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When “SAHM” Stands For Stressed-Out Anxious Homebound Mom

By Amalah

Dear Amy-

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.

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • IrishCream

    Oh, that sounds rough. You have my sympathy, 100%. A couple of random things that came to mind: first, I got a great piece of parenting advice when I was pregnant with my first. A colleague with older kids told me “Try not to tell your kids what not to do. Instead, tell them what you want them to do.” I.e. instead of saying “Please stop hitting the dog,” you can say “Pet the dog gently, like this,” and demonstrate. Obviously there are times when you have to say “No! Stop!” but if you can reserve those for situations where someone is going to get hurt, it’ll be more effective. And especially with small kids, showing them an alternative behavior really helps…they’re too little to understand on their own what an acceptable version of their behavior would be. 

    I don’t know the circumstances around your SAHM-ness so I apologize if this is too personal or completely out of the question, but would you consider getting a job? I hope this doesn’t come off as judgy in any way, I strongly believe that there are all kinds of ways to raise happy, healthy kids, but I personally feel that I’m a better mom because I’m not with my kids 24/7. If there’s something you could do, even part-time, that would get you out of the house and give you some adult time, it might be easier to maintain your sanity during the remaining hours when you’re on mom-duty. Even if you’d only be breaking even financially because of childcare, there might be mental health dividends. : )

    Lastly, a book that helped me and my husband deal with whining and other bad behavior: The Secret of Parenting, by Anthony Wolf. (Don’t worry, the title is tongue-in-cheek.) It breaks down exactly how you ignore bad behavior and reward good behavior, with lots of real-life examples. Really useful for my family.

    I think I’ve responded at such length because I identify with that feeling of “holy crap, it’s only 10:30 a.m. and I have eight hours to fill and my kids are driving me bonkers.” It can be so hard being a parent, you’re not alone!

    • r

      Agreed. I was going crazy for my 3 months of maternity leave and I even had a lot of help. (My beautiful boy is 6 months now). I am very happy being a working mother and I agree that it makes me a better mother because I really, really, enjoy and cherish the time I have with my baby. I could not STAND to be at my house all day with little to no intellectual stimulation for myself and not really knowing what to do with the baby all the time.

      If you can find something to do by yourself for a few hours a week, you would probably feel a lot better. Amalah is right; you come first barring any safety issues.

  • Amy

    I’m reading anxiety in the letter, too, and I’m glad Amalah picked up on it.

    You don’t have to go to a SHRINK and do THERAPY to have anxiety treated.  You can totally go to your family doctor/primary care/GP person and say, “I am having anxiety about leaving my house with my kids,” (which you are, and that’s not normal, even though there are reasons), and you can get yourself a prescription for something to take the edge off of that.

    I literally was just talking to my shrink yesterday, about how anxiety causes irritability – if you feel anxious all the time, you’re like a raw nerve walking around, and the tiniest little things can set you off.  Sounds to me like you can relate to that feeling, huh?

    Finally, you gotta get out of the house.  It doesn’t have to be an appointment on a schedule – find the nearest town and go to their library, parks, pool, etc. See if you can plug in to the parenting networks that already exist to find out what resources there are for parents. I live in a smallish town, near a larger one, and there are a couple of Facebook groups about “things to do with kids” and a couple newsletters (electronic and printed) about what’s going on. You’ll meet other moms and build your support network, your kids will be entertained, and you’ll feel less at the end of your wits.

    My kids are older now (9,8,4), and it’s a lot easier. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel you’re in – and it’s called kindergarten.  🙂  Hang in there.  

