25 Survival Strategies to Stay Sane as a Mom
25 Survival Strategies to Stay Sane as a Mom
If you're at the end of your rope, here are 25 ways to keep yourself sane in this crazy job we call "mom".
Written by Liz Bayardelle, PhD | See Comments | Updated 08/15/2019
Want to cut to the chase?
Mom's Guide to More Patience
Want to cut to the chase?
Mom's Guide to More Patience
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25 Survival Strategies to Stay Sane as a Mom
Take a deep breath, Mama. It's going to be okay.
If you've found your way to this blog, chances are you're feeling stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, drained, or about 97 other forms of mental exhaustion that would be too depressing to list out (for both of us...trust me).
I'm here for you. I've been there.
Literally every mom on the planet (even those Pinterest-perfect annoyances you secretly envy and openly want to punch) has felt exactly the way you feel right now. We'll talk more about that later.
Right now, when you're in the middle of a crisis, a bad day (or a bad month), or a hard time, what you need to know is that you're not alone and that it won't feel this way forever.
**insert 10 deep breaths here**
So now let's get down to business. This post should help you keep from going crazy while dealing with these little (or not so little) tornados you call children.
How Can I Keep My Sanity as a Mom?
This list is all about one thing: coping mechanisms. Consider it your sanity tool kit.
We all have that feeling that you're slowly losing it.
(Yes, all moms feel this way. Even perfect Debbie who always brings in homemade cookies to the PTA meeting. She has days where she dreams of hopping a child-free plane to Fiji. We'll get to it later, but trust me on this.)
This list will give you a whole toolkit of strategies you can use when you start to get that feeling that you're losing who you are under a pile of dirty diapers, school permission forms, and unfolded laundry.
Not every strategy will work in every situation, but if you scroll through the list I can guarantee you'll find one or two that just might tide you over until you get a nap, some help, or just survive until bedtime.
How Do I Handle Feeling Depressed as a Mom?
As a lifelong student of psychology (soon to be a PhD, actually) I do have to make this clear: when I talk about sanity I'm not referring to diagnosable mental health issues.
I'm talking about "sanity" as a snarky moniker for the feeling (that every mom gets once in a while) that everything is crashing down on you, that you're overwhelmed, surrounded in tiny humans dependent on you for their survival (yet simultaneously hell-bent on your destruction), and that your identity as a human being other than "mom" is slowly slipping away.
If you think you might be clinically depressed, suffering from postpartum depression, or any other mental illness, you need to actually talk to a real-life, non-internet, walk-around human...a mental health professional.
I'm a huge believer in therapy and would make it mandatory for every human on the planet if I ruled the world.
Although some of the techniques described here might help with postpartum depression (or other forms of depression), they are by no means a substitute for actual help from a licensed professional.
How Can I Be Happy as a Mom?
This is a pretty ambitious question to be asking while reading a post about not losing your mind, so you deserve a very large high five off the bat.
I like to think of happiness as a mom in a carrot-and-the-stick kind of way.
The stick is this tool kit of coping mechanisms. It's the things you pull out in a pinch when you're feeling the exact opposite of happy to beat the bad feelings away like a pinata at a rageaholics anonymous picnic.
The carrot is the things that actually bring joy, fulfillment, and value into your life.
These are things that make you feel like you have an identity, a purpose, and an important role in this world (other than changing diapers or folding laundry).
Most people in the modern world associate happiness with getting a shiny new iPhone or a beach vacation, but what you're really searching for when you want to be happy (especially as a mom) is a long-term sense of peace, value, and fulfillment. This is the carrot.
While this post is more about the immediacy of the stick approach, these are the techniques you can use to beat away the bad feelings (like you would with a stick...get it?).
Once you're "out of the woods" (so to speak) you should take a look at some of our articles on goals and goal setting.
All the coping mechanisms here will pull you out of an unhappy space, you still need something positive to pull you into a more permanent species of happy.
How Can I Have More Patience as a Mom?
I could write entire blogs about this one.
Oh wait, I literally have.
When my youngest began entering the toddler era, I found that I was fostering what I like to call "an unsustainable level of rage". I felt like everything was fine one minute, but then something little would go wrong and I would go all level 12, beast mode, angry mom with no warning and even less control.
Yeah, not a good look on me. On anyone. And most of all, not a good look on my toddler when I started to see her mimic my angry behavior.
There's nothing as shameful as seeing your perfect, little, angel baby start mirroring the behaviors you are most ashamed of.
When I had this awful realization, I began doing research on patience. I never wanted to be the type of mom I was turning into, yet anyone who has ever attempted to be a parent can tell you it's completely justified to get frustrated (like, real, actual, tear-your-hair-out, lose your marbles nuts) when you're dealing with that many stressful things at one time.
Seriously, I firmly believe that if you Freaky Friday-ed a "non-parent" into the body/life of a mom they would have a nervous breakdown in less than 48 hours.
Momming is no joke and you have earned every rage-filled second of your frustration.
However, even if it's justified, it's still not good to lose your patience with your kids (or even in front of your kids).
That's why this has been such a huge research project of mine.
