At the End of Your Rope
What do you do when you are at the end of your rope?
You know, the point where you can't take it any more and lash out at your baby or child. And then, feel terrible because, your child is only a child, doing childish things, and doesn't deserve to be the object of your anger.
There are unlimited opportunities to lose your cool.
Babies and children need a lot of attention. They require regular feeding, clean clothes, a roof over their head and medical attention on a regular basis. As a parent, you are the one who does all this for them.
And to make things worse, kids need so much interaction.
They will also demand it from you. Even if it's negative attention, your kids will dig into the tenderest places under your skin just to get your undivided attention. Even though you know this is why it is happening, you often cannot stop yourself. You find yourself snapping back. Or yelling. Or screaming at your child. And you see yourself doing it and you feel simultaneously ashamed and powerful.
That anger is a sign that something needs to shift.
It is not because anger is bad. Anger is just a sign that you are scared, hungry, tired or overwhelmed. It's how you use it. Anger is powerful and effective when used to set limits and boundaries. It's best when used in a clear and kind way.
When you lose it, though, you have to be the one who stops it.
You have to recognize the signs that you are getting overwhelmed and nearing the end of your patience. It's time to take a time-out, call for backup and calm yourself before you say or do something hurtful.
Nobody has the power to make you behave badly.
Its a choice you make. It's a habit often learned from your parents--a default setting when you are overwhelmed and need a break.
What causes overwhelm, and more importantly, how can we reduce or minimize it?
Four biggest contributors of overwhelm are in the acronym, H.E.L.P. Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired.
Hunger. It may seem impossible to believe that in a world where you are making food for your little ones a bajillion times a day, that you could be hungry. Yet, here you are nibbling on their leftover sandwiches.
Anger is easier to understand because babies and children are needy, not very articulate and meltdown in hysterics when you don't understand them. This triggers many people's anger. You may want to explode, but rage worsens every situation. It hurts other people's feelings and makes babies and children feel scared and hurt. Many of us were raised in families where anger was used to control others. It creates families where people are walking on eggshells to avoid another blast.
Loneliness. Who has never felt lonely in their life? Whether you are going hours or days without being able to share your feelings or talk to another adult, you can go a little lulu. Most moms feel overwhelmed when they have to listen, entertain babies and children and problem solve at the child's level without any adult interaction. We all need camaraderie in the trenches of motherhood.
Tired is the baseline of parenting. Even if your baby or child is a wonderful sleeper, they get sick and they have nightmares. Other nights, you can't sleep, you worry and so on. Even when you do sleep enough, you can feel drained from endless laundry, endless crying and whining and repetitive rounds of "Why?" and "Mom-mom-mom!"
So, sometimes...you can't take it anymore.
You have stretched yourself a little thin and something in you snaps! You find yourself yelling the same dumb things your mother said to you.
And, you feel ashamed. And, you don't know what to do about it or how to stop yelling at your poor child. As much as you thought they deserved it in the moment, you can remember what it was like be yelled at and feel guilty because you want better for your child.
The solution to overwhelm.
Many time when overwhelm happens, there is a time crunch involved. If we remove the deadline, the overwhelm evaporates. In the heat of the moment, ask yourself, "What happens if there's no deadline? What if we take more time to do this? What if we stop and try again another time?"
If that's not possible, close your eyes, breathe deeply, count to 10. Remember you as a child and rephrase what you were about to say. You have time. Getting angry wastes more time than we realize.
- When you are always angry, it's a sign that you need help. Not necessarily mental help, although that is helpful. You need some domestic help. Someone to help do chores and take care of the kids so you can sleep, shower alone, go to yoga, walk or just sit in peace to recharge your energy. If you haven't yet, give your partner a list and tell them you need time off to recharge. (Buying groceries alone doesn't really qualify as 'time off.') Sometimes chronic anger means that we are not good with setting clear limits on our time, good nature or responsibilities. We give too much physically, mentally or emotionally without refueling.
- Moms need friends, dad need friends, and kids need friends. A friend is someone who can see our life as we see it, listen to our stories and offer support and empathy. Before kids, you may have been happy with having casual acquaintances and your partner. You also had time to pursue your hobbies and other enjoyable things. Now, your kids are your work, your hobby and your everything. Without friends, you may feel like you are in a deep funk. When we feel connected, we don't feel lonely. Friends can be found at Café Mama, the playground, the park, and the library. Be a friend. Ask to exchange phone numbers! You need a friend with kids. You can hang out at each other's houses and watch each other's kids for an hour or two.
- If you are hungry, eat or drink something. Think of 3 or 4 foods that you can eat any time or anywhere and keep them stashed in your car, purse and at home. Emergency food doesn't have to be terribly nutritious. Its purpose is to get you over a hump until you can have a real meal. Granola bars, nuts, chips, powdered energy shakes, fruit, cheese sticks, crackers, even a candy bar will buy you some time and calm the hangries.
- Routine is a positive word for monotony and there is a sweet spot between the two. Having routines makes your children's life predictable for them and easier for you, giving you more time to pay attention to them. Variety is the spice of life and routine is the meat and potatoes. too much of one or the other is exhausting. Eating chicken nuggets four nights in a row makes me want to snap, but I appreciate the simplicity of shaking ready to eat pieces onto a tray, so that we can still eat before the kids melt down.
- Simplify. Your kids don't need so many activities or possessions. They need your attention. Owning toys is a responsibility that contributes significantly to overwhelm. It's a bargain we make with our kids. "If I buy you this, will you leave me in peace?" At the moment of purchase or giving, the child has your undivided attention. It's a sweet moment. But they don't want the toy as much as they want that sweet moment of YOU, and them, and the toy together, forever. Activities whether for enrichment or fun can also contribute to overwhelm. You need some, but you don't need activities every day. Create a home that's for relaxing, recharging and connecting with each other rather than a place to change clothes and grab a snack before heading out to your next activity.
Anger is a force for cleansing and creating powerful change.
It is also a hurtful, damaging force when used incorrectly. Overcoming unhealthy anger habits requires new skills that you can learn through being mindful, in therapy and in anger management classes. Anger management classes are offered for free through places like your county health department. They aren't just for people with anger problems, they are for anyone wanting to live a more positive, fulfilling life through a positive use of anger.
My love to you and your family....