Wednesday, October 20, 2010

For Mothers with Babies and Young Children: It will get easier

A comment on facebook, made by a mother with young children about my Stop Yelling post, caught my attention.  The feelings of frustration and desperation, combined with the feeling that there was no answer to the situation, were painfully familiar.  I was reminded of how desperate, trapped and depleted I felt for years when my girls were young.  If you are a mother living in survival mode right now please know, you are not alone.  It does get less intense, you will get more sleep, and you will get to go to the bathroom alone.  If you are a parent or grandparent or guardian of any kind who is feeling over whelmed by the needs of the children in your life and you cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel please hold on.  Tell yourself you only have to get through this one moment at this time, and then you can face the next moment.  You are not alone.   

When I was living in survival mode, see Personal Lack for the story of what my life was like then, I couldn't see a way out.  I did not feel that there were any resources, that I had any options, that I could do anything to change the situation.  When you are parenting three children ages 4, 16 months and 1 month, just nursing and changing diapers consumes the day.  I did not have a single friend who was inclined to come over for a visit, much less help.  My husband was gone all day and several nights a week for work and classes.  Our only car went with him.  These are years of my life that I barely remember.  Dishes regularly grew moldy on the counter.  The laundry lived in a pile on the couch.  I think I mopped our tiny kitchen floor twice in two years.  Because I lived in survival mode for so many years, and was not one of those mythical Super Moms who manages to have a clean house, and children, too, I did not think I had much to share about the early years of motherhood.  I was wrong, I need to share because you need to know that my family survived those years and yours will, too.

I also need to share because those of you who no longer have small children need to be reminded that mothers do not stop needing support when their baby reaches 6 weeks of age.  We need to reach out because often an exhausted mother is not going to ask for help.  We need to bring over a meal or take the older kids to the park, we need to stop by for a visit and wash the sink full of dishes while we chat.   We need to stop thinking we are too busy with our own lives and figure out what kind of helping we do best.  Do you like to cook, or clean, or cuddle a baby so mom can take a shower?  Do you have the resources to send over takeout?  Do you have a teen or tween who would be happy to be a mother's helper for a few hours each week?

When you are are living in survival mode, exhausted, depleted and possibly suffering from depression, all advice sounds trite, impossible or just plain insensitive.  No matter how ridiculous someone's advice may sound, ask yourself if there is some small way to apply it to your life.  Remember, it will get easier.  Little by little, in ways so small you may not notice them at first, things will get easier.  When you feel like all you do is meet other people's needs, clean up messes, wash dishes, make food, wash more dishes and wash laundry, stop for a moment.  Take a deep breath, exhale just as deeply, then take another deep breath.  Ask yourself what small thing you can do for yourself.

Here are some ideas:

*Eat chocolate.
*Ask for help: call a friend, post of facebook, text someone; be honest about how you are feeling and what you need.
*Take your vitamins.
*Buy food that only has to be heated, even if you think it is something you can't afford:  frozen french fries, pizza, ravioli, desserts.
*Keep fruit frozen in the freezer so it is easy to blend up a smoothie when you realize you have forgotten to feed yourself.
*Put on music that you love.

Look for ways that you can nurture yourself and your children at the same time:

*Get everyone out of the house for a walk, even if you only make it to the corner and back.
*Grab a pile of books and some snacks and spend time reading and cuddling in a pile.
*Let your children watch movies for as long as they want.
*When your children are doing crafts get creative with them.
*Tell yourself three things you love about each of your family members.
*Remember that food is food and ice cream for breakfast is just fine, as are popcorn and apples for dinner, or pancakes for lunch.
*Use a slow cooker/crock pot so that dinner can be prepared earlier in the day when you may have more energy.

When you have dishes in the sink, laundry on the couch, toys all over the floor, and at least one mess to clean up that you would rather not mention out loud, remember, you are not alone.  Take a deep breath, eat some chocolate, put on some music and go dance with your children, the mess can wait at least until the end of the song.         