If you didn't get the joke at the beginning, I actually did write an entire post on this. It's an uncreatively-titled beast of a post called how to stay patient as a mom and it covers everything from how to regain your patience when you lose it to how to be patient with your kids at different ages.
If this is something you struggle with, I'd definitely give it a read.
If you're like I was and feel that deep-seated, unrelenting sense of anger and frustration as you look at your perfectly-adorable children, I definitely recommend you take advantage of some of the coming strategies before you go all hulk smash on your progeny.
When Does It Get Easier?
This one is a double-edged sword.
The answer is: it gets easier when you figure out how to make it easier.
Now, I know you were hoping for me to say something like "oh, when they turn 5 it's all downhill", but I can't honestly say that. I'm a thirty-something, grown-ass woman with kids of my own and there are probably days when I stress my mom out. (Sorry, Mom.)
However, it does get easier. As you figure out what works for you, what works for your kid, how to help your kid through a particularly challenging new (horrible) behavior...it does get easier.
Yes, new challenges will always pop up, but that's true in your work life, your marriage, your friendships, and pretty much every other area of your life, so why should you expect parenting would be any different?
This isn't meant to be a bummer, or to tell you that you can't make things better. Because you most certainly can.
This is more a reminder that you've gotten through hard things before, survived, and that you will survive this too.
How Do I Stay Sane as a Mom?
So this brings us to the million dollar question:
How do I be a mom (and dare I say a good mom) without going absolutely stark raving mad?
There's no easy, simple, or concise answer to this question. Unfortunately. If it were that easy, everyone would be sane. (As you may have noticed, very few people are.)
So, in the absence of a single answer, I'm giving you my top 25 strategies for making the feeling of impending insanity abate as quickly and painlessly as possible.
These are in no particular order, but I do recommend the first 4 as your 'break glass in case of emergency' kit. They're all mental, free, and quick to do, but oh-so-important for your mental health.
Strategy #1: Acknowledge It's Not Easy
Being a mom is not for the faint of heart.
When your kids (or the mom lifestyle in general) start driving you round the bend, try to remind yourself that what you're doing is hard, impressive, and necessary.
If you need any help proving this to yourself, imagine a typical human (read: the average household male) attempting to manage your workload. If you gave your kids and tasks to a lesser human, they'd break in 15.7 seconds and flee the country under an alias.
Yeah. Imagine one of your non-parent friends attempting to do what you do on a daily basis. I dare you not to giggle. Those mere mortals would snap like a cheap toothpick and you know it.
This isn't supposed to be something you say out loud to people in real life (which I heartily advise against), but to make you feel like more of a boss for what you're actually accomplishing.
Most jobs come with some kind of public accolade. Athletes get rings, trophies, and crazy fans. Executives get raises, bonuses, and promotions. Heck, even massively underpaid teachers get an apple or a "physics is phun" coffee mug every once in a while.
Moms get no public recognition whatsoever. (And I will happily engage in a fistfight to the death with anyone who thinks Mother's Day counts for "public recognition".)
Usually, we get a hug...but only as a subterfuge for them to lick the back of our shirt without us noticing. Gee thanks, kid.
But this is what makes momming so hard sometimes: we have to generate all of our own back pats.
This is why it's so important to remind yourself from time to time (aka daily) that you're doing something ridiculously hard and impressive. You may not have a super bowl ring or a corner office, but any of these other non-parent humans would crack like an egg if they were in your shoes.
It's not everything, but it's definitely not nothing.
Strategy #2: Remember This is Temporary
It feels like the misery is never going to end when you're knee deep in toddler tantrums, trying to reason with a procrastinating elementary school student who's more interested in screaming at you than doing their reading, or a teenager seemingly determined to test the limits of how many eye rolls you can fit into a calendar month.
However, it is important to remember that it is literally, physically impossible for your current level of misery to extend forever.
Seriously, no matter how determined they are not to sleep, every child will eventually pass out. A current teenager will not still be a petulant brat when they are 40.
It may not be in this hour (or even this day or month), but I can guarantee you with 100% surety that whatever hell you are currently wading through will not last forever.
We'll take this a little deeper in step #5, but for now all you need to do is hold on to the knot at the end of the rope and remember this too will pass.
Strategy #3: Take Deep Breaths and Small Breaks
No, I'm not talking about the panicky breathing of a small animal currently cornered by something large and toothy...
...I'm talking about slow, deep, full, belly breathing. (Think yoga class or meditating.)
There are a number of scientifically-demonstrated benefits of deep breathing. According to Harvard Medical School, deep or "diaphragmatic" breathing has been shown to help decrease anxiety, lessen tension, slow your heartbeat, increase focus, and help you relax.
Sounds like what you need right now, right?
Fortunately, deep breathing is a skill you can both practice in front of your kids (unlike those undesirable coping mechanisms like punching or yelling into a pillow which we don't exactly want our kids to model) and eventually teach to your kids.
Take Small, Strategic Breaks
In addition to deep breathing, I'm a firm believer in taking small, strategic breaks.
No one is at their best when they're frustrated, overflowing with stress, or overwhelmed.
I know there's some guilt associated with stepping away from your kids (especially in the middle of a crisis) but hear me out.
