How do you handle it when you hit parenting overwhelm?
“Cut yourself some slack!”
This luminous advice came from the bestie who was at the receiving end of my distraught rant.
I had hit parenting overwhelm. Like any parent, I have always tried to do the right thing by the child. Ticking boxes of academics, learning support, extracurriculars, leisure activity, outings – to the point that when night fell, I hit the crash button. And this was the routine – wake up, repeat, crash – to the
point my entire being rebelled.
I knew it was coming. For the longest time. It had been building up for months, even years. My body showed signs. The mind, wear and tear. Then finally the emotional unravelling. I knew how the cycle went. Difficult moments are part of any parenting journey. Only I tagged on others on the ride. Impatience at sluggish responses. Anger at the child for misbehavior/not listening. Guilt at oneself for losing it. Bleak anguish and frustration that lingered long after anger was vented. Topping it all with self-reproach that I didn’t measure up.
It is startling how aware I was through the cycle of anger, knew how it came from a place of depletion and still did nothing about it saying – ‘Where was the time?’ Anger snowballed into rage I’d never thought myself capable of. When I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore, I reached out to my best friend.
She heard me in disbelief, then gave me a hearty dressing-down for holding myself to some lofty, utopian ideal of parenting. I had worked myself into a frenzy trying to be this exemplary parent who wanted to kind and loving and cool and fun and fill the child’s bag with the wonders of the world. I strove to be the wind beneath the child’s wings. And expected the child to keep up to my speed.
Something had to change.
“Kids need a happy mother. Not a perfect one.” remarked my friend. That feedback cleaned the mist on my lens. It became a starting point for inner work. Today, with small, committed changes, I’ve gratefully uncoiled from that self imposed, inexorable space I had latched myself into.
I worked on the following areas to reset myself. And I hope you too will find these frames handy for reference in your own parenting journey.
The Internet is a great medium of learning, expression and connection. However, the encroachment of social media in our daily lives and the narratives it feeds us is real. It has created spaces whose boundaries we need to define and navigate. For our degree of engagement can become our degree of vulnerability.
Today we’ve inherited narratives like the supermom – the accomplished diva who wears many hats and pulls off every single item with an aplomb that would put Houdini to shame. Other storylines perpetuated by brand marketing and social media include being the numero uno and the pursuit of the good life. The messaging is constantly one of competition and discontent with what we are or
We have internalized these narratives far deeply than we realize. Our inner space is so cranked up trying to stay on top of the game in every sphere that we eventually barter away authenticity in the process.
I had tried to be a super parent to the point it no longer became sustainable, even with the best intent.
It would be a good thing to periodically assess one’s own stance vis-à-vis media/social media messaging – the degree of validation we seek, the extent to which we apply social media filters and narratives in our own lives, and how we define our sense of self-worth.
Our authenticity as human beings first and as parents/teachers would automatically distil the same in our children.
If there is a Grammy for a universal refrain, it would be – I don’t have enough time. I wish there were more hours in a day.
Our days are choc-a-bloc with activity – errands to attend, chores to finish, and yet when night falls, we wonder where the day has vanished.
Somewhere, this also has to do with the shift in the way we have come to perceive time. As a generation, today we are living lives where quality is equated with productivity.
Productivity means compartmentalizing time into neat little boxes that would be Marie Kondo’s delight. When overdone, this becomes a trap. One begins to tick off lists in a manic sort of way. One doesn’t know what to do with empty time. And unfinished tasks can set in motion an acute sense of inadequacy.
Incompleteness, rather than fulfilment, now becomes our measure of self-worth and capability.
How do we reclaim time?
Schedules and routines are good. They lend structure to the day. Plans, goals and meta-goals are also important. They lend direction to our lives. But we needn’t rush to fill every void with activity, a snare I fell into in all my parenting earnestness. Doing nothing doesn’t equate with wasting time. It’s important and restorative to savor time with zero agenda, to celebrate be-ing, rather than do-ing.
Take the nap. Play a game of snake and ladders. Make paper boats.
We need this reminding, since we have forgotten the joys of leisure. And not just in a feel-good mindful way. The benefits of downtime on brain health are plentiful, as research indicates.
A consistent hour or two of downtime everyday can definitely scale up the quality of our lives.
Self-care is self-nurturing to protect the integrity of who we are, beyond our roles. It is the place where we access our highest, deepest, fullest selves.
How self-care translates in our day-to-day lives can vary from nutritious meals/fitness, a book in hand, a retreat into nature, journaling/doodling, to the pursuit of one’s hobby/degree/passion/life’s calling.
A good self-care routine takes into account all-round aspects of one’s wellbeing. And it’s imperative, especially for Homemakers/SAHMs, to find time for self-care every single day. No compromising here. Because daily routines can quickly domino into a marathon of chores, if unchecked with sufficient inner replenishment.
From my own experience, self-care should be scheduled early on in the day. What we intake during this hour or two becomes the seed for the day. Self-care should never be a remnant of the day’s tasks. No ticking off lists and then rewarding oneself at the end of the day. Because, at the end of the day, the only reward we are likely to give ourselves in mind-numbing phone scrolling, channel hopping or Amazon shopping.
Self-care is not merely downtime. Nor is it the Instagrammable coffee date/spa bath/binge shopping. Those serve as occasional rewards, but eventually address only the symptoms and not the causes for exhaustion.
It took chronic burnout for me to realize how routines without self-care become non-sustainable. And how, in the absence of calibration with my inner self, I sent the spiral of unhappiness spinning outward.
To every parent/teacher/SAHM – Self-care is a denominator, not a variable. Be in touch with yourself. It’s non-negotiable and sacred. Self-nourishment is the compass to navigate a messy day and keeps you rooted in perspective. When you practice consistent, committed self-care, you will find yourself reacting less and responding more to life’s triggers. This is one investment critical not only for your whole self but for also being a wholesome parent. You don’t want overwhelm to spill and percolate to your children.
It’s important to have people who cheer and inspire you but it’s mighty important also to have folks who keep you grounded. Surround yourself with friends who provide a soundboard for your thought processes, can listen and dissect your emotions without judgment, and help you see light when you find yourself stuck. I had the blessing of such a friend(s) to whose prudence and wisdom I owe this
Note to the Working Parent: Your office is not just a place of work. It is also a place where you get the sense of doing things you love, accomplishments, praise, reward, chitchat, small talk, networking and making connections. It’s a place that boosts your sense of self-worth and quite fulfils the higher order requisites of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs – Love and Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualization.
It would be well worth the effort to take cognizance of how well your SAH partner is getting higher order needs met, given the radius of her/his role.
As parents, we want to do right by our children. Give them the best education, exposure, learning opportunities and values.
It’s also important that, after a certain age, children get to see the parent as a whole being. The angry parent, the tired parent, the vulnerable parent, the human parent.
In fact, how we navigate our messy emotions as parents transforms to vivid, hands-on opportunities for children on how to navigate theirs. To know it’s ok to make mistakes but that we apologize, acknowledge and address what caused the anger/mistake in the first place.
Emotions are not good or bad in themselves. Anger and sorrow and frustration and guilt only call to attention what is lacking/needs filling.
And this sort of clarity can come only when we heal our own unhealed spaces with courage and consistency.
And so I say to you – “Cut yourself some slack! Go fill your cup first.”
About the Author
The Bodhi Sprite
A sentient being in the pursuit of excellence. Mindful parenting is their passion and practice. Favourite haunts - books, music, cups of tea and a strolling imagination. Favourite quote - “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."