    • I’m sending so much love and so many hugs to the OP! I was also going to say that I saw a lot of my own anxiety/depression in the post. I didn’t realize until after things had gotten much worse and I went back on medication how much the idea of taking my kids anywhere (a toddler and an infant) was freaking me out. I turned down invitations to do things because I just couldn’t fathom GETTING THEM THERE, and it wasn’t until I was medicated for a while that I realized, “Huh. I just decided randomly to take BOTH kids to the grocery store BY MYSELF and it was no big deal! When did that get easy?” (And it didn’t get easy btw. Having two little kids is HARD, so they didn’t get easier, I just was able to cope better). 🙂 I’ve been on and off medications for years now (I go off when I get pregnant, then go back on later when the baby is born and I realize things are just TOO MUCH TO HANDLE and I can’t keep going the way that I have been) and that’s a pattern I look back and consistently see: that medication helps me be better at handling the stresses of being a lonely SAHM of two little kids. That’s a rough gig as it is, and there’s no sense in making it harder than it needs to be. I hope it’s something you look into if you think it might benefit you! I’d also encourage you to follow Amalah’s suggestion to get them something new to play with and then just sit down and refuse to engage. Learning to play independently is a skill that most kids have to work on, and so when I (currently pregnant again) am too exhausted to entertain them, I remind myself that I’m doing them a favor by forcing them to practice that skill 😉 

  • Jessica

    Lots of love and sympathy from a Mom with a 3 year old and 16 month old. Janet Lansbury’s writings have helped me immensely in know how to react to my kids when they whine for attention and seemingly cannot play by themselves – I hope this helps you too:

    http://www.janetlansbury.com/2015/04/help-my-toddler-cant-play-without-me/ 

    • Brigitte

      I was just about to leave the same link!  Janet Lansbury has a lot of great encouragement and ideas when it comes to independent play and limit-setting, which are two things that stood out to me in the original post.  So, I second this link!

  • Ally

    What saved my sanity was the Y. I know getting out of the house is hard, but it has been awesome for our entire family. I get a break from the kids, and the childcare is wonderful. My kids play with other kids and get a lot of energy out. I made a lot of good friends there and get some adult interaction. Some days all I do is take a shower and read a book. 

  • Michele

    Great advice. I also recommend the book “Siblings Without Rivalry.”

  • I just want to chime in and say: don’t forget that you’re awesome. Being in the trenches like that daily is heroic and takes great strength. Your children are safe, fed, and have a place to be themselves. I think Amalah gives great advice all around, but I wanted to make sure you don’t forget that you are winning, even when it feels like things are going to pieces around you. 

  • Melissa

    I agree with what someone said above, it sounds like you could possibly benefit from some medication for anxiety and/or depression. I recently started taking something myself, and I have to say it has helped me tremendously. Also, I found a therapist that does skype sessions, so I can meet with her during nap time without changing out of my pajamas. It’s totally a game changer for me, because like you said, actually going to therapy is the hardest part. Hang in there, it’s going to get better.

  • Alyssa

    I don’t know if you have something similar where you live, but where we are (Ontario, Canada) we have an early years center. The EYC and children’s services both offer free parenting classes, most of the time with child care provided. 

    I really enjoy doing this, it gives me 2 hours a week where I know my kids are being taken care of, and I am able to be with other mom’s and commiserate / problem solve about the issues we are having with our children. (My 3 year old would LOSE HER MIND about having to get out of her pajamas. It was a nightmare, but with the teachers help we were able to find calm ways to gain co-operation.)

    My favorite class was the “how to talk so kids will listen” class. It’s a book that is really easy to follow and has a lot of GREAT ideas. I can honestly say, my children act better and I am much calmer using these methods. 

    Anyway, it might be worth looking into seeing if your local area offers these free programs. And with childcare built in, it makes it easier to go. (Minus the getting in the car part)

  • Paige

    My daughter was like that at 14 months. She HAAAATED the car with a passion. The only way to get her in it was to physically insert her and then listen to her wail the whole way to whereversville. She once screamed for 2.5 hours straight during a Thanksgiving day drive to see family.