If you're in the process of losing your cool, you are most likely not going to respond in a way that reflects your actual caring, loving, thoughtful inner parent. I know for a fact my toddlernado is better served by me putting her in her room (where she's 100% safe) and taking 60 seconds to collect myself in the bathroom than she would be by me trying to fight through the frustration in the moment.
Put the kids somewhere safe, lock yourself in an empty room for 60 seconds, and take some time to collect yourself.
It's way better to take a tiny break than to lose your cool in front of the kiddos. They'll be fine in the short term and they'll actually learn valuable stress-coping skills in the long term.
Strategy #4: Know All Moms Feel This Way
This is the one I keep mentioning, and I cannot stress this point enough.
Every single mom in the history of humanity has felt this way.
Yes, that includes everyone from stressed-out cavewomen who secretly fantasized about asking the friendly, neighborhood sabretooth tiger to babysit her squalling infant to Pinterest Patty, that irritating college friend you dream of unfollowing on social media so you never have to see another perfectly-coiffed, disgustingly-perky post about how her all-organic baby just learned to sight read Mozart at 14 months old (#blessed #vomit #killmenow).
Even those disgustingly put together women you admire and hate (in equal measure) have days where they get frustrated. They have days where they wonder why they even try. They have moments where they feel like they're going crazy.
They just don't post those moments on Facebook.
You are not alone. You are in a grand sisterhood of sometimes-overwhelmed mothers. This isn't a "you" problem, it's a "humanity" problem. Kids are exhausting and that does not say anything negative about you.
While this doesn't solve any of your problems, it should make you take it less personally.
All your complaints are still there, but they aren't because you're a bad person or a bad mother. They're because mothering is hard...for all mothers.
Strategy #5: Practice "Preemptive Retrospection"
So this one has a lot of big words in the title, but it's actually a very simple concept.
You know how they say 20/20 hindsight?
(In the context of having kids 20/20 hindsight will mean that when your kids are gone to college you will miss the days when they were screaming at you over a bowl containing the wrong number of Cheerios, even though right now that situation is driving you absolutely round the bend.)
So the “retrospection” part of “preemptive retrospection” is referring to viewing your kids with twenty-twenty hindsight.
The “preemptive” part means that you are trying to put on these hindsight goggles now, as opposed to waiting 20 years to view your kids’ early years with this kind of rosy, out-of-the-fog-of-battle happy view.
As you may have surmised, this is waaaaaaaaaaay easier said than done.
Now, before you read this, snort derisively to yourself, and scroll on to the next strategy, let me give you the disclaimer that this isn't something that will be intuitive right away, but is more like a skill that will build up with practice.
(It's kind of like weight training. It's hard and painful to lift up heavy objects repeatedly, but the benefits of having functioning set of non-puny muscles is significant enough that it is worth the pain. It's the same type of thing with this.)
Is definitely takes mental muscle to make yourself think “I’m going to miss this” while you hold a screaming infant, reason with a tantruming toddler, or try not to strangle any type of teenager.
This going to be one of the harder strategies to implement.
If you need help grasping the concept (or you just like sobbing like a little girl whose ice cream just fell in the gutter), this song by formerly Hootie of Hootie and the Blowfish encapsulates the sentiment pretty well:
However, the benefits are immense. You don't really want to wake up in 5, 10, or 20 years and feel like you were frustrated throughout your child's entire formative years.
If you work on building this muscle now, it will make you much happier in the long term. Also, as it gets easier, it will make stressful events seem more removed from you. The bad things are still happening, but you won't be as viscerally involved in the agony as you currently are.
Strategy #6: Remember You're Literally Creating a Human (and Give Yourself Back Pats Accordingly)
It's very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day mundane activities of being a parent and lose sight of the sheer awesomeness of what you're doing.
Starting from the second you got pregnant (or adopted your kid) you literally put yourself in charge of forming another human being’s character.
You took a lump of biology and are in charge of turning it into a real life, walk around human.
That’s freaking amazing.
You know how adults instinctively know that they shouldn't spend their entire Paycheck on twinkies and video games, but instead put money into a savings account to pay for their kids college and pay taxes each year?
We know this stuff because our moms taught us stuff.
Our moms took time out of their busy schedules to instill in our teeny tiny brains the importance of such things like common sense, financial awareness, and basic human decency. you know how a grown-up will give food to a stray cat and not step on worms on the sidewalk?
This is because moms.
Moms take tiny, stupid, lumps of evolutionary human and turn them into astronauts, Nobel laureates, professional athletes, teachers, doctors, and all around decent human beings.
It may look like you are just changing diapers, arguing about what color dinosaurs probably were, and patiently explaining to a sobbing toddler that their sandwich is only gone because they literally just ate it 30 seconds ago, but you are actually forming an entire human being all by yourself.
That's a pretty damn impressive job and you should be accordingly proud of yourself.
Strategy #7: Find a Short-Term Coping Mechanism
A short-term coping mechanism is something you can do the second you start feeling stressed. This could be something like the deep breathing or short breaks we discussed before, but you should have something else in your (metaphorical) bag as well.
