‘I’m an exhausted mum with small children and no support’
‘I’m losing it with them and not coping but my husband ignores my pleas for help’
Being a parent to young children is one of the most demanding and busy times of your life. Photograph: iStock
Question: I’m a mum to three boys who are one, three and five. I work full-time and have had minimal maternity leave (three to four months with each child, and with the first I only had 2½ months!). I’m exhausted, overwhelmed and my two older boys keep playing up. I have lost it with them twice in the last week and I feel like I’m not coping.
My husband seems to not be bothered and has generally ignored me asking for help. I run a business, so I don’t have work colleagues. My friends have gone by the wayside as I’ve had no time, over the last three years in particular.
What more can I do to get my kids to understand or at least to manage their demands?
Answer: Your life does sound very busy and stressful at the moment. At the best of times, being a parent to young children is one of the most demanding and busy times of your life. It is particularly challenging when you do not have enough support and you are managing a busy and demanding job. The age your children are at is probably the most intense time, when they can demand so much of your time and attention (thankfully these pressures can reduce as they get a little older and more independent).
It is good that you are acknowledging how stressed you are and reaching out for support by sending this email. Regularly ‘losing it’ with your children is one of those alarm bells that tells you things need to change. At five, three and one, they are not responsible for what is going on and you need to try to rearrange things to reduce the stress.
Focus on making some small changes
Think about what changes you can make to your weekly routine to reduce your stress. Without knowing the circumstances of your work life, is there any scope for organising things a little differently that would help? For example, is there any way of either you or your husband changing your work schedules a little bit to give you more space? Is there any way you can reduce work demands for a few months until things settle for you at home? What childcare are you using at the moment? Is there any way this can be increased or changed so it works better for you and leads to less stress?
Get more support
You mention how you feel unsupported by your husband. I am wondering if there is any way this could change. Though the burden might be falling on you, I suspect he might be equally stressed in managing the demands of three preschoolers in conjunction with working. If there was some way you could work together and support one another, it would make a big difference.
In my own experience, what often helps is being very organised and having clear times when one parent is ‘on duty’ and when the other is ‘off duty’. For example, this might mean that your husband always takes one time a day when he is in charge, whether this is putting the children to bed or the first hour in the morning when the children get up.
At this time, you try to be ‘off duty’ and focus on something else. Sometimes, being off duty means you have to leave the house, as invariably you get sucked into the daily dramas. This might mean you go out for a 30-minute walk when your husband comes in from work or it might mean you commit to taking a class/activity you enjoy once a week while your husband stays in.
Focus on daily self-care and relaxation
The most important thing you can do is to take some time to focus on your daily self-care and relaxation. You need to prioritise reducing your stress levels and this is not something you can put off until later.
How can you create some space in the day to relax? This might mean carving out a couple of times each day when you have 10 minutes to relax, whether this is reading a book, or doing some yoga or meditation. This might mean getting some support to give you a break or it could mean integrating more relaxing routines into the day with the children. For example, you set them up for 20 minutes’ TV, while you read, or you all go to the park together where they will be entertained and you can sit back and relax.
Take a step back
When you do find the kids are demanding and your stress levels rising, find a way of ‘pausing’ and taking a step back before you end up shouting. Pulling back or going out the room or practising being mindful in these moments can all help. Changing the energy can help a lot, whether this is going out with everyone into the garden for a minute or even playing some fun or relaxing music.
Finally, if you find you continue to be stressed, do contact family support services in your area. Your GP or public health nurse should be able to advise in the first instance.
– John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He will deliver a number of Postive Parenting workshops in Dublin, Cork and Galway, starting in October and November. See solutiontalk.ie for details