    The next week, we began the “you actually love riding in the car” jedi mind warp. First, we found some kiddie music we adults actually liked: Boyton’s Philidelphia Chickens and Dog Train, and put them on perpetual repeat in the car. Then we went somewhere two, three times a day, and we made them all short trips to somewhere extremely pleasant. We visited every single toy store in the area, all of the playgrounds, three different libraries, the dog park, every u-pick that was open, even if we gave the food away after… anything we could think of to make getting in the car SO. MUCH. FUN. By the time we’d gotten 2 weeks into it, she was super happy to get into the car, and we extended the trips to 30 minute trips once a day. We went to nearby children’s museums, train rides, the ice rink… still kept it fun and exciting, but streeetched that time that she sat in her seat.

    By the time we got to Christmas, that same 2.5 hour trip? No problem. And asking her to get in the car was a dream. She’d run out and buckle herself in! You can turn the car thing around with some effort.

    I think we overdid it on our second one, though. He’s super attached to his carseat and car rides. Now I have to figure out the “you don’t need to be in the car every moment of the day” mind warp.

  • s

    Find someone with a 8,9,10,11year old that needs supervision, but not straight up watching, during the summer. Maybe a kid that wants to babysit but isn’t old enough to do a full on babysitting job. Make a trade off. Their.older kid is your “mother’s helper” plays with the kids, can do mild after lunch clean ups, play room clean ups. And you get a break. Neither one has to pay for childcare (or the other parent pays very minimally to at least cover some.lunch costs) make it as many or as few days a week. Sanity helpers.

    • Kate

      I’m sorry, are you seriously suggesting that someone pay her for their kid to be her mother’s helper? Being a mother’s helper is a job that the kid should get paid for not the other way around, especially if it includes things like cleaning. I agree that a mother’s helper is a good idea but what you’re suggesting is using some poor kid as free labor. 

  • I am right in the same place as you, kids are even the same age! Summer is always easier (outside time!) but we’ve also enrolled our 3 year old in preschool for the fall and that is keeping me sane. He’ll get peer interaction and structure, I’ll get a break, and once you’re out the door to drop them off it’s easier to go do something else with the little one instead of being stuck home.

    Also, our oldest is 7, and it does get better. They get much more independent (although, I still have to tell my 7 yr old that I can play for x amount of time and then he needs to entertain himself. Good skill to learn/teach early). You’re not selfish for feeling the way you do, it can be totally crazy making! If you can hire a babysitter for just a couple hours a week so you can go do…anything , it may also really help for the summer!

  • Sassy

    I might be a bad mom, but I enrolled my first son in the pre-k at my church last year. He was turning 2 when the year started. He only went half days two days a week. But it saved my sanity, especially once we had the new baby in December. He will be going again next year, and the baby will also be enrolled the year after (as soon as he’s old enough). My husband didn’t want to pay for it, but i told him that our son is just completely bored at home with me. I cannot say enough how wonderful not having to entertain him constantly has been. Even having an opportunity to just drop him off and get coffee and read for an hour before going home and getting some work done. We won’t be sending him to any of the camps, but we’re in the city with a nice pool, great parks, and free splash parks. If we weren’t, he’d absolutely be going to those camps.

  • Nancy

    ::HUGS:: 

    That really sucks. I started being the ‘playmate’ while Husband had been the ‘boss’ and it took a while for my kid to adjust to me being more ‘boss.’ But it can be done!

    Meanwhile… #5. Oh my lord, #5. Please do what Amy recommends. You NEED it. And you are important too. So you DESERVE it. Take care of yourself!

  • Tiffany

    My kids are exactly the same age differences as yours and we went through the exact same thing at the exact same age, just over three years ago now. It sucked! Amalah and the others commentators all had really good advice, a lot of which we tried & worked! Can I also add a few more:
    – I found if I just said nothing,just stopped talking,  it was easier not to yell. And no response is better than an angry one, as far as I’m concerned. 
    – it’s good for kids to know to to play by themselves, don’t feel guilty about it! A friend mine suggested (and it worked for us) to set a timer (start with just a couple minutes) and explain that they need to play by themselves until it goes (you can add something like “so mommy can finish cleaning up/cooking/whatever” if you think that’ll help) and then you’ll rejoin them; when you come back make a huge deal out of it, how awesome they did, etc!!  Once they get used  to 5 minutes, make it  7 minutes, then 10, etc… 
    – If they have an older cousin or friend who  they think is the coolest person ever, get that kid over. They’ll have someone else to entertain them and might pick up some playing skills from watching someone else do it.