Good suggestions of short-term coping mechanisms are things like:
- Taking 30 seconds to do some stretching
- Trying to visualize your favorite beach, forest, or whatever other happy place you have
- Giving yourself a small shoulder, hand, or foot massage
- Putting on a song that makes you happy
- Going outside (even with the kiddos) for a few minutes of sunshine
These should be things you can do in the moment as a sort of "break glass in case of emergency" mechanism you can pull out when you're in the middle of a stressful situation.
They shouldn't be anything that requires money, props, or preparation. Just something you can do really quickly in a pinch.
Strategy #8: Find a Long-Term Coping Mechanism
As opposed to the short-term coping mechanisms described above, this is something you can work at over time.
Think of this as taking preventative medicine against stress. It's something you intentionally devote a little bit of energy and time into on a regular (hopefully daily) basis to keep your stress levels lower on a regular basis.
(My dad calls this developing emotional reserve. He says that just like you can't drive a car with 1/8th of a tank of gas all the time because you never know when you'll run out, you shouldn't operate at maximum stress capacity all the time because you never know when you'll encounter a stressful event that demands a little extra emotional oomph.)
Examples of long-term coping mechanisms include:
- Putting time in your schedule for 30 minutes of exercise each morning (if you are the type that actually enjoys exercise...not if it stresses you out too)
- Taking the first 10 minutes of each nap-time to read a book for pleasure before you start your actual work
- Having your partner watch the kids each day while you shower (by yourself!)
- Creating a "quiet time" ritual with the kids for at least 10 minutes before bed where they learn you all get to do your own thing for a bit
Not all of these will be a fit for everyone. Some might want weekly manicures or a date night. Maybe you have time for a yoga class (or a session at the shooting range).
Whatever it is, just make sure that you take some time to put gas in your emotional tank on a regular basis. You'll be grateful when that extra stressful situation pops up.
Strategy #9: Go Outside Often
Sunshine is one of those things we don't really notice until we go without it for a bit too long.
Not even taking the joy of actually getting out of your house and seeing nature into account, being in the sun has a multitude of physical benefits as well. It makes your body make all those "happy chemicals" that naturally fight stress and depression. It also makes your body make vitamin D, which improves your quality of sleep.
(Bonus points, if you bring the kids outside it also makes them sleep better....which is an even bigger win.)
Making regular outdoor time part of your schedule gives you a change of pace, a change of scenery, gives the kids something exciting to do (occupying them with an activity other than watching YouTube or annoying you), spices up your day, and gives you a whole host of physical and psychological benefits.
Whether it's 10 minutes in the back yard or a hike at your nearest nature trail, try to get regular doses of outside time. You, your stress levels, and your kids will all thank you.
Strategy #10: Stay Connected
No, I'm not talking about looking at your irritatingly-Pinteresty high school friends' seemingly-perfect children on Facebook.
(Nothing good can come from that. Literally. Nothing.)
I'm talking about actual, human connection.
This can be your spouse, your out-of-town-bestie, your favorite teacher from high school, a friend at church, or anyone else significant in your life. The only criteria here is that you actually have human conversation with another adult biped.
Motherhood is wonderful, but it does often come with a weird kind of loneliness. You're never alone. (Literally. Never. Not in the bathroom. Not in bed. Never. Ever. Alone.) However, your company is comprised of tiny, often nonverbal humans that need you to provide for their every need and often care very little about your own. This is not mutual connection, even if it is company.
No matter how busy you are, find someone you can connect with on a regular basis. I literally have a friend with whom we have a running sarcastic text conversation about our relative kids. We rarely talk on the phone, but I know she'll be there with a witty rejoinder if I text her sobbing from my closet floor at 4am.
Whatever form your connection takes, make sure you're getting some adult interaction every once in a while. Like sunshine, you don't realize the importance of this until you're not getting any.
Strategy #11: Keep Some "Why I Actually Do Love My Kids" Pictures on Standby
You know the pictures I'm talking about.
It's the picture of them as a baby sleeping so angelically that you think you're going to run the risk of going full hamster and actually eating their face every time you look at it. Or the one of them scoring their first soccer goal after years of dutiful practice. Maybe it's a candid shot of them first thing in the morning with their pajamas on inside out, crazy hair, and sleep still in their eyes.
Whatever it is, you know which photos I mean.
They're the ones you can look at when said child is currently shrieking at you (in a decibel only dogs and people who research dolphin communication can hear) and still think "okay, it's being an absolute jerk right now, but I guess I probably shouldn't kill it after all".
Keep a folder of these photos on your phone, a small copy in your wallet, or whatever is closest by at all times.
Next time your kid is going level 12 nutjob on you, take a gander at your secret stash of "you're actually kind of cute sometimes...just not right now" photos.
Strategy #12: Find a Way to Keep In Touch with the "Real World"
There's nothing like a good dose of motherhood to make you hole up in your house and not emerge until the kids start school.
On one hand, this is totally normal and largely good.
You want moms that focus on their kids more than their raucous party lives. It's why your kids are going to grow up to be fully-employed adults not serial killers who think it's acceptable for the toilet paper to come out under the roll. Because of your sacrifice, mama.
