If it were a competition, or a job – a marriage even – I’d say I give up; I quit; I want a divorce. But, of course, that’s not an option when I’m engulfed by SAHM burn out and feel like I can’t cope with my toddler.
Besides which, there’s an infuriatingly ironic paradox at play, because even if we could, we wouldn’t actually want to: the fervent, feverish desire for a break, once granted would immediately be replaced with the fervent, feverish yearning to have our babies within reach. Eurghh.
It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry if I Want To
Yesterday was my birthday and the morning was…not quite what I’d anticipated or hoped for. My daughter ruined my day. Is that harsh? It’s certainly how I felt during her relentless whining and combative behaviour.
I know she’s only three but that day of all days (which was carefully planned to be relaxed and – as ever – mostly about her) I was floored by her attitude; she definitely lived up to being a so-called ‘threenager’.
And I let myself down by taking it personally and, after several weeks’ build up to yesterday’s crescendo, I finally hit my hard limit.
We’ve seen consistently difficult behaviour recently which has been suggestive of heartbreaking jealousy and insecurity. Having discussed this and how we should tackle the issue, hubby and I had each planned special time with Pixie over the weekend. She and I were due to bake on Saturday morning (despite her excitement she sabotaged it); and she went to the woods with Daddy yesterday morning (after almost sabotaging it).
When they returned home from the woods, Pixie came to see me about an errant hair in her mouth. She does this regularly and I’ve learned how to sweep her tongue and remove the rogue hair. Only yesterday she claimed it was still there.
After much histrionics and crying, I ascertained that she had an itchy throat (she’s recovering from a cough); the hair was gone – but she didn’t believe me.
I Can’t Cope With My Toddler When She’s Like This!
This sounds so petty, and I guess it is. But she wouldn’t let it go and attempting to reason with her was futile. And this is how it has been. Relentlessly. All my usual tricks are met with contempt and I can’t do right for doing wrong, and she’s so fraught with fury over…well, I just don’t know. But it’s exhausting – I’m exhausted.
I guess it’s relevant that I’m also sleep-deprived, and dealing with a CMPA baby. The colic has been hideous, the stress and anxiety that accompany managing allergies has left me overwhelmed, so a typical three year old on top – and I know all of this is, essentially, normal – has completely drained me.
I. Am. Spent.
My go-to techniques to cajole her out of her bad mood failed spectacularly. Distraction with snacks (she gets ‘hangry’, just like me!), a drink – even technology: no dice. I pulled out the big guns, and the offer of a book was also disdainfully rebuffed.
Things had just got serious, and I was in real trouble. I needed some novel ideas for coping mechanisms when I can’t cope with my toddler – because I was close to breaking point.
In desperation I turned to the group I rely on for non-judgemental advice. Not for suggestions of approaches to her behaviour – because I don’t expect anyone to reason with the unreasonable. No, I was looking for strategies to simply get through it when I just can’t. My fellow parenting blogger pals didn’t let me down.
Edit: I’ve come out the other side! Phew. Of course, new challenges present themselves every day, and I’m now going through similar challenges with my youngest. But I am now able to offer some advice of my own:
Tips For Preventing SAHM Burn Out
1. You can’t pour from an empty cup
Prioritise self-care when you do have the opportunity, so that you’re better equipped for the difficult moments.
2. Get outside!
A change of scenery, space to expel energy, and being surrounded by nature are paramount to their and your mental health. This should be daily, or a soften as possible, for as long as possible.
3. Connect, connect, connect!
Since those dark days, I’ve learned that over and above all else, when kids are acting out, they’re not giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time. We’ve all heard the saying, but remaining mindful of it and embracing it are game changers.
When you’re facing regular challenges with your little one, it’s their way – the only way they know how – of letting you know that they have an underlying need which is not being met. Children want to please their parents. When they’re secure and content, this is apparent in the behaviour they exhibit; if that’s not happening, it means there are some big feelings going on for them which they’re unable to articulate or manage.
If we can take a step back, observe their behaviour objectively, identify patterns and recognise what they’re struggling with – not easy, I know! – then we can begin to fix the problem.
This all starts with connection and empathy rather than butting heads or getting in a negative and ultimately destructive cycle.
Naturally, this is all easier said than done, and more of an overarching approach to parenting than a strategy for in-the-moment burn out. Which is also critical sometimes, so…
SAHM Burn Out Strategies
Back to the tips I was fortunate to be given by my support network.
N.B. whereas I usually remove the informal part of people’s comments for posts like this, I’m leaving them in to share the wonderful support I received from the community.
My husband works evenings so doesn’t see the boys after school at all as he isn’t back till after they’re in bed. I sometimes let them play on his PlayStation for an hour just so I can sit in the kitchen with a coffee and a chocolate bar (or 2) in peace.
