When “SAHM” Stands For Stressed-Out Anxious Homebound Mom
Boy, this is going to be long. My apologies from the start. I feel like I’m totally losing it in the mom, and overall general human being, department. I have a just-turned-3 year old boy and a 21 month old girl. Neither of my children has ever given a rats arse about toys and while that probably sounds wonderful to some sect of the population, I tell you it is not. My children expect me to entertain them every minute of the day. I have shown them how to play with toys (cars, Thomas train track stuff, play kitchen, balls, dolls, etc). We have done make believe play, which they do enjoy but won’t do a moment of it without me. We read books. We live in the country and have a good bit of space to play (no farm animals or anything, though) and so we do that. My son is sick of drawing/painting/coloring and my daughter doesn’t care to do it. I’ve done goopy activities and chores and cooking. But if I’m being honest, I cannot do all of those things every day and I know that they are bored to tears. We’ve been through a rough few months of being sick with something damn near all of the time so play dates and park trips have been pretty sparse. I stay at home with them and my husband works longish hours so it’s typical for me to have them the entire day myself. I can’t figure out how to keep everyone eternally entertained and stimulated. Maybe once a week my son will actually find something that captures his attention for an hour or so and does something by himself. My daughter might wander off for 10 minutes but is pretty soon hot on my heels to be picked up. I don’t know how to get them to engage in activities longer. I don’t know what people do with babies/toddlers 13-14 hours a day. I tried asking my mommy friends and got vague answers.
Second, my kids are driving me to crazy town. The fighting, the whining, the crying, the arguments. My daughter has very advanced verbal skills for her age (she’s been speaking in full sentences since 16-17 months), and this has super upped her independent streak. Because we live in a remote area, we must go everywhere by car. So now instead of pleading with just one kid to get in the car seat, I have to plead with two for every instance that we get in the car. This is giving me actual anxiety anytime I need to go somewhere because I don’t know if it’s going to take 5 minutes to get in the car or 20 minutes, especially because my daughter won’t get in her car seat unless I “count” or make threats. Contrary to what my children might believe, I hate having to play angry/bad mommy to get through the day.
And talk about angry mommy, I am wiped out of patience. Both of my kids want me to carry them around or hold them all day long and if I don’t they follow me around wailing. Simultaneously, too, because heaven forbid one is getting something that the other isn’t. And neither of them listen to “no, don’t do that” unless I’m yelling at them at the top of my lungs. I always start with niceties: “Please don’t yell at/hit the dog.” “Please stop slamming the door shut” “Please stop pinching your brother/sister” “Please stop throwing things at the tv”. By the fifth or sixth time I have to ask them to stop doing something, I turn into a scary mommy monster because it’s the only thing that yields any results. I spend a lot of time hating the parent that I am. I had a mean-mommy who yelled at me constantly about anything she could (and sometimes things she made up because she was literally crazy) and so when I have to yell, it eats at me. I went to a therapist to help with stress/anger management things and it was a big flop. After the first three sessions, I ended up needing to cancel the next four because 1) I couldn’t find someone to watch my kids 2)stomach bug 3) sitter canceled morning of and the therapist didn’t want me to bring my kids 4) my son woke up from his nap vomiting so now I couldn’t leave my kids with my friend and her son. All legitimate reasons but basically, I couldn’t make sessions and she wanted to give the slot to a patient who could be there.
To top it all off, my husband’s work schedule has become insane and is totally unpredictable, my social landscape is going through a complete overhaul as almost everyone has moved away and I got dumped by a friend (who it turns out is a serial friend dumper but it still hurts), and I just had two people close to me die very unexpectedly under different horrible circumstances. I don’t want to do anything but lay in bed and watch Netflix and eat junk food. And I never have the opportunity for that. We have no family where we live. I feel like if I get a sitter I need to go out of the house. My husband who is typically a great partner and parent is so overloaded at work that I can only depend on him helping out on the weekends. Just when I feel like it can’t get anymore stressful than it is, the ante gets upped. I told my husband that I feel like I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown and his giving me a break from the kids lasted maybe a half day because there is always something to do around the house and he can’t leave it go. I feel like I spend my days in a fog. I’m not mentally present with the kids because I am depleted.
I feel like if I can actually get things in order with the kids, a huge amount of anxiety would go away. I just don’t know what to do.
Thank you so much for listening to all of that.
I. Have. Been. There. Right there, where you are now, which I think is technically known as “MY WIT’S END.”
And I’m completely serious. Swap out a few details here and there, but oh, I know all of the feelings you describe. The endless barrage of NEEEEEEDS and demands and whining and fighting. The boredom and ennui. The wanting to just…not be on duty some days, always hoping and waiting for a break that isn’t ever going to come. That realization that the last frayed edges of your temper are rapidly disintegrating and you’re going to yell and you should probably not yell but there’s no going back, your voice is loud and angry and mean and then next thing you know your child is profusely apologizing for trying to put on SOCKS when he didn’t NEED socks, he just needed to put Crocs on and get out the door because we’re already late GAAAHHHHHH.
True story. Socks. I lost my shit at my child because…socks. And being late to…something. That probably (no, DEFINITELY) wasn’t worth turning full-tilt Disney Villain at him.
I could make all kinds of excuses, add in the stressful side plots going on in my life around that time, but it was still a shameful moment. I was NEVER going to be that type of mother. And yet….