However, it's not necessarily healthy for an adult human to be completely separated from the outside world for half a decade straight. Just look at the way inmates in solitary confinement go crazy...and they don't even have to change diapers all day!
We already talked about staying connected to other adult humans in strategy #10, but this one is referring more to the fact that there is an outside world as a whole, not to social connection.
I'm not saying you need to (or even could) make time to read the entire Wall Street Journal every morning, but you should fight to retain some tie between you and the greater world outside your mom bubble.
Maybe this is staying up to date with your one guilty pleasure TV show each week while you fold laundry. Maybe it's watching a late-night monologue on YouTube every night before you go to bed. Maybe it's reading one article from the morning paper while your kids defile their breakfast.
Whatever is most therapeutic for you, go for it. But do believe me when I advise you to keep some ties to the "real" world outside of being a mom. Your sanity will thank you.
Strategy #13: Get Your Kids Into Stuff You Like
This one isn't always possible.
I'll be the first to admit that your toddler isn't going to be a good sparring buddy in boxing, amenable to listening to you talk about work, or capable of enjoying your favorite book. At least not yet.
However, there is a reason you see so many university-branded onesies on infants. Our past selves (you know...before we were parents) used to care about things. These things brought us joy and connected to our identities as human beings.
Now that we stopped being "Liz" and became "Natalie's mom", these identities had to take the back burner BIG TIME. This shift in your primary identity is an incredibly hard transition to make, not to mention that we do it all while immensely busy and inhumanely sleep deprived.
Getting your kids into things you like can make a big difference when fighting this new-mom identity battle. (Heck, my oldest bio-daughter is 3 and I'm still fighting the "who am I now" blues.)
However, even though it won't fix everything, when I managed to get my toddler to watch the Harry Potter movies (at least the magic-y or action-filled bits), I felt a little piece of my identity float back into my body. It's the same happy feeling I get when I get her to enjoy hitting a lightweight volleyball around the backyard (I played the sport for 15+ years and credit it for a huge portion of my current personality).
Getting your kids to enjoy your passions, even in some small, token way, will make you feel like you aren't completely divorced from your pre-parent identity, which makes a HUGE difference in your happiness and sanity levels as a parent.
Strategy #14: Don't Fight Against the Current...
I don't know about you, but I have a maternal stubborn streak about a mile wide.
Personally, I blame this on my tendency to look at every single behavior manifested by one of my children and extrapolate what that behavior says about how their life will be like in 20 years when they're grown up and living by themselves.
If you just glance at this tendency it doesn't look that bad. It could even be construed as a good thing, but it's actually incredibly problematic. This means that I look at 1 inexpensive toys left out after play and immediately think that my three-year-old is going to become a hoarder and die in an avalanche of her own ceramic cat statues someday.
See how it can get really problematic really fast? this means that I overreact to almost everything, because I don't just look at the one behavior...I look at how it will play out irrationally far down the road if left unchecked. This makes me incredibly pigheaded about all the little battles you don't technically need to fight all the time.
This could also be just because I'm a stubborn person. Who knows. Either way, the effect is the same: sadder kids, more stress for mommy, which brings me to strategy #14.
For this one your mantra is going to be “pick your battles”.
Yes, you do want to strive for consistency is a mom. Yes, correcting the behaviors when they're little will help keep tiny bad behaviors from turning into really big bad behaviors. All this is true.
However, if you’re already having a really hard day and your child wants to change their mind and eat Cheerios even though you already poured Corn Flakes, you might want to consider letting them be a mercurial toddler just this once without fearing that this lack of consistency in cereal choice will lead to them turning into an adult completely devoid of principles or staying power.
Sometimes Cheerios are just Cheerios.
I'm not saying you should give in to the whims of your children all the time, but if you even when 80% of the battles you are doing a monumentally awesome job. If you are stressed, tired, hungry, or busy, your child will not turn into a serial killer if you let them have a win (in the name of harmony and sanity) every once in a while.
Strategy #15: ...but Keep an Eye on Long Term Considerations
In contrast to strategy #14, this one is all about keeping an eye on your long-term sanity.
One of the first lessons you learn when you spend any amount of time around a child's, especially a toddler, is that the worst thing you can possibly do is do something fun that you don't want to do 800 times in a row.
This lesson is usually learned first time your child says a swear word and you make the mistake of laughing. Your tiny sponge has pinpointed a way to make you laugh and is literally going to say that word as loudly and often as possible for the rest of their born days.
This is a humorous example, but it represents a very real problem.
If you let something slide once, it makes it easier for it to happen a second time. So yes, letting your kid leave their toys out this one time will make them a tiny bit less likely to clean them up next time. If you accept this risk and are willing to put in a little extra effort next time to kill the habit, no harm no foul. Feel free to give yourself a break from being perpetual bad cop every once in a while (a la strategy #14).
However, if one time turns into two, and two times turn into three, you have now officially created a habit. What saved you a little bit of work in the short-term is now going to take massive effort to undo in the long-term.
I don't say this to frighten you (although it may have that effect anyway), I say it to keep you aware of your long-term best interests, even when you're in the middle of a bad day.
