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Family Matters

When Parenting Becomes Overwhelming

March 14th, 2013

By: Jennifer Walsh

I have been struggling to do much of anything these days as I have been feeling extremely sleep deprived. My three month old has recently decided he is hungry every one to three hours during the night. It makes for plenty of trips into the nursery... literally, as I stumble with my eyes half-open over piles of dirty laundry.

How does one keep their cool when they are tired, stressed, or just generally run-down?

There are just two things you need to remember when that thermostat in your head starts to rise:

1) You are the adult!

2) This child trusts you!

There are several strategies that we can learn about and use when we try to keep children calm, or when we want them to do something. What about strategies for ME? Here are some things I do when parenting seems overwhelming.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

You know those piles of laundry I trip over in the night? They haven't been there forever, and they won't be there forever. Right now, it is just not a priority. I would prefer to go for a walk in the afternoon, just to get out of the house. My children are fed, they are happy, and my laundry can wait.

One day Jonah (the three month old) needed extra snuggles during the day. I was nursing him while my 17 month old, Micah, played. In his ventures, Micah came across a Kleenex box that I had failed to put out of his reach. He spent a good 20 minutes taking tissues, one at a time, from the box in the living room into the kitchen. Yes, these cost money, yes I needed to clean up when he was done, but for that moment, for those precious 20 minutes, rather than chasing him from one activity to another while trying to feed a baby, I just watched him play and relaxed knowing he was safe and happy, and I didn't need to move.

Take a Break

Well-meaning people have told me to "nap when the baby naps". Have these people ever had children? My toddler never slept longer than 40 minutes at a time until he was four months old. In fact, he often didn't sleep more than 40 minutes during daylight hours at all. Now with two children and that much more laundry, more tears, more feeding, really more everything, who has time to nap? That being said, I always try to find time for breaks. Just sitting and reading a book to the boys can be relaxing. The other day, I took them both outside to the front walk, Micah with a bucket of side-walk chalk and Jonah in his bouncy chair. I love getting in and playing with Micah, but this day, I just sat on the stairs and watched. I had a bottle of water, bare feet, and sunshine. It was a favourite relaxation moment of the summer.


When things get overwhelming during the day and I haven't slept and the boys won't nap, one thing that I do is put the blinders on to my dirty dishes, piles of laundry and the defrosting chicken that never will be cooked that night. Instead I sit down with my son, and I play. We read books, tickle belly buttons and most importantly, go outside to dig in the dirt. Nothing occupies my son more than being outside with the rocks and dirt. I love to get right in there with him and get dirty. If not relaxing in the physical sense, it is at least a great way to compose myself.

Get Involved

Being on maternity leave, I make a point of being with other moms at least once a week. I have a few options. There is a play group in my small town where moms just get together and have coffee once a week while the children play. In the city nearby I try to get out to the "Breastfeeding Support Group". This consists of a group of moms who all breastfeed and are offered support by local health nurses, but more than that, we are all at home with our children every day. It is a great outlet. This group even tries to get out for a "girl's night out" about once a month (a secondary benefit to getting involved).


These are three ideas that work for me, and I hope that you will find them helpful as well. Just remember this: It is never a sign of weakness to ask for help. And if you find that you are having more rough days than good ones, perhaps there's more than just lack of sleep or a busy schedule affecting you. Do not shy away from talking to your doctor about your feelings.

Jennifer Walsh is an early childhood educator at Red Deer College.

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