10 Things to Do to Get You Through a Parenting Breakdown

Experts share what to do if you feel like giving up and find yourself in the middle of parenting crisis mode. It happens to the best of us.

Picture this: It's 2 a.m. and you've already nursed three times since dinner. Your toddler has started to revert back from his big-boy bed, and your partner is sound asleep. Or, you're at the grocery store and your children simply can't understand why they can't have three chocolate bars. The meltdowns over chocolate continue at home and it's your partner's night out with her friends so you're on your own. There is no guidebook that prepares parents for all of the twists and turns of raising tiny human beings into (semi)-functional adults but if you're anything like most folks, you probably feel as if you're losing your mind at times. So what's a parent to do?

The double-edged sword of being a mom or dad in today's generation is that information is always at your fingertips and parenting advice is abundant but it also feels like a lot to dig through, according to parenting expert and author Rebekah Borucki. And hey, in the wee hours of the night, you likely shouldn't browse WebMD when your little one wakes up screaming. "In a moment of parenting crisis, this avalanche of information can confuse more than it can help. It can make any parent feel overwhelmed and exasperated," she explains.

This can leave you ready to throw up the white flag of defeat, give up and have a complete melt-down, alongside your child. But what else can you do? What are some strategies that are helpful, without being taxing or unrealistic? Here, parenting pros provide their hacks and tricks that will get you through the terrible twos… and threes and fours…

illustration of baby shaking rattle that is shaped like mother
Illustration by Kasia Bogdańska

1. Repeat: You're not crazy. You're not alone.

There's power to be found in your words—and not only the ones you share with your kids, but what ones you choose to speak to yourself. Even if your self-confidence is usually okay, parenting expert and founder of Legendairy Milk, Luna Feehan, says post-birth hormones can make anyone doubt herself. When you throw in lack of sleep, body shifts, and the anxiety that comes with a new level of responsibility, it can feel intense for anyone. When you are on your last leg and feeling defeat coming on, she urges parents to remember they aren't alone. That they're not crazy. That, yep, it'll pass. As she puts it, it can take a village to raise a child, but there often aren't villages right at the moment you need them. Learning to self-cope with soothing words can make a difference.

2. Start a group chat with other parents.

Parenting blogger Megan Harper has a secret place she goes when she needs to vent about her children: a group chat with her six closest friends from high school. Though they live all around the country, they all happen to be at the same life stage. Texting them at all hours of the day and night has been a life-saver more times than she can count. "It is huge that I can just word vomit everything I'm thinking into that group text without judgment," she shares. Even if you haven't spoken to some of your pals in years, reach out on Facebook and see if anyone would be interested in being part of a group dynamic. You could be surprised by how many women are right in your same situation and would appreciate the outlet.

3. Post on Instagram stories.

If you got up at 3 a.m. to change a diaper, 4 a.m. to tame a nightmare, and 5 a.m. to start feeding but you didn't post on Insta, did it even happen? Of course it did—but when you're in a moment of crisis and feel like no one understands, you might not realize how many parents actually do. Harper says Instagram can be a strong, supportive community if you're willing to be a tad vulnerable with your ups and downs. "I love getting another mother's feedback whether it be a stranger or friend," she says. "It's refreshing to discuss what we're going through together. Having someone else reach out who has kids in the same stages of my children is a huge help."

4. Rethink your stress.

Think back on the last time you were in panic mode: what did you do? According to Amy Blankson, author of The Future of Happiness, most people go into fight or flight mode. This is when you see a saber tooth tiger chasing you—instead of your three-year-old child. "In times like this, your brain actually processes information through your emotion-regulating centers rather than through your logic centers, which makes it hard to see all of the options in front of you," she explains.

Though it definitely won't be easy, you can try a mental hack of shifting your thought process from threat to challenge. This means when your baby refuses to take a nap, you think 'how can I handle this better?' instead of 'This is going to be awful.' "This simple strategy changes the part of your brain that is activated during stress and enables you to see new solutions," she shares.