You might just be so tired that the idea of convincing your child to eat the requisite amount of vegetables before they get their cake seems like a Sisyphean task. However, keep in mind the fact that doing things consistently, regularly enforcing good habits and not letting bad ones slide, will program these good habits into your child's autopilot.
It may be hard (and exhausting and quasi-impossible) this time, but the fact that your child sees you not cave even when they know you are stressed to the max will do wonders in convincing them that you mean business.
If your kid knows that no matter how much of a fit they pitch they still have to do what you're asking them to do, they will eventually stop pitching fits. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but children are not stupid and they do realize when they're fighting a losing battle.
Stick to your guns, be consistent even when you just want to fall asleep or cry in a corner, and you can at least cancel yourself with the knowledge that you just made tomorrow that much easier for your future self.
Strategy #16: Enjoy Your "Mommy Minivacations"
Before you laugh yourself off your chair and move on to the next strategy, this one has nothing to do with self-care, spa days, or securing a babysitter while you go off to do something frivolous.
Good. Now that I have your attention, we can proceed.
What I actually mean by “mommy minivacations” might make you laugh as well, but for a different reason.
The definition of a “mommy minivacation” is any short burst of time throughout the course of a normal day when you are not actively involved in childcare activities.
Examples of “mommy minivacations” include:
Walking alone from the passenger side of the car to the driver's side door after you buckle your child into their carseat
Going to the bathroom or taking a shower alone
The blissful hour between when you tuck your kids in and when the first one wakes up in the middle of the night
Any time you get to floss with two hands
These are by no means the only mini-vacations you will get in a day, but they should be a representative enough sample to give you a gist of what I mean.
Basically, if you have a 30 second gift of some alone or quiet time...for God's sake take it!
A metaphor we can use here is a cell phone battery charging.
Normal people get a 48-hour weekend to recharge between work weeks. This is the equivalent of a slow, old-fashioned phone charger.
Moms, however, are much more evolved creatures. (Or we have to become them, whether we like it or not.) We are being asked to become the lightning chargers, where you plug your phone in and 5 minutes later it has 80% battery life.
One of the best skills you can build for your mommy toolkit is the ability to recharge your emotional reserve in small amounts of time. Instead of a 48-hour weekend, you need to learn to get brief bursts of solace from little moments of peace that you actually do get during the day.
The first step here is learning to notice these “minivacations” when they happen. Normal people don't notice how relaxing it is to wash the dishes, but when you have been reacting to a small toddler all day, getting to wash the dishes in peace while hubby plays with the kids is darn near therapeutic.
The better you get at noticing your “minivacations” the more you will learn to enjoy them. A few days after this happens, you will notice that you feel a little bit more relaxed than you used to because you have been intentionally taking (and appreciating) 30-second breaks throughout your day.
If any non-moms are reading this, it will sound absolutely ridiculous. However, if you are a mom you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Try it, you'll love it.
Strategy #17: Find Healthy Ways to Vent
I don't care what anyone says, venting is good for the soul.
As a mom, you are going to come up against situations (or entire days) that make you want to wring the necks of literally every living being within a 5-mile radius of where you stand, fuming in your yoga pants.
However, it's amazing how much of a difference a small venting session can make in your mood. Whether it's calling up a friend, texting a fellow mom, or ranting to your spouse, sometimes letting loose for a few minutes and letting some of the horrible, mostly-untrue-yet-incredibly-poetic insults you've been chanting in your head all day while you rage vacuum come out of your mouth hole can be incredibly therapeutic.
I'm not saying you should talk trash about your kids, your spouse, your family, or your life. I'm not saying it's good to be negative (all the time). However, sometimes you just need to let it out so you can finally get that deep breath and move on with your day.
Strategy #18: Find Shortcuts (to Some Things)
I'm a huge fan of the saying that "there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going".
As my eye-rolling teen knows well, this oft-quoted (at least in our house) saying applies really well to schoolwork, sports, your job, your parenting efforts, your marriage, and all the other things that are truly important in life.
However, this saying does not apply to tasks that just need to get done, but it really doesn't matter how.
Take vacuuming, for example. I have two large, disgusting, shedding, beastmonsters...I mean dogs. I used to literally vacuum twice a day to keep from getting visible, migratory dust bunnies by 7pm. I wish I was kidding.
If you read the house side of this blog, you know that this vacuuming-as-a-second-career thing came to an eagerly-embraced end when our household welcomed two new family members: Kreature and Dobby, our Harry-Potter-named Roombas. Each honorary house-elf vacuums one story of our home. By themselves. Without needing me to do a darn thing. Every morning.
If you hear angels singing at 9 am pacific time, it's because that's when our Roombas majestically come to life and start doing my literal dirty work for me.
It doesn't matter how horrible a day I'm having (yes, non-parents, you can already be having a horrible day by 9 am) it always gets a little better when I hear the glorious sounds of my floors being vacuumed without me having to do it.
I'm not saying a robotic vacuuming will fix all your problems (because it won't), but finding little hacks, tricks, and shortcuts to save yourself time on the things that don't really matter in the grand scheme of things can give you an incredibly-welcome reprieve from some of your daily stressors.
