What To Do When Your Feel Overwhelmed as a Parent
Parenthood is a beautiful journey filled with love, joy, and growth. However, it's also a path that can sometimes lead to feelings of overwhelming stress and burnout. Let’s explore what you can do when you find yourself overwhelmed as a parent. Whether you're a first-time parent, a single parent, or simply in need of guidance on staying present amidst the chaos, we've got you covered.
Recognizing signs of burnout in an overwhelmed parent
Before we dive into specific situations and strategies, let's take a moment to recognize the signs of parental burnout. These signs can manifest differently for everyone, but if you find yourself experiencing any of these signs of parental burnout, we’re here to help. (You may be experiencing just one or even a few. Talking this through with a trusted friend or loved one will help you discern if this is an abnormal state for you to be in.)
- You may feel like you need to create some distance or “a break” from your children.
- You may be feeling mentally or emotionally exhausted and can’t catch up or bring yourself back to equilibrium with your normal sleep schedule.
- You may notice that you’re turning to food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
- You have a short temper and you feel like you’re at odds with everyone close to you.
- You’re not able to sleep well.
- You feel anxious or panicked in situations that were usually easy for you.
- You find yourself in a catastrophizing state of mind–thinking of the same worst-case scenario thing over and over.
First-time parent overwhelm
The journey of becoming a first-time parent is a monumental transition filled with excitement and challenges. One of the major challenges is navigating several new dynamics.
First, you’re in the new role of being a parent and trying to get to know your child and take care of them as best as you can. Many first-time parents are overwhelmed because they’re raising their child without the support of an extended family or a close community.
Another new relationship dynamic is the one with your partner. If you’ve not experienced parenting a child before, the experience is likely bringing in some new questions, new expectations, and new hurts that didn’t exist before. That’s a lot. You’re both adapting to parenting and doing the best you can.
And, let’s not forget about the in-laws. You may be extremely fortunate to have kind, supportive grandparents in the mix, but oftentimes their intended care and support can come across as feeling critical or judgmental to you as a new parent. Relating with in-laws can be a challenging dynamic, to be sure. While support from family is usually well-intentioned, it is not always easy.
What I’ve found helpful:
When I’m feeling overwhelmed in the relationship dynamic department, I’ll reach out to some of my closest parent friends and ask them these questions:
- How do you navigate the relationship dynamics with your extended family?
- What is your relationship like with your mom? With your in-laws?
- How do you know when you need to ask them to let you have some time to yourself?
- How do you know when you need to ask for help?
When I can zoom out and see the models and/or experiences of those around me, the perspective helps me shift my spiral of being overwhelmed. It’s a very helpful tool to listen to others and to receive their support – even if it’s simply the support of a quick text conversation. It takes a village and all….
How a single parent can navigate overwhelm
I understand that many families don’t look like mine. And while we will always cheer you on and support you, we know that doesn’t remove the reality that if you’re a single parent, everything falls on your shoulders alone. Every decision is yours to make; what food to feed your baby, transportation, finances, education, clothes, screen time – and the list goes on. I don’t mean to cause more overwhelm, I simply wish to say: I see you, and I’m here to help.
Let’s navigate the overwhelm, together.
First, call on the people in your life for help and support. Ask for advice (if you want it) from your friends and loved ones. Just because you’re a single parent does not mean you have to do everything alone or everything yourself! I know that sometimes parents are new in their cities or communities. If that’s the case, getting plugged into an existing community may be a great place to start.
- Check out religious gatherings and programs if they align with your values.
- Visit the library Mommy and Me Story Times if your schedule allows.
- Watch NextDoor and the local recreation centers for meet-ups or play dates.
- Go to the park without your phone. Strike up a conversation with the other parents there.
- Join an online community like a Facebook group or the Conscious Mommy Community
How to be present when overwhelmed
During moments of parental overwhelm, it can feel like your thoughts are scattered, and stress looms large. Perhaps, you’re thinking of all the things you have to do or all the things that could go wrong–it’s a future-oriented condition and it’s very easy to get caught up in all of the ‘to-dos’. When you’re in that mental space, pause and observe what you’re thinking about. To regain presence, try this practice:
Shift your focus from future-oriented worries to the present moment. Take note of your surroundings, your senses, and your immediate experiences.
- Notice what is around you.
- Where are you sitting (or standing)?\
- Who are you with?
- What does it smell like?
- How does the light look in this place?
- What can you hear?
Remember that practicing mindfulness takes time and patience, but it can significantly reduce feelings of overwhelm.
To manage overwhelming moments effectively, consider these practical strategies:
- Meditate: Download a meditation app and use it when you feel your state of mind in the ‘ future-oriented’ place.
- Walk in nature: Going for a walk outside away from screens and distractions can help bring you back to the present moment.
- Deep Breathing: Set a timer for a few minutes, lie flat on your back, and focus on deep breathing into your belly.
Parenthood is a journey with its ups and downs, but with the right support and strategies, you can navigate the challenges and cherish the precious moments along the way.
If you're feeling overwhelmed as a parent, remember that you're not alone. Reach out for help from those around you, whether it's friends, family, or online communities. Support yourself during times of exhaustion and overwhelm. Consider joining a supportive community–I’d love to invite you to join the Conscious Mommy Community, where parents come together to share their experiences and grow together. We’re in there daily supporting one another and growing together. We’d love to have you.