Strategies for when you can’t walk away and cool down
We’ve all been there—in that moment of panic-rage-exhaustion before we explode at our children. Maybe they’re throwing food all over the just-cleaned kitchen or refusing to eat the food they demanded five minutes ago or pitching a fit in the grocery store or ignoring their homework responsibilities.
I know what happens in my body when I’ve simply had enough parenting, when I’m at a breaking point, when my children have cried or screamed or whined to the point where I am just done.
I feel the anger rising in my chest. I want to run away (but I can’t, of course, because I’m a Solo Mom). Inevitably, Monster Mom makes an appearance. I end up yelling at my kids and then I immediately feel guilty.
It’s an embarrassingly predictable cycle.
How can we manage those challenging moments as Solo Moms?
The most common advice on parenting websites is to take a break. Go outside. Breathe. Give the crying/screaming/whining kids to your partner while you take a walk around the block.
When there isn’t a partner to call in for parenting reinforcement, these moments build like the tension in a horror movie. So I’m just going to say this out loud: These parenting moments are way harder for Solo Moms—really, really, really freaking hard. But even though they are, the following suggestions can help.
Customize your own parenting emergency kit. You know the “in case of emergency” contact in your phone? The evacuation plan posted in your office building? The diaper bag you keep stocked with emergency snacks and toys to keep your kids occupied for 10 extra minutes when you’re out in public? I have one for myself during those terrible parenting moments.
Here’s what I’ve learned: my parenting moments from hell are way worse if I haven’t eaten or prioritized my own basic needs. So, much like I have done for the past several years to keep my children’s needs constantly fulfilled, I stock my purse with items I need to keep my cool when it feels like my kids are about to break me. Here’s what I keep on hand:
- A granola bar. If I haven’t eaten and have low blood sugar as a result, I basically have zero tolerance for whining children.
- Chewing gum. It helps reduce stress and anxiety.
- Essential oils. A quick inhale of mint or lavender works wonders for me. I dab some on my wrists and under my nose to help me relax.
- Headphones and a calming playlist. I download a soothing Spotify playlist to my phone so I can listen to it anywhere, in case of an emergency freak-out.
Brush up on the developmental stage your child is in. Sometimes stressed-out parents respond negatively to normal developmental needs from their children. I do it all the time. That’s why I find it really useful to pay attention to my children’s ever-changing developmental stages. Many times, when my kids have been particularly difficult, they’re entering a slightly different stage with slightly different needs, and I’m behind the eight ball and just haven’t realized it yet.
For example, age three can feel incredibly different from age three and a half—for both the parent and the child. When we remain aware of and engaged in those changes, we can approach our children’s needs and behavior with more empathy.
Make a plan. Count backwards. Take deep breaths. Recite a mantra. Put on a movie for the kids, and take a hot bath with the door closed. Whatever it is, have a plan. If it involves steps, write them down. My plan is stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnet.
Assess your stressors. Another thing I know about myself is that if I’m stressed about other things (such as work deadlines, bills, or an issue in my relationship), I have less patience with my kids.
It seems terribly obvious, but it took me awhile to notice how this manifests. Now, when I feel myself on the brink of a terrible parenting moment, I do a quick mind-audit of my immediate stressors. I ask myself, What else is going on right now? and I make a list. Usually (surprise!), most of my stress is not related to my kids, and just realizing that takes the edge off.
Try humor. Solo Mom life is totally ridiculous. It’s exhausting and serious and depressing—and sometimes it feels like it’s just too much for one person. But it’s also kind of hilarious. So sometimes, in those moments when the kids are throwing cornflakes on the floor or making a fort out of my carefully folded laundry, I choose to embrace the chaos. I choose to laugh. Laughing feels better than yelling anyway. And sometimes the kids start cracking up, too, and we all end up rolling around laughing in the laundry fort.
Apologize. Life is stressful. Parenting is hard, and solo parenting is really hard. Our kids will push our buttons. And although we should all strive to be as zen as possible and avoid blowing up at them, we’re going to have ugly parenting moments. We’re going to yell at our kids, and we’re going to feel like crap afterward. And then do you know what we do? When we are calm again, we apologize to our kids. We talk about what happened, why things went south, and what we can do to avoid blowing up in the future. It’s important that our kids know that people have limits and that if we mess up, we can always say “I’m sorry,” listen, learn, and try to do better.
What do you do when hit with one of those super-challenging parenting moments?
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