  • Brittney

    I can completely relate! My kids are 2.5 years old and 5 months old and it has been so hard trying to not only care for, but also entertain two little people all day. Before I had my daughter I worked full time and my son was in daycare, so that was much easier because I enjoyed the time we had together much more. For us though, childcare is too expensive for two kids and would cost more than what I would make working, so I am trying to figure out how to cope with the stress but it is hard. I recently joined a group at a local church called MOPS or mothers of preschoolers. It starts later this year but basically we paid a flat fee and I’ll have childcare for my two kids and we will meet every other week for two hours. I’m so looking forward to some adult interaction and time with other moms. If you go to mops.org you can see if they have one in a city near where you live. I know it is really hard to get out of the house with two kids but for me it always helps me feel better when I’m overwhelmed and sick of being trapped at home all day. Sometimes I’ll also meet up with a few friends and take the kids for a walk or to our local splash pad. My son loves to run around and play there and it really helps to tire him out and burn some of that crazy toddler energy! Hope some of these suggestions help! Hang in there mama, we’ve all been there. 

  • Ali

    Totally agree with the comments above!  A few more ideas on the playing independently front: (1) up until recently, my almost 3 year old seemed incapable of playing by himself and basically ignored all of his (millions of) toys.  I started a “toy rotation” system and it has been incredible how much more he has played with toys when he only has a “few” (still probably 8-10) available at a time.  I really think he was just overwhelmed before.  Bonus: my house is less cluttered!  (2) I am guessing there is something out there your kiddos would be Into…for example, we discovered my oldest is REALLY into puzzles.  Maybe it isn’t puzzles for your kids, but something else…just try things until something finally clicks.  (3). Even though it is terrible and a production to get out of the house, do it.  Some days I am in tears by the time we make it to the car (and the kids scream about the car seats), I never regret getting out…we do something every day…maybe not something exciting, but something nonetheless.  It does wonders for my mental state + is good stimulation for the kiddos .  (Things we do throughout the week include going to the Y, going to parks, hitting the fast food indoor playgrounds, going to library programs, going to indoor play places where you pay to let your kids run wild, go to craft time at a local toy store, etc.). That has been my saving grace since having my 2nd.  Best wishes to you!  

  • Amelia

    So many great ideas here! I agree strongly with the toy rotation, the “mommy is unavailable” timer, and the calm-but-swift response to non-compliance.

    One device that has helped us a lot lately (I have a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old) is a sticker chart for the older one. We have a list of desired behaviours, e.g., “taking care of your body” (toileting and dressing with some independence), “sharing and caring” (helping his little brother or playing nicely) and he loves getting recognized for his work. He gets two M&M candies per 6 stickers, which averages out to once a day, because he’s in daycare. He will actually look for opportunities to behave well, now that he has the chart. I was getting very tired of being the Mean Mommy too, and this helped a lot!

  • Allison

    I am just coming out of my own version of this. Ugh it stinks! Do you perhaps have an outdoor area that is enclosed that the kids can safely play in? I think kicking them outside (without you!) For 10 min or so while you munch some chocolate, or use the bathroom without babies pestering you,is a good way for them to learn that mom is not a 24hr giving machine.
    I do that with my kids and just peek on them periodically. I let them know also that they can do a variety of things that are not allowed indoors. (Yelling! throwing things! Go crazy!) When they get extra screamy, out they go. It helps.
    Hang in there!

  • SarahB

    Just chiming in to recommend 1-2-3 Magic as a straightforward short and sweet book to help you be clearer to your kids in implementing discipline. It has helped us a great deal.

    Our son at least pauses to think when he hears me say “one,” and calmly saying one is so much better than yelling. (Though I have certainly yelled–usually when DH has been traveling, which it sounds like is what your life is like most weeks. I hope you get some childcare too.)

