I Am Not An Angry Mom. I'm An Overwhelmed, Single Mom. Now What?

emotional intelligence  mindfulness 

By Ashley Patek

I Am Not An Angry Mom. I'm An Overwhelmed, Single Mom. Now What?

Recently I wrote an article - I Am Not An Angry Mom. I'm An Overwhelmed Mom. - and the response was staggering. Over 600,000 of you engaged in some way. 

The data clearly shows that there are a whole lotta parents out there who are struggling. This is why this conversation is imperative. Our mental health relies on it. 

Parenting can be immensely isolating, and yet, we are also incredibly united in feeling very similar emotions and having kindred experiences. I am here to call these out so that those of us who are crouching in the bathroom looking for a lifeline can hear what we all need to hear: you are not alone. 

Even if that is not a solution in and of itself, there is comfort in numbers. It isn’t that we are deficient or that we are failing. It is that we are drowning in a society that is built to keep us looking outside of ourselves. And so here we are feeling: 

  • Not enough
  • Guilt
  • Exhaustion
  • Discouragement
  • Stress 

And for many of us, that stress becomes so accumulative that it causes a nervous system shutdown, otherwise known as overwhelm. This is due to lagging skills (we weren’t taught how to handle our emotions let alone our children’s), unmet needs (the list is fiercely long), and sensory inundation (which is often overlooked and rarely considered). It sometimes feels like the odds are stacked against us. 

According to research professor and author Brené Brown, the only real solution to overwhelm is nothingness. This requires us to notice the signals from our nervous system and step away, giving ourselves the time to regulate before stepping back into the ring. 

And here is where some have said, “Wait a minute sister! Who am I supposed to pass the baton to, because no one else is here to receive it?”

So, for this article, I am talking to the single parents. The widowed parents. The parents with little support. 

I am talking to the parents with limited mental health resources and the parents who live in a society that has a system built against them. 

As one of my favorite peaceful parent advocates, Destini, says, “Being able to take a break is a privilege. Having mental health resources is a privilege. Having options is a privilege. Not all of us have it.”

For those of us who only have us - those of us who are a one-man or woman show - what do we do?

I Am Not An Angry Mom, I’m An Overwhelmed Mom

I remember after we had our first child, my husband worked 2nd shift for 10 to 12-hour shifts. He was gone all night until about 3 or 4 AM and then needed to sleep before starting all over again. I did have him a bit in the afternoon, but mostly I was alone, and I felt immensely alone. 

My son was waking every two hours to nurse, he was up most of the night, and the whole “nap when they nap” thing didn’t work out for me. If the sun was up, so was I, no matter how hard I tried. 

There were moments when I literally had to put my son in his crib for a few minutes and step away to collect myself. I am not talking about letting my baby cry it out. I don’t believe in that. But there were times I needed to cry it out for me to function because I had no one to turn to. I had no help. I had no one to tag team in. And I thought that I was going to break. 

Adding in a second child compounded this feeling. And the more I struggled, the more I questioned my qualifications as a mother. I felt like the outline of myself was being compacted into something so small that I couldn’t see myself anymore. 

Was I disappearing? Could anyone hear my calls for help? Did I even exist? Did I matter?

Fortunately, for me, after time, my support kicked in. My husband changed jobs. We moved closer to family. My mom circle grew. And for that, I am privileged and grateful. I didn’t realize how long I was holding my breath until I was able to finally breathe. 

15 Tools For The Overwhelmed, Single Mom

So, why am I telling you my story? I guess to say what I said above - you aren’t alone. And yet, your experience is immensely intimate to you. There is no way I can tell you exactly what to do. There are nearly a zillion possible variants to each of our lives. There are also threads that weave us all together. For this reason, I am going to offer ideas, seedlings, and thoughts. 

Take what serves you. Transform what you need to. Leave the rest. 

1. Adjust expectations 

I have to do it all and be on 100% of the time to be a good mom. We may think that, but it doesn’t mean it is true. Sometimes, it is okay to lower the bar a bit. We don’t have to be Pinterest Mom or Vegan Mom or Cook Home Meals Every Night Mom to be an amazing mom. So, if you are desperate for a break and the TV is the only way you will get it or you have to take a shortcut somewhere, then do it. Your mental health matters and your kids will survive. 

2. Step away

Sometimes there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide so to speak. Taking a “break” doesn’t feel like an option. In moments where you feel desperate, step away anyways. Put your kids in a safe place like their crib or room and take a moment wherever you can - the bathroom, out the front door, in your closet. If need be, turn on the shower or music for background noise or use earplugs and just breathe. Even if just for two minutes. Give your nervous system some time to reset before returning to your kids. 

3. Share your feelings 

Sometimes you can’t step away. It either isn’t safe to do so or there isn’t space to do so or you have a literal stage-five clinger who is hanging from your legs with a death grip. So, what can you do then? Sometimes just saying how you feel aloud helps to tame that emotion. When our body senses stress, it sends circuits to our brainstem (which causes us to fight or retreat) and our cortex (which is where we use logic and emotional regulation). Labeling and expressing our emotions cause us to up-regulate towards our higher brain, which means we can better respond to what is happening around us (rather than react). Using “I feel” statements helps attune your nervous system and becomes a great model for your children to do the same. 