Strategy #19: Pick A Thing That Makes You Feel Pretty
I'm one of the least girly people you will ever meet.
My definition of "makeup" is mascara and chapstick (most often without the mascara). I choose clothes based on comfort, cost, and ability to match my four pairs of pants...which are really the same pair of pants in four different colors. I'm very pleased when my shoes match...each other.
Some of this was caused by the transition into motherhood (when you have 15 minutes per day for billable work, sleep, recreation, and self-care...combined), but I'll admit that some of it was a preexisting condition.
HOWEVER, even I will vehemently affirm the fact that your self-esteem and general happiness levels take a huge dip when you don't feel attractive.
As a mom, it's really easy to slip into the constant yoga pants, messy bun, why even bother doing crunches if we're talking about having another kid in a few years, can you hand me another cookie wasteland. Pretty isn't even visible from the miry swamp of I-don't-even-care-anymore mom surrender.
I'm not saying you should (or feasibly could) spend all day in the gym. Or that you put on a full face of makeup every morning. Or that you buy designer clothes for playgroup.
However, take an honest look at yourself and find one thing that makes the biggest difference in how you feel about your outside appearance and make a priority of it.
No matter how self-sacrificing of a mom you are, even you can probably agree that you deserve one thing. Maybe it's getting your nails done a few times a month. Maybe it's wearing dress pants even on days you don't leave the house. Maybe it's saving up for a shopping trip each fiscal quarter. Maybe it's just taking 10 minutes each morning to straighten your hair.
Whatever your thing is, find one thing that makes you feel physically attractive and make sure you give yourself at least one way to feel like you didn't just crawl out of a swamp. You deserve it. I promise.
Strategy #20: Leave. The. House.
This one sneaks up on you.
It starts out as a day with no extracurriculars planned for the kiddos, then the next day you get caught up cleaning, then maybe someone gets grounded and needs supervision...and before you know it it's been literally days since you walked out your front door.
Home is definitely where the heart is, but it's also most likely the scene of whatever crime I'm going to commit if I don't see the real world and stat.
It's not a good thing if you have the desire to be away from home all the time, but it's incredibly healthy for you (and your kiddos) if you get out at least once a day. It can be as simple as a walk around the block, a trip to a local park, or a drive to a slightly farther-away fast food restaurant for lunch. Getting out of the house can give you a break, change the scenery for a while, and hit everyone's reset button.
Strategy #21: Find (and Do) Some Kind of Exercise You Like
Even if you're not prone to actual clinical depression, there are days in motherhood that definitely feel...let's say "depression adjacent".
This is normal. There's nothing wrong with you.
However, it's definitely not pleasant, either for you or for the little critters who depend on you (spouses included). It's an actual science-fact (not just a Legally Blonde quote) that exercise makes your brain create the same chemicals that they try to stimulate with anti-depressant medication.
Seriously, exercise has been empirically shown to be just as effective as medicine to treat mild to moderate depression. Now, if you're not a gym-rat, you might not enjoy going for a run, lifting weights, or doing any of the "traditional" forms of exercise. Maybe the mere thought of it makes you feel more stressed out, not less.
Have no fear. I'm not suggesting you do anything you don't actually enjoy.
Even things like yard work, walking, or dancing can get your heart rate up and trigger the physiological release of these "happy chemicals". What I'm suggesting here is that you find something you actually enjoy (something that gets your heart rate up for at least 15 minutes) and work it into your family routine at least three times a week.
When my first daughter was a baby, the first time I ever heard her laugh was when I was carrying her up and down the stairs for exercise. It was too hot to run or walk outside, I couldn't emotionally bring myself to leave her while I went to the gym, and she was too young to really take anywhere else, so I literally ran up and down my stairs five times (holding my month-old baby) three times a day. Apparently she developed a taste for it and soon would giggle madly every time we did stairs. (Added motivational bonus.)
Whatever it is, make sure you get some exercise at least three times a week. The physical health benefits are legion, but it will also make a marked difference in your sanity levels as well.
Strategy #22: Multitask Less
Motherhood, thy name is multitasking.
Before I started focusing on "unitasking", I couldn't even remember the last time I wasn't doing at least three things at once. And this is partially good. Multitasking makes us efficient, productive people even though we're juggling like five full-time jobs simultaneously.
However, there is a solid amount of research that says people are less happy when they aren't focused on the task at hand.
If you're like me and you preplan what you're going to think about while you shower (no, I'm not kidding), you might be a victim to this one.
At least while you're spending time with your kids, try to take short periods of time where you focus 100% of your energy and mental might on the one, single, solitary task you're doing. If you're playing soccer with your toddler, just be 100% present. Don't organize your to do list in your head, don't try to windex a window every 5 kicks, don't worry about what you're going to make for dinner...just be in the moment.
Now, I'm not EVER going to suggest you stop multitasking altogether. I'd go absolutely nuts and my household would come crashing to a grisly halt if I ever even contemplated such a thing. However, taking short, 15-minute periods of time to be present and in the moment with your kiddos will make a huge difference in your life and (more importantly) theirs.
Strategy #23: Create a Schedule Ahead of Time
Routine is your friend.