5. Let yourself cry it out.

If you're going through the process of 'crying it out' with your baby, why not do the same yourself? Executive coach and career coach Elizabeth Pearson urges parents to cry when they feel like it and remember it's okay to have your own mini-meltdown at 3 a.m. when your kiddo has been screaming for an hour (or more).

"Try to acknowledge and accept what your body and mind are trying to tell you. The first instinct may be to snap out of it and go back to normal like nothing happened—but that would be doing yourself a disservice," she explains. "If we speed past our emotions and physical cues for attention, our feelings of anxiousness and tiredness won't magically go away—they're almost guaranteed to resurface in the near future, and possibly at an even less inopportune time. What we resist persists and what we accept evolves. By allowing the freak-outs to happen—without judgment or shame—you're allowing the negative feelings to move through you and dissipate."

6. Get close to water.

Weird but true: water has many physiological and psychological benefits. While of course, you know it's hydrating and beneficial for your health and your pores, simply being near H2O can make you feel calmer. If you live near water, go for a walk and bring your pouty kid with you. If you're anxious and you have a sitter, take a shower yourself. If you don't have enough time to even think about washing your hair, Pearson suggests buying a small tabletop fountain or sound machine. "The mere sound of water has positive effects on our mental health and science suggests that the rhythm of ocean waves coming in and out can affect the rhythm of the neuronal 'waves' in our brain, triggering a more tranquil pattern of thought," she continues. "A fun exercise to do is visualizing your negative vibes flowing out to sea and new energetic and compassionate vibes coming in with each wave."

7. Consider instant meditation.

Meditation has been proven time and time again as a superstar in alleviating stress, relieving tension, and even improving happiness. And though there are plenty of apps available to help get you started, like Headspace and Calm, you might be far away from your phone when you need a moment of peace. Borucki recommends developing an instant meditation technique to turn to when you need to, well, breathe. You can start with repeating an effective mantra or by asking yourself some questions: 'Whom do I love, admire, and respect as a parent?' or 'How can I get more comfortable?' As your toddler continues to cry until they tire, you can pat his or her back, close your eyes and find a teeny-tiny bit of zen.

8. Get some space.

Here's a study you will most definitely relate to: 71 percent of parents admit to doing whatever it took to get alone time: running faux errands, feigning sickness, making fake phone calls. If you've ever felt guilty about escaping, don't. Blankson notes 69 percent of people feel renewed afterward and 87 percent of folks feel like better people when they have 55 minutes of 'me' time every day.

Though an hour on your own is probably a luxury at this point in child-raising, give yourself permission to walk away when you need to. You might not be able to in public, but at home, giving yourself a minute or two to disconnect from the madness—even if it's when you're camping out on the toilet—could make or break your ability to move forward. To really capitalize on those precious 120 seconds, Blankson also recommends the app game Happify, which offers science-based games to develop positive skills for overcoming stress and negativity.

9. Look into local mom or dad groups with IRL meetups.

Sadly, you can't rally every mom you've ever met at your home at 10 p.m. to convince your child that, no, they don't need another glass of water. But getting involved in parenting communities can be invaluable support. Consider The Local Moms Network, MOMS Club and Hey Mama, as good places to connect to like-minded moms near you. Also, search for your neighborhood mom group on Facebook. If you don't find one, start it yourself—likely there are plenty of local moms interested in meeting for a cup of coffee. Especially if you don't have a built-in tribe from childhood or college, investing in those women who are on the same path will make you feel less alone. Maybe you'll even look forward to sharing your triumphs and pitfalls the next time you gather together.

10. Call a hotline for real-time help.

Your best friend can't pick up the phone and your partner and parents are unreachable. You feel stranded and on your very last leg—what do you do? Pearson suggests calling the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736. If you're not ready to speak to someone, you can text "Connect" to 741741 and reach a counselor at the Crisis Text Hotline. These services are free and will immediately connect you to a compassionate person who is trained to help you deal with problems and otherwise support you.

Updated by Lindsay Tigar
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