When Mommy messes up: I want to be there for my child, but I’m stressed and irritable. What can I do?

Hello, parents.

I need to vent a bit, because I’m at the end of my rope here. My sweet little boy turned 1 last week. I was looking forward to this stage so much, how he’d be walking and babbling more and we’d be understanding each other more, but now … I’m not doing well.

No matter how badly I want to, I just can’t do it. Cuddling and nursing and being patient all day when he’s having an off day. Instead, I’m stressed out and irritable. Maybe the “mom hormones” have stopped working or something. I’m not nursing as much now and my body is getting back to normal, and I find myself the same short-tempered person I was before having a baby. Even people around me are commenting on it.

… I can’t spend another night snuggling my son when he’s crying and I have no idea why (maybe he’s teething). For the past week especially he’s been waking up and crying a lot at night. I feel so bad about it and I want to be there for him so much. But I can’t do it. I just snap at him and then in the morning I feel awful about it and on the verge of tears. …

From a parenting forum. Maybe you recognize the story?

Do you have days like that too?

Days when you try to handle everything patiently and then cry into your pillow at night because you can’t do it? When you feel guilty, incompetent, or unlikeable? You want to be there for your little one, you do. To offer support, cuddles, comfort, and understanding. You genuinely want the best for them, and yet …

And yet maybe you’ve forgotten about yourself?

When your little one isn’t doing great – whining, crying, grumbling, going through a hard time, teething, or not sleeping – what do you want for them?

The patient mother who hugs them and can handle them not being their best self?
The soft, kind embrace?
Full of understanding?

And don’t you need that for yourself right now too? A little bit of kindness when you’re feeling down on yourself? A little bit of tenderness and softness? Toward yourself?

We aren’t always very good at that as mothers, are we? I don’t know about fathers, but I imagine it’s much the same. We don’t give ourselves much slack. We want to be this perfect parent who can handle everything and anything. Right?

Maybe you’re thinking that this is all well and good, but you’re a parent now. You can’t afford kindness to yourself. You have to be strong, ready, patient …

Well, you’re right about one thing. Patience is indeed important. But could you show some of it to yourself right now? Because you know what?

You are only human.

A human person with your own troubles and emotions.

With energy levels that rise and fall, sometimes almost critically low. Exhausted, vulnerable, imperfect, worn out …

Sometimes you need to wrap yourself up in a blanket and not come back out. Eat French fries in bed and not wash your plate afterwards. Right?

You’re a normal person who likes Adele or Mumford & Sons or Queen (or who’s your jam?). A human being who loves Ryan Gosling and Terry Pratchett. In high school you read The Catcher in the Rye (that’s a throwback), but these days you’d just as soon reach for a guilty pleasure like Twilight. And you’d love to do a yoga retreat or music festival again. That’s you, too, right?

The girl who used to dance all Friday night and sleep til 10 on Saturday, before the little one came along? Once or twice you came home barefoot and didn’t even wash your feet before slipping into bed. Remember? Good thing your mom didn’t see that! But one time won’t kill anybody, you thought as you drifted off to sleep, tired and happy.

Do you remember that?

Nobody was calling you MOMMY then.

People called you by your given name, and you couldn’t imagine that one day you’d have a tiny person you’d give your life for. But now they’re here, sweet and perfect, and that carefree person you used to be needs to take the back seat. You need to be MAMA or DADDY.

But what if the old you, the one you’ve locked away, is still inside you somewhere, lonely and ignored because you’re too busy being a parent?

Of course, you want to be the best possible parent for your little one. That’s why you’re here right now with Unparenting, isn’t it? But what if you don’t have any reserves left because you haven’t been giving yourself any of the kindness you need?

I can hear it now: That’s impossible!

It’d never work! I can’t! I don’t know how!


But you know what? I don’t know how either. I’m still learning, too. But I know how incredibly important it is. Not for me (not just for me), but for my little one.

So I invite you to take the first step today. Go for it. Reconnect a bit with the old you. Give that younger version of you a hug and let them know you see how hard they’re trying. Ask the same question you might ask your little one: what does she need? What would make her feel better?