  • Melinda

    Definitely hire a teenager to be your mommy’s helper so she/he can play with your kids while you do whatever.

    Also, do you have any baby carriers? Popping one the little one on your back in an ergo helps.

  • Katharine

    This is amazing timing because so much of this is my life. My 2.5 year old is driving me batshit crazy with the whining and I am just pulling out of PPD after having my six month old. These suggestions and comments are great!

  • Autumn

    The whining!  GAH!  Should come with a cheese plate. . .

    Some other suggestions:  Check with your school district on preschool or ECFE opportunities.  The fees for ours are sliding scale based on income, and very reasonable.  I think your son would benefit from peer interaction and routine.

    I like to think that I am the sun, and they revolve around me, and not vice versa.  I’m in charge because I am Mom.  I will tell my almost 4 year old “You can choose the easy way or the hard way, but we are doing x”  I have strapped her into her car seat kicking and screaming, but I said we are going, so we are.  Mommy is in charge.  Around the age your daughter is, I started the counting down from 5 for warnings or we are Done with this.  I don’t make a threat I won’t follow through on, and she knows it.  Focus on your son’s behaviors, and I would guess your daughter will follow his lead.  Good Luck!  

  • Heather

    Hugs hugs hugs!! I agree with everything Amy said. I will also add that I found tremendous help in finding “yes” activities and places. A water table or bin outside “yes, spill/dump/splash the water,” the park “yes, run and tell,” any nearby children’s museum or indoor play places. Sensory activities like shaving cream, water and bubbles, bins of dried beans, etc. are really good for keeping kids occupied at this age. Yes, it can get messy – we did them outside or in our bath tub and often followed by a bath. You have to supervise, but you can often relax. Lastly, take care of yourself. Daily walks just by yourself (even if it means getting up at 5:30 am), meditating or yoga during naptime (even if it means the dishes don’t get done), meeting a friend for drinks/coffee/pedicures/hiking. It’s hard, but you ca do it.

  • Caroline

    So much sympathy. It must be horrid at the moment, but to echo what Amalah has said, it’s very hard to see the wood for the trees when you are in the midst of it. I totally agree that your older child needs as a matter of some urgency, play group 2-3 mornings each week. Once your daughter is 2, she could join in. It’s better for them to do fewer hours more frequently, rather than 1 whole day less frequently, but of course it depends on what your district offers.
    Them demanding to be entertained and defying you is totally normal BUT you absolutely have no requirement to dance to their bidding. No need to be horrible or shouty, but just give them tasks or say ”go and entertain yourself, mom is busy. Set a timer even and say ”when the timer rings, I’ll come and do xyz with you. Till then bye-bye. Ignore tantrums or better yet, put the thrower somewhere safe tht he or she cannot be heard with no comment. This will in very short order teach them that screeching and demanding gets them nowhere. Look, it might take a few weeks, but if you’re consistent, it will work. It MUST be consistent though. As for the car seat thing, well, ”I ask you once, then I do it and it might be super-unpleasant”. Then you follow through and turn the radio up to ignore wailing. You’re the boss here, and you’re exhausted – I do appreciate that – but remember that always. What you say goes. No choices, few options that you aren’t happy for them to have, limited explanations and certainly no back chat. If you consistently flatly ignore it or instigate very unpleasant consequences, they will learn. But do get cracking on playgroup because you absolutely need a break to clear your head and clear your shattered nerves. Best of luck, we all do our best and it’s easy to get bogged down.

  • S

    1. Be around others every time they’re not sick. (I know. Two toddlers means you’re home sick 30% of the year.) Moms are less yelly with an audience.

    2. Keep practicing leaving. Go places where the time to get in the car is no big deal.

    3. Go to the hard places by yourself. One day a magical grandmother will appear with two kids in her grocery cart. One in the seat, one in the back. Your kids will want to be like them. They will. The world is right and all grocery shopping anxiety vanishes.

