or not, that we’re failures as parents – that we’re not good enough. So in these moments of stress, first acknowledge that you’re becoming overwhelmed. Secondly, be kind to yourself. Parenting is freaking hard, and this moment is frustrating. That’s ok. Finally, make notes of the progress you have made. You’ve become more flexible as a parent, more patient, more confident; you know more about your kid than you did a year ago, and you have infinitely more parenting skills than when you started. You’re doing great, even though this moment is hard.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out as a parent, you will want to check out this parenting workshop. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I get asked all the time about effective discipline techniques, as well as how to get on the same page as your co-parent. So I teamed up with my colleague, Melanie Graves, LMFT to create an interactive and fun workshop where you can learn new parenting skills in a non-judgmental environment. Check it out and register at parentwithpurposetx.com.