10 Things to Do to Get Yourself Through a Parenting Breakdown

Parenting breakdowns happen to the best of us. Experts share what to do if you feel like giving up when you're in the middle of parenting crisis mode.

The scenarios in which parents find themselves at their wit's end are endless. Maybe it's 2 a.m., and you're sleep deprived because your baby keeps waking to feed. Or your toddler keeps wandering into your bed, and your partner is sound asleep. Or, you're at the grocery store, and your children 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 their friends, so you're on your own.

There is no guidebook that prepares parents for all the twists and turns of raising tiny human beings into functional adults. But if you're anything like most folks, you probably feel like you're losing your mind sometimes.

The double-edged sword of being a parent 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. "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 meltdown alongside your child. But what else can you do? Read on for some helpful strategies parenting pros recommend for getting through tough parenting moments.

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

1. Remember That You're Not Alone

There's power in your words—not only the ones you share with your kids but what you choose to speak to yourself. Even if your self-confidence is usually OK, parenting expert and founder of Legendairy Milk Luna Feehan says post-birth hormones can make anyone doubt themselves. When you throw in a lack of sleep, body shifts, and the anxiety that comes with a new level of responsibility, it can feel intense for anyone.

So, when you are on your last leg and feeling defeat coming on, she urges parents to remember they aren't alone. Things may feel totally bananas, but 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 cope with soothing words can make a difference.

2. Start a Group Chat

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 in 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 people are right in your same situation and would appreciate the outlet.

3. Post on Social Media

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 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 to 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 your body reacts like it sees a saber tooth tiger chasing you—instead of your 3-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. For example, when your baby refuses to nap, 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

Executive coach and career coach Elizabeth Pearson urges parents to cry when they feel like it. And remember, it's OK to have your own mini-meltdown at 3 a.m. when your kiddo has been inconsolable.

"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 water can make you feel calmer.

If you live near water, take your pouty kid with you for a walk. If you're anxious and you have a sitter, take a shower 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 2021 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America demonstrated that natural sounds—especially water sounds—improved health and decreased stress. Researchers believe these natural sounds trigger a sense of safety, allowing people to control their mind states, reduce stress-related behavior, and mentally recuperate.

"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," says Pearson.

7. Consider Instant Meditation

People turn to meditation time and time again to cope with stress. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation may improve people's overall health and quality of life. Meditation is especially helpful for stress, anxiety, and depression.

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. So, Borucki recommends developing an instant meditation technique to turn to when you need to, well, breathe.

You can start by repeating a chosen mantra or asking yourself questions: 'Whom do I love, admire, and respect as a parent?' or 'How can I get more comfortable?' Then, as your toddler continues to cry until they tire, you can pat their back, close your eyes and find a teeny-tiny bit of zen.

8. Get Some Space

Many parents do whatever it takes to get alone time from running faux errands to feigning sickness to making fake phone calls. If you've ever felt guilty about escaping, don't. Blankson notes that most people feel renewed and like better people when they have about an hour of "me" time every day.

Though an hour on your own is probably a luxury at this point in child-rearing, permit yourself 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 capitalize on those precious 120 seconds, Blankson recommends the app Happify, which offers science-based games to develop positive skills for overcoming stress and negativity.

9. Join an IRL Parent Group

Sadly, you can't rally every parent you've ever met at your home at 10 p.m. to convince your child that they don't need another glass of water. But getting involved in parenting communities can provide invaluable support.

Consider the following as good places to connect to like-minded parents near you:

Also, search for your neighborhood parent group on Facebook or contact your neighborhood association for other local parenting groups. If you don't find one, start it yourself—likely, there are plenty of local parents interested in meeting for a cup of coffee.

These connections can be critical if you don't have a built-in network from childhood or college. Investing in friends at the same point in their journey 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

Your best friend can't pick up the phone, and your partner and parents are unreachable. So what do you do if you feel stranded and on your last leg?

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 trained to help you deal with problems and support you.

Updated by Lindsay Tigar
Was this page helpful?
Related Articles