I certainly can’t say every mom has moments/cycles like that, but because nobody ever wants to talk about stuff like that, I do think it’s more of us than we realize.
But. Commiseration is not a solution. So let’s try to brainstorm some practical ideas.
First: It’s summer. The long winter doldrums and general cooped-up craziness are coming to an end. Get them a kiddie pool or a sprinkler or water table. A pop-up tent with a tunnel. Beach balls, bubbles, whatever cheap outside/summer-y toys you can find at the store. (I hit the outside toy aisle at Target every year.) Also get yourself a chair with some shade and books and sit yourself down in it. Tell your kids that they are going to play outside for X amount of time. Stay seated and let them entertain themselves. Ignore the whining — not in a Mean Mommy way, but just a Zen Mommy who is not asking them to do anything unreasonable. You are there to keep them company/safe but you are not there to be a constant source of entertainment/attention.
Second: Kids who whine about being bored in the midst of copious entertainment options get put to work around the house. Yes, even a toddler is capable of helping you. They can put their plates in the dishwasher, sort and unload the silverware, put laundry back in drawers. A 3 year old can make his bed. I would start setting these as expectations, not necessarily JUST punishments for whining. HOWEVER, if playtime dissolves into whining/fighting/chaos, it’s a sobering redirect and eventually they realize that maaaaaybe finding something else to do is preferable. Also, having your children CONTRIBUTE TO THE HOUSEHOLD is 1) really good for them in general, and 2) takes the edge off of your endless give-give-give to their take-take-take.
Third: You don’t mention any preschool plans for your son. He could totally go to preschool in the fall. Heck, I bet you could find a preschool or two that run summer camp programs for three year olds. (I mean, by the time I got to my third kid I enrolled him in a toddler program at 22 months old and had him in summer camp at age 2. Both for work- AND sanity-related reasons.) He’s bored, he’s craving more structure/activity/peer interaction. Preschool would be a perfect solution. If you’re not opposed to religious-based programs, Vacation Bible School typically takes kids of ALL ages and is super inexpensive. Sign them both up. Yes, you’ll need to get them both in the car. Just remember that you’re bigger than they are. Give them one chance to get in themselves, then simply pick them up and put them in and give them ZERO ATTENTION if they start shrieking/whining. (FYI I manually shoved shoes on my 4 year old’s feet this morning because he wouldn’t do it and I was DONE with asking and am still bigger.)
Fourth: On that note, work on striking a balance between Nice Pushover Mommy and Angry Mean Mommy. There’s a middle ground in there, somewhere between nicely requesting over and over that X behavior stop or please do Y and losing your temper because you’ve made the request six times. Physical altercations are zero tolerance and result in a time-out or loss of privilege. Other things (like putting on shoes, getting in the car) are a three warning/strike situation. Your kids see you more as a playmate/entertainment source, but for all of your sakes, it’s probably better if you get a little more Boss Like. They get your attention for positive behaviors. Negative behaviors should get as little acknowledgement as possible (NOT six or seven pleadingly nice requests, in other words) and swift but appropriate consequences. (Thrown toys get put away for the day, time-outs for hitting, etc.)
Fifth: If you do get a sitter or send them to summer camp or preschool or whatever…YOU DON’T NEED TO LEAVE THE HOUSE. Go to your room, close the door, watch your Netflix until you feel better. Tell the sitter you have “work” to do or whatever, and that she is in charge and the kids are NOT to come looking for you. (That sounds like it would be good for them in general, to have you “there” but not in a way that they can follow you around and beg to picked up, etc.) Do not feel guilty about spending money to give yourself a break. Reread your letter. You NEED a break. It’s okay. It’s really, really okay. (Also will your kids watch TV? I know that’s probably a GASP PEARL CLUTCHING bit of advice but at this point I’m gonna say your mental health takes precedence over 30 damn minutes of preschool programming a day, or even a little more. Don’t be so hard on yourself to be perfect. TV exists and can be a great thing and I have freaking used it as a babysitter and would do it again, because this is just modern life.) On the other hand, when your husband offers you a break, THAT’S when you should leave the house so you don’t get put back on duty because he gets distracted. Whatever, man. It’s all you, I’m out.
Sixth: I very recently went through a tremendously tough patch, anxiety-wise. I’m not 100% out of the woods but am doing much, much better. Everybody is different, but since I also share your inability to schedule and keep appointments with a therapist, here’s what helped me. Daily use of the Pacifica app to track and acknowledge my moods/stress levels, and following the daily breathing exercises/meditation prompts. Exercising, every day, for as long (or as little) as I could spare. (I’m weightlifting now. I have muscles! I feel amazing!) Getting outside the house for a walk every day, weather permitting. Take your kids on a nature walk with buckets to collect things while you breathe deeply and get some sun on your skin. You are important too, and it’s okay to prioritize your needs above theirs sometimes. (Particularly when their “needs” are really just “wants”.)
I’m sorry you’re going through all this. I’m sorry it’s so hard right now. And make no mistake it really IS hard. Your kids are at tough ages right now. Your life is not some SAHM dream of eating bon-bons all day while being the picture-perfect mother doing all the picture-perfect enriching activities in the picture-perfect Pinterest-y house. Because that life really doesn’t exist. Please take care of yourself — it’s the only way you’ll be able to take care of them, too.