Then let her fantasize for a few minutes about spending a month on a yacht or traveling around the world for a year or two. Let her dream and remember what she loves. She might not have thought about it in a long while, hm? She hasn’t been thinking about herself at all lately. Well, now she can. Now YOU can.

What do you need? What would make you feel better?

Think about it. Give yourself time to come up with something. Or grab the first crayon you see (there’s probably a selection available on the floor) and write it down. Or draw it. Big things or little things that would bring you joy. Put them all on your wishlist. I’ll wait here while you do that.

All done?

Did you remember what you love?

“Yeah, but what of it?” you might be wondering.
Maybe you’re even thinking I’ve gone off the deep end, but I’m just going to say it.
Start doing it!

“Ridiculous! Impossible!” you might scoff inside.

Maybe you’re right. Maybe not all of it is possible with your new entourage. Some of it might need to wait a while. Some of it might have to wait for your next life. But take a look at your list. Some of those things could happen, couldn’t they? One of the smaller things that would bring you some joy?

Because how are you supposed to stay cool and collected in challenging situations if you never fill up your bucket?

Watch out, though. From personal experience: Don’t make this into another item on your neverending to-do list.

This isn’t supposed to be another task to get done. Give self a bit of joy: check. A mandatory trip to the movies, gym, or beauty salon shouldn’t go on the list between grocery shopping and folding the laundry. When all you really want is …

What? What is it you want? Is it really taking things easy without a task list?

I know you might not have much help around the house, not to mention childcare, and you spend all your time with your little one. But is there nothing that you love that you could make happen?

I’ll give a few ideas.

Take a nap with the baby instead of catching up on housework. (What was it you said when you crawled into bed with dirty feet? One time isn’t going to kill anybody?)

Or at least, I don’t know, drink your coffee before it goes cold. (Because you’re always running off to take care of the baby, aren’t you?) Could you set things up so that once a day you could drink a cup of coffee on your own and not have to take care of anything else? Your little one might help you out with it if you explain how important it is to you to have a few minutes to yourself instead of mumbling, “Okay, sweetie, be right there,” and building another block tower or looking everywhere for a lost toy. Frustrated all the while that you can’t even drink a cup of coffee in peace.

Instead of the stressed-out, “Sure, I’ll do it, even though I’m running on fumes,” wouldn’t you rather show your little one that even Mom and Dad can have a few minutes for themselves?

Hm? Would you not feel better?

Or – and now I’m going to get really bold – couldn’t you pack your little one a bag and head out with your partner or a friend to a music festival instead of the playground? Maybe not for the whole weekend, but for one afternoon? A baby needs milk, diapers, and a hat to protect against the sun. Easy enough. Plus you’ll be giving them excellent taste in music from a young age. Priceless, right? What do you think, Mama?

Mama is probably objecting to this whole idea, isn’t she? She’s busy. But what would the old you say? Would she go for it?

Is there really no way to reconcile the parent with the person inside you? That temperamental, romantic, gentle, creative, wild, or reserved person inside you?

What do you think?

Could you find the time to show your little one what it looks like when the real you does something you love, something that makes your eyes light up?

Because the more energy and joy you draw from whatever makes your eyes light up, the more energy and joy you’ll have available for your life as a parent. I’m not encouraging you to be self-centered. I’m encouraging you to show some kindness to the stressed-out, irritable person inside you. Some kindness to yourself so you can pass it on to others. Especially to your teething baby who’s going to need you most of the night.

Does all this make sense?

I know you’re trying. You’re doing your best to get your kind, loving mom persona working again. I admire you for not giving up. But in order to get that engine running again, you’re going to need fuel. You need to fill up your tank if you want to keep going without breaking down.

Here’s a quick first aid stop to help you on your way.

Best of luck! I’m an Unparenting mom too. I’m a real person with my own personality, like you.

So, Mama or Daddy, what small thing on your list will you do for yourself today? ❤️