MOM KNOWS BEST: What to do When you Feel Overwhelmed

kat rutkinWrangling your kids can be a stressful affair—whether or not you're outnumbered two to one, as Kat Rutkin is. Photo by Emily Cassel.

While I try not to give too much unsolicited advice to new parents, the one thing I am always quick to do is remind them of that thing they say on planes about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. The idea being, obviously, that if you’re suffocating you’re just no use to anyone.

Some days of parenting can feel less secure than mid-air turbulence, and sadly, no mask will automatically dangle from the sky. You’ve got to get your own oxygen where you can.

To be clear, this isn’t about postpartum or prenatal depression. Those both require medical attention—and there’s no shame in that. I’ve had both, and found great relief in medication and talk therapy. If you suspect that you have either, please talk to your doctor.

If you only find yourself sporadically wanting to run screaming from your house while wondering why you don’t have better locks on your bathroom doors, this article is for you.

In no particular order, I usually do a combination of the following.

Ask for help.

Some people have lots of friends and/or family in the area to help them out—others don’t. I have a hard time asking for help, but it’s really important, if humbling, to do so. You can’t do it all alone. Remember that families used to all raise kids together in large communities—it’s only in recent years that we all started being so nomadic in raising our kids. I also started using TaskRabbit to get some things done around the house that I just couldn’t get to, and it was a great experience. As a bonus, I was able to hire another local mom to come over to help!

The slowest of quick fixes: meditation

A few years ago my therapist suggested I try a technique called Mindfulness Based Stress Relief (MBSR), which was nothing short of life changing. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone, particularly those with anxiety. It relies heavily on mindfulness and meditation, something I’ve tried to keep up even though the class is long over. These days I really don’t meditate too much, but a short meditation (or even just some mindful dish washing) can help when I start to get truly overwhelmed. Sometimes I even just sit, take a breath and acknowledge that, yes, I am exhausted and frustrated that I have to play with Rescue Bots for the 600th time.  It helps me get back to the present so I can enjoy the time with my kids. There are SO MANY apps for meditation these days, but I really like one I’ve used for years called “Relax and Rest.” They have short, five-minute meditations, and longer ones to help you sleep, which is appropriate since most of my actual meditation ends in me snoozing anyway.

Make time for YOU.

This is one of the hardest things to do. I wouldn’t find myself feeling so over-stretched and fragile as often if I were able to make that time. In order to stop making excuses and force myself to be unavailable for one last household chore or wiped nose, I started signing up for things that I knew brought me joy: spin classes at my gym, an embroidery class at Craftwork Somerville, a writing class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Having a creative outlet definitely makes life more rich, and can help you remember you’re a person beyond a caregiver, which is important. Both Craftwork Somerville and CCAE have great classes at price points that won’t break the bank.

Call a friend.  

Parenting can be isolating. I often treasure interactions with the cashiers at Rite Aid after a long day with the kids simply because I might be listened to when I speak. So it’s really hard to overstate the beauty of sharing a few minutes and a cup of tea with someone who really gets it. Other moms are great at this, but even friends without kids who can appreciate honest conversation are key to getting through your day. Sometimes, even having a friend AND their kids over will make the day better. Last week I had some friends and their three kids over to play, and even though we tripled the chaos it was somehow rejuvenating. Maybe because we doubled the number of adults we somehow still came out ahead?

Get a treat!

I don’t usually advocate spending money when you don’t need to. I used to be a stress shopper, and now I’m trying to break this habit and thin my possessions down considerably. Things are overwhelming in their own right! Treats that you eat are a whole other story, however. The other day, after a particularly grueling week, I took myself out for an egg sandwich and coffee and spent 10 minutes reading the paper. Ten whole minutes! It was wonderful. The egg sandwiches at Bloc 11 and 3 Little Figs are my personal weaknesses—and both from businesses led by some badass local mamas.

mom knows best

Photo courtesy of the Rutkin family archives.

Go for a run.

There are many gyms in the area that offer childcare: Golds Gym, Boston Sports Club, Healthworks, Evolve, Work Out World, to name a few—all at varying rates. Sometimes I don’t even work out that hard, I just enjoy the fact that someone else can watch my kids for an hour. (But shhhh, don’t tell.)

There are also several run clubs in the area: Somerville Road Runners, Slumbrew Happy Soles, and RUNFELLOW, which are a good way to get exercise and company if you have someone to cover the kids. You don’t have to be fast or “good” at running to join. RUNFELLOW specifically welcomes (and likes!) all paces. Daddy Jones owner Dimitra, a mom and runner, also hosts a Monday night mom run at 7 p.m. Meet in Magoun Square and get the benefits of running and socializing (and wine) all rolled into one awesome package.

Throw yourself a dance party.

With or without the kids, sometimes all you have time for is a quick dance party, but I feel like it’s the equivalent of a giant RESET button on your day.

I can’t stop listening to this new song by Chantal Claret. If there’s a mom out there who hasn’t dreamed of leaving for a distant land from time to time, I don’t know who she is. But if you’ve got three minutes to put on this awesome jam from one of my favorite ladies, you might find you have the energy to conquer the afternoon with your kids. (You can also catch Chantal on a few episodes of Pancake Mountain if you’re looking for a cool show for the kids to check out.)

Finally, remember that we’re all in this together.

The “village” that raises your kids may be more anonymous these days, but every parent out there carries some burden we know nothing about. When you see other parents in the wild, give them a break, or at least a smile—as cheesy as it sounds, you never know what it could mean to them. Parenting philosophies aside, most of us really are doing our best with what we have.

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