    4. YMCA. They’ll watch your kid for two hours while you work out or sit in the lobby. (I mean, not speaking from experience. My kids won’t go without crying and I get called back in 100% of the time. But I remain hopeful.)

    5. Double stroller to all the places.

    6. Double bike trailer to all the other places. (No car seat fights!)

    7. Regarding the car seat thing. I got this one. So what you do is calmly say, “I’m going to help you get in your seat in three seconds. One, two, three.” At 3, bend child in half with your right elbow while shoving with your left arm, use right hand to strap them in. Eventually, they do it by themselves before the count. Wait, you have a 3-year-old. Teach that one to do it by himself.

    • IrishCream

      Ugh, I hate forcing my kids into the car seat but I’ve certainly had to do it a few times. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of waiting out bad behavior. If I have a kid who’s acting up and I don’t have the option of ignoring the tantrum until they’ve calmed down and are ready to get in on their own, I say “You can choose the easy way or the hard way.” My trick for the hard way is to plop them in the seat and quickly put my knee on the seat, in between their legs, so they can’t slither down and out, and I can gently but firmly get their arms in the straps without having to use any more force than necessary. 

  • BB

    Oh OP. I wish I could hug you and tell you in person WELL DONE for trying to be the best parent you can be.

    Also, just a little encouragement that the discipline (whatever method you choose – time outs, taking whine-inducing toy away, stopping a fun game) SUCKS short term (gaaaah I’ve taken away their toy an now the whining has AMPLIFIED!) but is so so worth it long term. Once they know that mommy means business, things will very quickly turn a corner.

    Don’t give up. X

  • Susan:)

    Oh boy, I remember those days! I have two girls 21 months apart. When they were infant and age two, it was so hard. Both very needy in different ways. It gradually gets easier! But yes, being consistent on nipping whining and tantrums is very helpful, and the earlier the better. Getting outside is sanity saving. When the girls were 1 and 3, we got them a kiddie pool and I’d plop myself in the shade nearby and let them play. Usually with a book and some iced tea. Or they’d play in the sandbox, which was another kiddie pool filled with sand from Home Depot. Sometimes, we’d walk around the neighborhood and pick wildflowers. We had a lovely indoor play place where you pay 20 bucks for two kids and they had hours of fun with other kids and I sat and watched, knowing they were safe and had plenty to do. The library is always good. We also had the zoo and other parks to visit. And as they grow, it does keep getting easier! They will start being able to help a lot more with household stuff. The girls are five and seven now. They still fight and whine sometimes, but mostly they are a lot of fun. Plus they’re in school now!

  • Jessy

    Lots of good advice! I just wanted to echo: preschool! It’s worth getting in the car. When my oldest was 3, we joined a co-op preschool, and it saved my sanity. It was part time and inexpensive, but my son loved it and it gave structure to our days. I also met a lot of other moms there that I am still friends with now (he’s 9). Good luck!

    • Kim too

      Seconding the co-op.  A lot of them are parent education, which was a huge plus for me – having experts talk me through the “aggh, my kid is doing this” stuff that always comes up, and listening to other people’s kids melt down and realizing that it isn’t just mine who do that was enormously helpful.  Beyond that, it’s a great way to build community.  I’m meeting up with a co-op friend tomorrow – our preschoolers are now entering 3rd grade.  It’s awesome.  Everything is better when there’s another mommy along.

  • S

    As you can see lots of good suggestions. So been there, so still there.nAgain another vote for playgroup or preschool. As  I am writing this both kids are refusing to go to bed. I found my second one wanted one to one time with both my husband and I and was fighting for it. Our family resource center in our town has a yearly calendar of events plus summer field trips. Novelty works to change to a new to us park. We met a friend there a now we do weekly play dates at a different place parks, museums, hiking, library etc. check you local museums etc for free or reduced times. I had a car seat screamer who realized she was missing the fun being late. I do the 54321, then I put

