Parenting is hard. There is no paid time off or vacation days. And it does not come with a handbook or instruction manual. It can be especially hard when we as parents are struggling. How do we take care of our children when we ourselves need to be cared for?

I am a child therapist with hundreds of hours of training on child development and parenting. I am also a mom, and most days, I have no idea what I am doing. I say this because if you are anything like me, you might be wondering if you are getting any of this parenting thing right. I started thinking about this idea of parenting when we ourselves are struggling and I started asking people who I know about their experiences.

What I found out was surprising to me. A quick google search on this topic brings up articles about “self-care” and “coping skills” and I expected people that I talked with to give me a similar response. But they did not. What a lot of us expressed needing when we are in this space is permission to not love every part of being a parent. I also learned that a lot of us are struggling to manage our reactions to our children.

My son is almost 3 years old, and he has a speech delay which can result in toddler meltdowns because he is unable to communicate his needs with me. Remember that earlier I said I don’t always get it right? Well, the other day my son threw a toy at me, and my initial response was to yell “no, that hurts mommy”. Then I looked down and realized what was happening; I was scrolling through my phone and my son wanted me to play with him. Because he couldn’t verbalize his needs, he threw a toy at me to get my attention. He was not trying to hurt me or be mischievous, he just wanted mom’s attention.

The reality of this situation is that I was simply trying to manage my own nervous system because I felt overwhelmed and was scrolling my phone to decompress and my son was also trying to manage his nervous system, which was telling him he needed comfort from his mom. Taking a step back and seeing this situation from a biological expression of our own needs allowed me to no longer be angry with my son for throwing the toy at me. Children communicate needs with us through their behaviors and he was communicating with me.

The reality is that both of our nervous systems were needing something. This happens to all of us parents, Every. Single. Day.

Parenting When You Are Struggling:

So, how do we help ourselves while helping our children? My answer is this: give yourself permission.

Give yourself permission

  • Permission to feel your emotions, both good and bad.
  • Permission to have no idea what we are doing.
  • Permission that we will not always get it right.
  • Permission to apologize.
  • Permission to not be the perfect “Pinterest” parent.
  • Permission to struggle.

Our children do not need perfect parents. I repeat, our children do not need perfect parents.

Listen to your and your child’s nervous systems

After beating myself up for raising my voice with my son when he just wanted my attention (and of course feeling like a horrible mom for not being 100% present with him!), I decided to listen to both of our nervous systems and go for a walk together. Moving and holding my son’s hand allowed my nervous system to regulate and him to have his need met of connecting with me. Additionally, the simple act of going for a walk changed my mood and emotions in that moment. This is how we take care of ourselves while being parents and struggling ourselves.

Give yourself permission to listen to your nervous system. Our children feed off our nervous systems (mirror neurons are really cool!) and by finding ways to manage our experiences, we in turn help our kids. We are all going to become dysregulated at times and the goal is not to be calm 24/7 as a parent. But our role is to model to our children that when we do become dysregulated, we listen to our bodies and take care of ourselves.

Learn some helpful ways to regulate your nervous system

There are so many ways you can regulate your own nervous system. Invite your kids into these activities too! Managing our own nervous system helps us be better parents. It allows us to teach these skills to our children and attune to them. Some ideas for regulating your own nervous system while with your kids could be:

  • Eating a snack
  • Going for a walk
  • Having a dance party in the living room
  • Snuggling
  • Playing
  • Remembering our breath

If you are struggling, you are not alone. Parenting can be isolating, and we can feel like we are always failing. There is hope and there are people here to help. Call Family Counseling Service at 630-844-2662 or contact us online to schedule parent coaching or individual therapy and give yourself permission to take care of yourself.


Related blog posts:

How Play Therapy Helps Children

5 Tips for Parents to Support Your Child’s Mental Health