We’ve all had those days. When the toddler has raided the bin, there’s a hole in the ceiling, the car has broken down, the baby won’t stop crying. Heck – you can’t stop crying. How do you cope? Here are some practical tips for how to cope with really bad days…
Scaling the problem
I often talk about scaling the problem to match the level of need. This means that if you’re coping well, you don’t need disaster management strategies. However, if it feels like the world is imploding around you, then simple reassurances aren’t always enough. My simple scale is as follows:
- Reassurance and encouragement – sometimes all you need is a hug. Well done! This phase, like all others, will pass. You’re doing great….
- Emotional and practical first aid – other times, you need some practical help. Call in the cavalry. Get some meals out of the freezer. Learn how to breastfeed lying down so you can rest. Use a sling….
- Simple sleep and parenting coping strategies – you may be at the point where you need some strategies to improve sleep. Adjust naps. Address the bedtime. Rope in extra help in the evening when it feels like it’s going belly up….
- Crisis – occasionally, the situation hits breaking point. Platitudes are not enough at this point. How do you cope in this situation while still trying to be responsive and prioritise attachment?
We hear and talk a lot about responsive parenting and feeding. But what about being responsive to parents in their hour of need? Of course, it’s appropriate to try the simple things first. But if you feel like you’re having a crisis, you may find the following strategies helpful.
Your crisis may not last more than an hour. It could be circumstantial or situational – I get that. Or it could be an accumulation of lots of really bad days, lack of sleep, and a lack of support. Sadly, not everyone has all the support they need. It would be wonderful if every family had 2 parents, with extended family around, a close community network, and resources to be signposted to. It would be ideal if you had a freezer full of home-cooked meals, a friend who could drop everything, and a doula on speed-dial! But I know that’s not reality for many people.
Whether you are having a really bad hour, day, week or year, you’ll need some ideas for how to cope.
Often, you’ll hear strategies that are not very practical with little ones around. Hot baths, a pilates class, and an afternoon to yourself may feel like a pipe dream. You need easier tools! These may help:
- Journaling – this doesn’t need to be a major piece of writing. I sometimes suggest just writing a scale in numbers. Or you may want to just dump your thoughts somewhere – as they come. It may be incoherent rambling, bullet points of emotions, or just expletives. Whatever works…
- Call a friend with similar age children. Offer to have your friends’ baby or child over for a couple of hours while they relax, then they can return the favour. Just one or two hours can make a big difference.
- Listen to music or meditation tracks – try dancing out your tension. It’s clinically proven to release endorphins – our feel-good chemicals, and may soothe a fractious baby as well.
- Think of the person you respect most in the world. Now imagine them saying the thing you most need to hear. ‘You’re doing a great job’, ‘You’re a good parent’, ‘You’re enough’ – this has just become your personal positive affirmation. Repeat it over and over until you start to feel better.
- Experiment with essential oils. I use these a lot to lift mood, and they can provide a positive association that can become a scent anchor. I love the combination of patchouli, frankincense, and clary sage for mood and hormone balancing, as well as anti-inflammatory properties. You know what – if nothing else – it smells good!
- Alternate nostril breathing. This is a yoga technique that is clinically proven to reduce heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. Cover your left nostril and exhale, then inhale out of the right one. Then, cover the right nostril and exhale then inhale through that one. Repeat this for about 5 minutes. You’ll feel better. I promise.
- Try some oxytocin pressure points – firmly press the fleshy area between your thumb and forefinger, way down, near the joint. Oxytocin is the antidote to stress – it’s worth a go!
How to cope with your children
In a crisis, you may find a really bad day and your child’s intense needs overwhelming. Is the baby feeding round the clock? Is your toddler having a ‘velcro day‘ – where they won’t be put down for a second? Is your toddler whining about everything? Whatever it is, if your reserves are low, it may be difficult to cope with these sorts of needs. I’m not going to assume you have help at this point, because if you did – you’d call on it. I’m assuming you’re on your own, and losing the plot. How can you keep your sanity, and still care for your little one?
Dear parent, you cannot pour from an empty cup. If your cup is empty right now, then be kind to yourself. Yes, this will pass, but this moment is hard. You’ve probably read many blog posts telling you that these days are precious, to treasure every moment, and to be emotionally available always. But what about this moment right now? I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. Every parent has a moment when they acknowledge that their kids are the most precious things in the world to them, and yet they would give anything for an hour to themselves, or a full night’s sleep. You may even hate parenting today, or this week. It’s ok to admit that out loud. Parenting isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it’s really really hard.
It doesn’t mean you’re not a responsive parent if you have reached your limit and need a break.
If you need to cuddle your little one rather than feed them for the 4th time in 2 hours and they cry, that’s ok.
If you feel like yelling, then it’s absolutely the right thing to ensure your kids are safe, then leave the room and yell into a pillow. They might cry and call for you – it’s ok. You’ll be back.
If you feel like you’re at breaking point, it’s ok to go and sit on your bed, alone, and cry, or breathe for a few minutes. Your little one may wonder where you are – but they are safe, and this is ok.
If you ask your partner to cuddle the baby to sleep because you simply can’t face yet another feed and they cry in your partners’ arms – that’s ok. They’re in the arms of a loving parent.
If you are having a crisis and need 5 hours sleep, and let your mum, or a partner hug your little one when they expect a feed – that’s ok. Sometimes all you need is a few hours sleep, and you’re able to cope again.
It’s ok. You do not have to be present and perfect every minute of the day. These may not be strategies you use a lot. You may just do it once. You may need to re-evaluate your support needs, or make some changes long-term, but I’m talking about the moment. Crisis management is different from a normal day.
You are with your children day in, day out. They get a LOT of time with you. I promise you, they will not look back and itemise the times you left the room to regroup emotionally. They will not count up the hours you spent playing with them versus having a lie down while someone else watches them. Don’t feel guilty. It took me years to realise that I can’t even remember anything that happened to me before the age of 4. I can’t remember the specific good days and bad days. That was a huge comfort to me as I took refuge in the bathroom when my kids were 4 and 1 and having one of those days. ‘They won’t remember Lyndsey’, I whispered to myself. I’m whispering it to you now. Let the bad days go. What matters is being emotionally available most of the time. Your children don’t need a perfect parent – you just need to get it right more often than you get it wrong.
Lyndsey Hookway is a paediatric nurse, health visitor, IBCLC, holistic sleep coach, PhD researcher, international speaker and author of 3 books. Lyndsey is also the Co-founder and Clinical Director of the Holistic Sleep Coaching Program, co-founder of the Thought Rebellion, and founder of the Breastfeeding the Brave project. Check Lyndsey’s speaker bio and talk brochure, as well as book her to speak at your event by visiting this page. All Lyndsey’s books, digital guides, courses and webinars can be purchased here, and you can also sign up for her free monthly newsletter here.