    her in the car, take the toy, etc. I also give one minute to make a choice I give two choices.neither get in the car herself or I will put her in. Today she threw a fit because she wanted to get in the car on the busy side of the street. My kids earn tv time. Tonight they lost their tv time due to multiple time outs. They can try again tomorrow. Also troll tag sales, church sales,  for new to you stuff. Novelty works. I have a earn it bucket after a certain number of days or hours of good behavior also used for potty training. Put old clothes on them and get outside. We joined the y for swim in the winter to get the energy out. As I write this we are ignoring whining it is bed time, that’s it. 
    Also consider that one of the kids is not good at transitioning. My son is terrible at transitions from home to school, play date to home, bedtime. Pick your battles. I have sent him to preschool in pjs with chance of clothes his teacher is well aware he refuses to change. He refused to wear shoes on Monday to school, I picked him up put him in the car and told him no one can go to school without shoes. Shoes were in the bag. The kids just had to say where are your shoes? Uh in the bag. My other one wears clashing clothes, rain boots on a hot day, ok but the sandals are in the bag.

    Also if you think one of them is really having behavior problems due to an underlying cause talk to b to 3. Both my kids had this. Someone trained can pinpoint the issue. It’s free. They hooked us up with resources.nTalk to their dr. Talk to your dr.mabout strategies or next steps. My Drs both have four kids they understood the stress. Make a plan with all these great 
    Good luck.

  • S

    I just remembered something. We and several other families do rest time. No play dates, no stimulation during this time. I know the time of day my 2 year old melts down. The children do not have to sleep but must be in separate rooms doing a quiet activity like looking at a book, coloring, playing with cars or trains but no noisy car wrecks. I put the two year old back in her bed twenty five times today and then she napped. I say once it is rest time, then I just put her back with no verbal prompt. I stay in the room putting clothes away but she can’t leave for 45 mins. No one can make any requests unless it’s emergency. I don’t use tv because I would never get the two year old down. Most of the time she goes down and the older one gets me alone and that had stopped some of his attention seeking behavior other times of the day. Sometimes I take that time to look at the computer.

    Our neighbor likes tops. You have online support. We are there too.
    S

  • Radiem

    I work long, unpredictable hours, and my spouse stays at home with our happy but needy and occasionally crazy toddlers. We have both kids in preschool every day, and I consider it essential for everyone’s sanity. The kids love it. They love their teachers and their school friends. They’re learning how to behave themselves in a school-like environment. Best of all, my spouse gets a break! No one person should be the sole care provider 24/7. That just sets you up for burnout and anxiety. 

  • Shanna

    My children have survived so far so I will share what helped me barely prevent a nervous breakdown. 1) You need a completely safe baby/boy-proof room. This is where you can RELAX because it is impossible for your children to kill themselves so you can pretty much ignore them. You can’t actually leave the room because they might kill each other, but yes you can ignore them. 2) Have somewhere in your safe room that is comfortable. You can read a book or take a nap, anything that you enjoy that also makes you unavailable. I would pass out on the couch in my playroom and wake up if the screaming got out of hand. Sleep deprivation makes all of this a lot worse so naps are important. 3) Have boxes big enough for the kids to climb in and out of, but at least one per child so they don’t fight over them. I agree that too many toys are overwhelming, so try starting with only a few. Include some childrens’ music like the “hokey pokey” or “old macdonald”, preferable in something that they can turn on themselves by hitting a button. Silly songs are a big hit as are songs with actions in them. Bubble machines are also great for entertaining small children for long periods of time with minimum effort on your part. 4) Hours of children’s programming is preferable to mommy losing her mind, especially if it is accompanied by mommy-kid cuddling time. 5) Final advice make sure you have scheduled snacks and naps, cranky children are so much harder to deal with. I fed mine a snack or meal every 3 hours and a really great book about children and sleep everything is “Good Night Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy”
    by Kim West, Joanne Kenen.

    Good luck. My oldest is 5yrs and my twins are 3.5yr and they haven’t been completely messed up yet. My sanity was ultimately saved by enrolling them in preschool a couple days a week, but inviting other adults over (with or without other children) is also helpful.