when parenting breaks you

When Parenting Breaks You

By: Loren Lomme, MA, LPC, RPT

For some parents it’s having multiple children and the stress of feeling constantly outnumbered, for some it’s having a child with a history of abuse or some other type of trauma, for some it’s having a child on the spectrum or who experiences other developmental difficulties, and for others it’s any of the million things that can push a parent past their emotional limits.  For me, it’s a STRONG-willed 5-year-old with a history of medical trauma that leaves us dealing with frequent emotional dysregulation issues and a hypersensitive stress response system….and this week, it broke me, again.

Most of my blogs are topic specific and focused on some bit of parenting advice and research. Today, however, it’s just about relating….Relating to each others’ experiences of parenting, how hard it can be, and how life as a parent might not be so tumultuous if there were a handbook that we could refer to when things go off the rails. So here’s what happened.

Our whole last week was off the rails. Reports from school were rough. Getting ready in the mornings was like navigating a minefield of emotions, and brushing my son’s teeth was a tearful battle that took a minimum of 10 minutes every day. Getting his shoes on ended in frustration and tears for him as well because his shoes have to be at a certain “tightness threshold” for him to feel comfortable enough to walk in them.  One night was pretty much an hours-long jumbled mess of tantrums about things like dropping an M&M and dessert being ruined (even though an entire bag of M&M’s was nearby and available to replace the dropped one), not being able to immediately master drawing a freehand star, having to get his hands wet to wash them before dinner, my husband or I getting too close to my son or making eye contact with him when trying to comfort him during aforementioned events, and so on and so on. The crazy train in our house last week also arrived at the head banging station, which is sometimes my son’s preferred method of coping with anger and frustration, despite the pain and possible damage he causes himself. And as a grand finale, that same night ended with my 5-year-old choosing to put himself to bed alone and requesting that we NEVER check on him again because he doesn’t love us…..which 30 minutes later was followed by buckets of tears and self-loathing because he felt bad for being “rude.” He needed to be consoled, but that in itself was an almost insurmountable task. It took at least 30 minutes, still didn’t end well, and it was late by the end. Really. Late.….again.  Can anyone relate?

Days, nights, and weeks like the one I just described are often accompanied by a feeling of being broken, of never being a good enough parent and sometimes thoughts of not having what it takes to help my little guy through the emotional hurricanes that hit him out of nowhere. This is a vulnerable story to share because being a parent can sometimes leave you feeling like you’re on an island, which is weird and confusing because logically you know that there are a billion other parents out there. I reconsidered this blog about a million times, but if I didn’t write it, I may as well pack my bags and stay on my island. I have heard from so many other parents about the feelings of being broken, of being not enough, of feeling lost, and just plain not knowing what to do next. That’s why I had to write this, because being on an island, you often forget that others can relate and you lose sight of your tribe. You also forget that “this too shall pass.” Storms don’t last forever, and the sunshine ALWAYS returns.

And it did. Two nights later, as we were reading books on the couch before bed, my son said, “Mommy let’s snuggle. I love you so, so much.” His sweet little body wiggled up next to mine, he looked deep into my eyes, and our connection was back on track. Just like that, the storm was over, and we were back in sync. As hard as it is for me to weather the storms, I know that it’s as hard for him. And I know that my job as a parent is to stick with him, even when we’re in the trenches. At least we’re there together, and I would never trade that for anything.

Parenting is full of ups and downs. Every day is different, and every child is different. The rewards and good times are plentiful, but so are the struggles. I’ve found that a focus on being mindful and staying in the moment is a parenting magic wand. It makes the difficulties manageable, helps everyone stay a little more grounded, and keeps the positives within reach. To my fellow parents, use your village. If you don’t have one, build one, you’ll be glad you did. Maintain perspective, and have a mantra. A bad day is only a bad day, and it will pass. Know that you are what your child needs, and there isn’t always an answer or a right thing to do. Kids often just need to know that you can weather the storms with them, and “fixing it” is often not our job nor what they need. And finally, ask for help. No one is perfect, and no single person can manage everything. When you model self-care and reaching out, you are teaching your child valuable life skills, and you are refueling your tank so that you can continue to be your best. Parenting isn’t easy, and unfortunately, there’s no if/then playbook for every situation, but there is research, and there are child development and parenting experts who can help guide you through the tough times. For extra parenting support, you can reach out to our counselors at Just Mind. We have parenting experts on board who are happy to help!

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” – L.R. Knost

If you liked this post by Loren, you might also like “Parents who Parent Differently“, “Why We Should Play With Our Kids,” or “How to Respond to an Emotional Meltdown with Kids.” If you would like to inquire about counseling, you can either contact us or take a look at our therapists.