4. Do a Trigger Worksheet

The best offense is a good defense. That means taking a few minutes during a regulated moment to gear up for dysregulation. A Trigger Worksheet helps you identify parenting triggers, reshape parenting goals and reset your nervous system with a seven-step worksheet and webinar. Bonus, both are FREE resources.

5. Incorporate movement 

Before I was a mom, I liked to exercise. Now that I can’t seem to find time to get to the gym, I have learned to incorporate the movement into my daily routines. Squat when you change the baby’s diaper, stretch before you pee, touch your toes before each meal. Generation Mindful also offers MoveMindfully decks that you can use with your kids. Whatever your movement and whatever your moment, it’s all good. Studies show that the more we move our spine, the better it is for our nervous system. 

6. Set a timer to breathe

I am not joking. Every hour, stop and take one to three deep breaths. No matter what you are doing. There is real science behind the importance of this practice in resetting your nervous system. 

7. Do a brain dump

Many times, our stress mounts as high as Mount Everest, and it can be a challenge to know where to start. We all have things that fall in our circle of control and those that don’t. A brain dump is a way to create awareness around our stress points, differentiating between those that are in our circle of control and those that fall outside of it.  

Start by writing down everything that is currently mentally, physically, and emotionally bogging you down. The activity itself isn’t meant to be a burden so take your time and set your own pace. Once your list is complete, read through and circle everything you can control, and cross out everything you can’t. By focusing on your circle of your control and releasing all beyond it, you give yourself more energy, time, and joy to create real change in your life. 

8. Delegate tasks and ask for help

I think many of us have been conditioned to believe that we must bear the load ourselves … that asking for help or delegating is a sign of weakness. This is definitely the case if you grew up in a home where it was not safe to do so or if you had to be the support or protector for the adults in your life. 

Fast forward to the present day, ask yourself, “What brings me joy? And what do I want to pass on? What could I use help with? What would give me a break?” Asking for help is a power for the lionhearted. It takes courage to stand in your truth and share it with another. 

Maybe ask a family member or a neighbor or someone in your community to help in small ways such as a fellow parent for carpools or playdates to give you a break. And truth be told, we can delegate to our kids too. Even our toddlers can do more than we think - small tasks like putting away laundry or setting the table. Your kids may even enjoy doing daily tasks with you, transforming a “to-do” moment into a “get to” connection experience. 

9. Create a visual schedule with your kids

Plan, plan, plan ahead. Visual schedules are a visual and tangible way to help children process and sequence what has to be done. This not only saves time but sanity, and empowers your children to be part of the process. What are your high-stress routines in your home? Turn them into a visual schedule to help tasks stay consistent, predictable, and manageable. 

10. Hire a sitter 

For those who have the resource to do so, hire a sitter to give yourself a break so you can sleep, run errands without the kids, or do something you enjoy. 

11. Get a listening partner

Listening Partners are an exchange of listening support between adults, which allows for an outlet of our feelings, helping us shift from our own primal fight, flight, freeze, and fawn responses so that we can come in with more clarity when parenting our children. Building resources within ourselves through the caring attention of another adult provides the connection we need to be more effective and connected parents. Maybe this is a family member, a friend, or a fellow parent. Schedule time each week or month to chat and unload as they listen and support. Another option is to use an app like Marco Polo so that you can listen and respond to one another when it feels available to you

12. Practice saying no 

Our yes doesn’t have any meaning until we learn how to say no. If setting boundaries with your kids feel hard for you, take a look at this. If setting boundaries with others feels tricky, remember that we are not here to meet the demands of others. People-pleasing only leads to resentment. When we fail to set external boundaries, we create internal boundaries that limit us. 

13. Go for a drive

Sometimes going on a drive is like going on a break. Something about everyone being strapped in, safe, and close (but also not close) can give solace. Turn on your tunes or look to nature or just not be doing whatever you would have to be doing at home. Also, taking your kids to any nearby park can be a lifeline. The fresh air is refreshing, and your kids can expel some energy with other kids, the slide, and a swing. 

14. Dose up mantras

Cover your house with sticky notes to tell yourself all the things that you need to hear in a day. Sort of like little love notes to yourself or a cheerleader telling you to keep going. When you can’t afford a life coach, you learn to coach yourself … or at least give it a go, anyways. If you tell yourself it is hard, it will most certainly feel hard. If you tell yourself that you can do this, you will likely find a way to do so. When you feel really low on patience, use these 9 mantras. Generation Mindful also has mantra cards that can be used yourself and with your kids (includes seven adult cards and 35 cards for all ages). 

15. Seek free mental health resources

Here are a few: 

Stress and overwhelm is no joke, and it can really take a toll on the way we respond to our world. In fact, too much of it can cause us to function from a different nervous system.

This list is not a "fix-all" list or a list to tell anyone what they should be doing. That isn't supportive support. This is an invitation to band together in brother and sisterhood. 

What resources, tips, and tools do you have to share? We are listening. 

** Read our original article here: I Am Not An Angry Mom. I'm An Overwhelmed Mom.

•  •  •

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