So how do you cope with the really bad days?

We all have them, days when we have had very little sleep, days when everything takes ages, days when everyone says ‘no’, days when we just want to be left alone! This Thursday is World Mental Health Day , and this year they are focusing on suicide prevention. This may seem dramatic for a blog focusing mainly on parenting and sleep deprivation but many of us have had days where we feel we just can’t carry on. We have all heard the suggestions for improving our mental well being, such as a healthy diet, exercise, ‘me time’ ( what’s that?), warm baths and doing something enjoyable. These are very valid solutions and do help in the longer term. However, what do you do when you are at your wits end, everyone is crying, the kids are fighting and you haven’t had a minute to either shop or prepare lunch?

First – stop and breathe! How bad is the problem?

Let’s scale the problem! Sometimes a hug from a loved one at the end of a tiring day is enough and sometimes we are at breaking point. How bad is your problem right now?

  • Reassurance and encouragement – we all feel better when sometime we care about and respect tells us we are doing a great job. It is normal to find parenting really hard work, especially with today’s pressures and lack of time. Accept your hug and take a breath – this phase will pass!
  • Ok hugs aren’t cutting it! Do you have any practical help available to you? Can you call a friend or family member for some back up? What tasks/chores etc can you ignore for today so you can all get through until bedtime? Do the bare minimum and congratulate yourself for still being upright!
  • Do you need to some simple sleep and parenting tips to help with each day? Simple tweaks such as an earlier bedtime or a cuddle nap in front of the TV can make all the difference. Try some active outside time for the children and if the weather is ok take a simple picnic for their dinner. Regular meals, exercise and naps for little ones do make a huge improvement to nighttime sleep.
  • Are you at crisis point right now ? Are you ‘touched out’ by a baby needing to be held and fed constantly or a toddler clinging to your leg, and fed up of managing everyone else’s emotions? Sometimes reassurance and hugs are just not enough!

What can I do right now to help me cope?

Stop – whatever chaos is ensuing – just stop. And take 1-2 minutes to breathe. Our minds and our stress responses  are designed to be in-tune with our breathing – this has evolutionary advantages and is described as Polyvagal theory. When you have  time – this is a great link to check out. Right now breathe in, hold and breathe out slowly – repeat 5 times if possible!

Give yourself a hug – we can release our own oxytocin by a firm self-hug, or pressing on our chest just above and between the breasts, there is also a pressure point between the thumb and forefinger in the fleshy bit just before the joint.

Now put on some uplifting music that you like, start by swaying and humming and then really dance out that stress and tension. Young children love this to and it may be enough to distract them from whinging.

Ok – now write down some of those feelings and thoughts any old way!

Consider some aromatherapy – try out scents for yourself – patchouli, frankincense, and clary sage are great for mood and hormone balancing but anything which you like will help!

Simple mindfulness techniques can also help – breathe in the smell of your little ones head as you cuddle them. Really look at your older kids and note what you adore about them. Look around your home and remember occasions when good things happened!

Now look at what you may have written down and see if you can re-frame it to be slightly more positive. You can change the internal voice that says everything is rubbish – see if you can find a little bit of calm and happiness within the mayhem.

How do I cope with my children today?

This blog post is aimed at those of us with no social support to call on – perhaps family are not available or not interested, perhaps you’re a single parent or partner works long tiring hours? If you have someone to call on – do it – now! There is no shame in asking for help! When you do – tell your cavalry what you want them to do! This is your choice – not theirs! Sometimes we want an hour away from the kids and sometimes we don’t – let them know!

For those with no-one available right now – first make sure the kids are safe. Now make sure everyone is fed – you first – hot drink and snack first and then everyone else – it doesn’t have to be healthy right now !! It can be healthy later on today or tomorrow or on an easier day!

What do you need to do now to feel better?

If you need to yell – go into the next room and yell into a pillow! Will your child wonder what’s going on? Yes – but this is ok, they are safe and loved and you are not yelling at them!

If you need to have 5 minutes away – then go and lie down to breathe or cry – will your child wonder where you are for 5 minutes – probably but this will not harm them and may save you!

If you need to just hug a fractious baby rather than feed for the hundredth time that day – then do so – again this will not harm them – its ok!

If you feel you have not slept for days then its ok to ask someone else to have the kids for 5 hours. Did you know that a stretch of 5 hours unbroken sleep will work miracles – this does not have to be at night. If you are breastfeeding, most babies can cope with a big cuddle from dad or gran and an occasional one-off will not affect your milk supply or relationship with your baby.

We all know that responsive parenting is best, that being emotionally available for your children helps them grow and thrive, that modelling your emotions teaches them how to regulate theirs.

But we were not designed to do this by ourselves! Your children are loved and cared for ! You may try these suggestions above just once or you made need to use them more.

I feel guilty!

I think parental guilt is delivered alongside the placenta (please note there is no evidence for this!) We all want to do our very best for our children! Guess what? You are the best for your children! You are the one there for them, comforting them and loving them – no-one else can do that better than you!

Do you remember everything little thing about your early years? Your children will not look back and remember the times you needed to just ‘pop into my room’ to cry or ‘just going to the toilet’ to hide and yell into the hand towel! They will remember running to you for comfort, having a dance and laugh, sharing a treat! They don’t need perfection – they just need you – warts and all!

When this crisis has passed look at ways that you could make life easier! Look at just doing one niggling chore first thing in the morning then its done. Look at not multitasking – take enjoyment from the mundane and focus on one thing at a time. Ask for help or hire it in if you can. Aim to get outside each day for some fresh air. Look at swapping a couple of ‘reach for and grab’  foods for something more healthy.

Look at parenting or feeding support if needed! A couple of bad days do not mean you’re a bad parent! But sometimes a lack of sleep can exacerbate our stress and tension the following day which inevitably the kids pick up on. Try an earlier bedtime and a calming wind down period for everybody before bed.

Longer term support can be found through your GP, health visitor or charities such as Mind or Pandas

Rachel Greaves is a midwife, public health nurse and accredited sleep coach. She volunteers at local breastfeeding support groups and works privately at Goodnight Solutions