Humans thrive on stability, even though it seems to be the mortal enemy of every human under the age of 16. (Thanks, Darwin. Explain that.)
However, as adult humans, we need the comfort, reassurance, and sanity of knowing what's going to happen next. Furthermore, whether they know it or not, our kids need it too.
By creating a routine that works for you and your kids (and which they'll actually follow), you can give yourself that sanity-saving structure to your day that will keep you from madness as you run around the house trying to do something fun with the hour you have to burn before you're allowed to force them to go to bed.
If you need some help brainstorming some ways to keep the kiddos busy, you can check out my ultimate guide to keeping a toddler entertained indoors, where I created a free printable menu of literally hundreds of cheap activities you can use to occupy your little monsters.
However, whatever you put on your day to day routine, having a consistent, repeatable schedule will give you some of the stability you so desperately crave now that these tiny monsters have taken over your life.
Strategy #24: Sleep
If your response to this one was riotous, disbelieving laughter followed by a dirty glare at your computer screen, I feel you.
My mom always said that the whole "sleep when the baby sleeps" thing was BS because she wanted to get her work done way more than she wanted to get her beauty sleep, and when I became a mom I totally agreed with her. I couldn't imagine prioritizing a nap over using my precious little "spare" time to get caught up on my stuff.
However, motherhood is like one of those weird college psych experiments that try to see just how long the human body can go without sleep before you start to hallucinate or just run out of gas and go full-out narcoleptic in the middle of a load of laundry.
The problem with this is, no matter how stoic you are or how much you would rather work than get sleep, there is a certain level of tired that makes you less productive, less patient, less rational, and less capable as a human being or a parent. (I call this the "why is my cell phone in the refrigerator again" line.)
Kids are great at keeping you up. There are sleep training issues, wet beds, midnight crawl-in-mommy's-bed-and-sleep-on-her-face parties, and way more early mornings than anyone should ever face.
Even though you planned to have a productive day, if your kiddos kept you up all night (or woke you up at the crack of dawn with an urgent question about skeletons), it might be your duty as a parent to force yourself to spend your hard-fought free 15 minutes on a cat nap instead of getting that last work email done.
You can't always make this call, because some work really is that critical, but if you find yourself operating on the level of sleep deprivation that makes you mean, snippy, spacy, or physically uncomfortable (you know what I mean...that level of tired where it feels like food poisoning) you really do owe it to yourself (and your kids) to get yourself back to "functioning human being" levels of rested.
When the heavy fatigue hit during my second pregnancy, I literally napped with my body curled up against the inside of the closed door to my toddler's room. I knew she was safe in there (as it is small, toy-filled, and heavily baby-proofed) and she couldn't escape without waking me up. It sounds pathetic, but it was the only way I could get a nap in and I knew that she deserved a mom who wasn't literally weeping because she was so tired.
If it helps, consider this medical advice, not a recommendation towards self-care. But, seriously, sleep.
Strategy #25: Find Something that Feeds Your Soul
I put this one last for a reason.
This is the longest-term and hardest to achieve, yet most important, item on the list.
Parenting isn't a forever job. No matter how much we want them to stay little forever, all of our now-babies are going to grow up. In the blink of an eye, your now-toddler is going to be pumping her own gas and paying taxes. The son you just wish would keep his pants on at the grocery store will be calling you for advice on job applications or mortgage rates.
It feels like the days last forever right now (and sometimes I swear they literally do), but before you know it parenting will have switched to a consultant position and you're going to need to find something else to do with your days.
Fortunately, you're currently wishing for a boring desk job if for no other reason than your coworkers wouldn't be allowed to mash partially-masticated cheerios into your hair. Right now nothing sounds better than a higher calling...one that makes you feel important, brings you purpose and fulfillment, makes a greater difference in the world, and maybe even (gasp) makes some money as well.
When you're feeling at the end of your rope, think of what you want your super-duper-long-term future to look like and let yourself take tiny steps towards that goal. Maybe you want to start a business down the line. You can do 90 seconds of competition research on your phone from the carpool line. Maybe you want to run a marathon or teach yoga. You can bring the kiddos to the park for a family jog or practice stretching with your toddler.
Any drops you can put in the bucket of your future plan will help ground you into the idea that this phase (and having children in the house is just one phase of your life) will eventually pass and you will go on to do whatever awesome thing you will do next.
This will help you get through it when it's hard, but also help you keep in mind that you should be enjoying it while it lasts....hair-cheerios and all.
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Mom's Guide to More Patience
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Mom's Guide to More Patience
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About the Author
Liz Bayardelle, PhD
Founder | Contributor
Liz (or Dr. Mommy, as her toddler started calling her after learning what a PhD was) is the happily sleep-deprived mom of a toddler (and professional raccoon noise impersonator), a sparkle-clad kidnado, a teenage stepdaughter, 200 cumulative pounds of dog, and herd of dustbunnies (if daily vacuuming doesn't occur). During nights and naptimes, she uses her PhD in business psychology as an author, speaker, and consultant. She also serves as an executive and principal for three companies, two of which she co-founded with her very patient (and equally exhausted) husband.
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