I used to put both children in a safe place, making sure they couldn’t hurt themselves or each other and then go and stand in the kitchen and drink a cup of tea. When I’d calmed down, I would go back in and start again.
This is me more than half of the time (ok most of the time) – one thing that I do when I’m losing the plot and feel like I’m turning into a shouty mum is actually start to whisper…you’ll be surprised how many times this makes your 3 yr old start being quiet so they can hear what you’re saying.
Sometimes I put Charlotte in her bouncer and tell Arthur that we are doing an exercise activity together – then I will lie down on the floor and get him to do the same and I’ll show him how to breathe really slowly whilst lifting my arms up and down (helps to calm us both down).
Usually I just go and stick the kettle on and send a passive aggressive message to my husband about how much I do, how I can’t cope and how he needs to help me more. x
Sandy Toes and Scooters:
God this is familiar. I usually try either sticking some Cosmic yoga (on YouTube) on the iPad and doing it with them if I have to or sneaking into the kitchen if I can get away with it, putting some of my favourite music on and tuning out for a bit, or forcing myself to take them outside. It’s bloody hard. Sending wine xxx
Sending you hugs Kate!
I do tea and biscuit time. My boys love it; I have a cup of tea and we share a plate of biscuits which they dunk in my tea. Even Essie has started having the odd hobnob too now! By the time we’ve finished they’ve forgotten what they were arguing about and I’ve had five minutes peace and quiet while they munch so feel a bit calmer.
When they were babies I used to cry in the downstairs toilet for five minutes. Now I just laugh maniacally and count down to wine time.
Wishing you wine and peace.
Oh I’ve been there, SO many times and it’s hard.
My go to’s to bide me some time till I can actually get some respite either when my OH comes home or they go to bed is either getting out. A change of scenery definitely helps the mind, nothing crazy just a simple park trip.
Or, if all else fails, hide in the loo for five minutes to gather my composure. Sometimes five minutes is all it takes.
I think my response is that I don’t cope… I might feel like I should be able to (why do we do that to ourselves?) and I may sob and drag my weary mind and body through the motions of doing everything that needs to be done, but I wouldn’t say that’s what I’d call coping. And realising that it’s completely normal to feel like everything is out of control and I just want a damn break helps a lot.
I know that doesn’t really help in any way, it’s just I think we put so much pressure on ourselves to hold our sh*t together, when really it’s okay to feel broken by it. (Not that it’s okay you feel broken, I mean it’s okay because is is NORMAL!)
And then I do everything I can to make it easier on myself – I feel less guilty about getting O to watch something on his tab while I watch a programme that makes me feel better on my laptop as we snuggle in bed together. I can be close to him without having to watch inane kids programmes! And I feel less guilty about feeding him the easiest meal I can come up with and leaving the kitchen a mess to be sorted when I have help later on. And so on and so forth. Realising I don’t have to have it all together helps me so much…
Quite simple: I send my 4 year old to her room. She knows when I’m serious and this would be one of those moments. She does go up, cries, then gets distracted and plays. I get either time alone or the baby gets a break from her being a wind up merchant.
Ohhhh reading all this has made me feel so much less alone! (Harriet published a post talking about similar feelings – check it out here.)
I feel like a shouty mum, all the time. My mum tells me I’m a shouty mum, like a fish wife! I think a significant amount of the time I put too much pressure on myself. I try to take the kids for a bath and sit on my kindle whilst they play in the tub… or I put a movie on and hide in the kitchen.
White Bells Photography:
I completely feel you! It gets easier as they get older but for the most part I take them out as often as possible even if it’s just to a friend’s and definitely surrounding yourself with a variety of mum friends helps.
When we’re stuck indoors I allow them a lot more tablet time but I make sure I spend random bursts of about 20 minutes with them playing games, reading or baking. Only for as long ad their attention span will keep them! Sometimes parenting can be so isolating. We need a coffee date to discuss it.
I sometimes put the tv or iPad apps on for them whilst I go lie down in the bedroom in the dark. Occasionally screaming into the pillow to let it out!
This Too Shall Pass…
By the time I’d armed myself with fresh ideas to try, things had taken a turn for the worse: Pixie had her biggest meltdown to date yesterday morning. Happy birthday to me. Of course my greatest fear at this point is that I now have an elevated level of tantrum to contend with as her new ‘normal’ – and that terrifies me.
But, obviously, we’ll navigate this phase just as all parents navigate every difficult phase – and I’m sure some of the brilliant suggestions above will prove invaluable.
My great thanks to the lovely ladies who contributed some words of wisdom and encouragement when I most needed them. I took comfort from their support yesterday, and I hope you will too in your desperate moments – because, let’s face it, we all have them!
How do you manage when you have those ‘I can’t cope with my toddler’ moments? If you have any novel suggestions to add please comment below!