  1. Excellent post and I enjoy the chocolate solution and the food is food part, well everything but esp. those. I remember I had to make pancakes for dinner once and felt guilty because that's all we had left to eat before we had any more money. Kids love fun and different stuff like that and don't expect what you often expect of yourself (if that makes sense). :)

  2. I have a 2 year old and a 4.5 year old and we are having a "Land Before Time" movie morning, and I've got my secret chocolate stash in the kitchen. Very good advice! It is getting easier. I don't drive either, and husband is gone a lot. The double stroller is AWESOME. Another piece of advice I have: if things like going to the library and the museum and all those other things kids are "supposed" to do are too difficult, you really can put it off for a few years and they'll still have many years of enjoyment in the future. There are many little dreams I've had to let go or put off, and it's made day-to-day life better and gives us something to look forward to.

  3. What an inspirational piece of writing. I'm a childbirth educator, and your post resonates with my own personal experience (four kids) and watching new parents immerse themselves into the relentlessness of early parenting.

    I'm wondering if you would allow me to print up your post and (with credit and a link to your blog of course) share it with my classes? (

  4. Laura, thanks for mentioning the double stroller! We had a double umbrella stroller and it rain or shine it helped us get to the story time once a week at the elementary school, the only activity w/in walking distance.

    Lizch, of course you may print up my post :)

  5. Thank you for mentioning music. It's like a lifeline for me -- and I know that for the first 6 months or even more of Meagan's life I hardly listened to any of the music I love. I'm not sure why... but definitely, turn on the music!!

  6. This is amazing! Thank you, thank you! Two days ago my facebook status was "I seek to find the light at the end of this tunnel." My friend sent me the link to your post and oooohhhhh I feel so much better. Thanks for your honesty. I have a million dishes to do and the neverending pile of laundry sitting on the couch. It really does feel like you're the only one living like this sometimes. We moms ought to share more of our imperfections. Again, thank you so much.

  7. Jenna, this was such a poignant post, one I think many of my mama organizing clients would be grateful to hear. May I link to it and talk about it on my blog? I'm a professional organizer who works with mamas who feel a lot of shame and frustration about the state of their house.

  8. Mary Jo, I would love for you to share this with your clients. :)

  9. Thanks for this piece, Jenna. It really helpful for me today - one of the ones where nursing my baby and feeding the four big kids was all I could manage. Now that my eldest two are 6 and 7.5, it's definitely a glimpse into a future that is very different than my present reality. Parenting them has shifted into a different dynamic, and I just have to hold on to the faith that none of them stay babies, or toddlers, or preschoolers. The school years bring new challenges, sure -- but THIS season will come to an end. I've dialed back my outside commitments (and unfortunately, with it, some social interaction) and started taking better care of my nutrition and dealing with any nutritional deficits acquired over these recent years of childbearing and breastfeeding. All good starts, but accepting the reality of these early, intense parenting years on a minute-to-minute basis is vital. It doesn't look like a glossy parenting brochure! LOL But it's so worth it.

  10. I just wanted to add a little. I have 6 children, my baby is turning 21 on Thanksgiving. I had some years of raising my 3 oldest children alone, and some memories of desperate moments. Some days we had pancakes, but in my growing up years we did too. My twins and then my youngest came when I had children old enough to help a bit and a wonderful husband that would get up in the night with me to take care of the twins even though he had to go to work. One of the silly memories my kids bring up from time to time is the cold pizza and ice cream we had for breakfast one morning when we had just moved and we were still figuring out what box things were in. That was the first house we owned with a fireplace and so we took full advantage of that at Christmas with boot prints in the ashes. Everything doesn't have to be perfect. Take it moment by moment. Your kids will remember the silly, happy moments. The laundry, dishes, cobwebs, etc. will all wait. Relaxed time with the kids while they are little won't. But on the other hand you need to be refreshed, so find ways to "feed" yourself too, even if it is as long as a baby's nap. A neighborhood teen that needs a couple of bucks to babysit while you take in a movie with your hubby, or even time to take a walk and get a cup of coffee, time for yourselves. In such a short time they will be grown and have a place of their own. My daughters and I shared a big old blue sweater, that was a worn when sick or blue. Somehow in one of our moves, that sweater got lost. I need to make another one of these days for each of them to share with their daughters.
    I got more carried away with this than I intended, but I just wanted to add to all the good things I heard here. You are never alone in what you are going through, no matter what it is.

  11. I think I am falling in love with your blog! Thank you for the good advice and encouragement. I'm also enjoying some of the comments other readers have left.

  12. Hey Jenna! This is your cuz :). This post definitely describes this past year of my life!! Loved it. Thanks for sharing it - good wisdom! :)