Family & Education

When Moms Can’t Get It Together: How to Manage Stress When Everything Is Falling Apart

BY Barbara Danza TIMEDecember 1, 2018 PRINT

Mom, remember, before you became a mom, your vision of what motherhood would be like and what kind of mom you’d be? Did you picture something straight out of the Pottery Barn Kids catalog or The Martha Stewart Show? Perhaps June Cleaver or Mary Poppins inspired you.

While aspirations can be valuable, taking them to an extreme can lead to a dark place.

The high expectations we moms tend to place on ourselves, along with the comparison trap some of us tend to fall into, especially with the advent of social media, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude.

When it feels like too much and that we are not living up to our potential as mothers, like we can’t even get out the door with matching shoes on, it’s time to take a deep breath and assess the situation.

Everyone Feels This Way Sometimes

First, remember that you’re not alone.

Every mom I know has, at some point, asked herself, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get it together?”

Whether it’s because you’re running late to appointments, losing your patience with your kids, forgetting things, or always coming home to a messy house, the dissonance between your vision of perfection and the actual reality can sting.

Alexandra Fung, a Chicago mom of three girls under 10, said, “I often feel like I can’t get it together.” She works in marketing and tries to work out regularly.

She said, “Unlike the polished moms at the bus stop, I often look frazzled! I have forgotten to pack school snacks, ordered the wrong tickets for my daughter’s play and taken Girl Scout patches to the dry cleaner to sew on for me.”

What mom can’t relate?

Slow It Down

Every mom I know has, at some point, asked herself, ‘What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get it together?’ (Shutterstock)

Taking a break from time to time can make a big difference.

When Fung makes mistakes or feels overwhelmed, she’ll try to slow down. “I try to make time for myself, whether that is a simple cup of coffee or an hour at yoga class,” Fung said.

A lot of the pressure moms tend to feel comes from themselves. Give yourself a break, and remind yourself that where it truly counts, you are knocking this mom gig out of the park. You are loving, teaching, and protecting your children. That is your role and you are fulfilling it as well as can be.

Make Space

Our physical environment both reflects and impacts our mental state. Having a space to turn to in our homes when we need a break can be therapeutic.

Holly Anderson of Provo, Utah, is a mom of four children under 9, some with special needs. “When you feel like you are losing it, create a happy place in your home, a physical place: a chair, a room, or just a corner that is cute, organized, inspiring, lovely, warm, cozy, and serves you when you’ve been serving everyone else all day,” advised Anderson.

Is there space in your home that can serve as a refuge when you need it?

Step Away

Sometimes the best thing to do is get out of the house.

“When the overwhelm and stress begin to overflow, I first acknowledge the feelings and step away from the cause until I begin to feel grounded again,” said Justina Murphy, a mother of children aged 2 and 4. “Stepping away can include taking the kids to the park and leaving the house a mess.”

Fresh air and a different perspective may be just what you need when it’s all falling apart.

Brain Dump

One powerful way to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed is to take all of those to-do’s, projects, and reminders that are running around in your head, and get them down on paper.

Murphy says once she feels less stressed, she then comes back and puts together an action plan for what needs to be done.

“This action plan always begins with a brain dump of writing out all that is creating mental clutter and from there creating a to-do list and writing out all that needs completed,” she said.

For Morgan Wieboldt, a mom of 2 from Budd Lake, New Jersey, a written list is also key.

Wieboldt said, “When I look around my house and see nothing but disaster—toys everywhere, laundry piled high, dishes in the sink, bills scattered on the counter—it seems like an impossible task. I grab a piece of paper and make a list of everything—yes, everything—that needs to get done. I then organize the list into must-do and can-wait tasks and recruit my family to help.”

Oftentimes, the simple act of seeing everything on paper allows you to see what’s important and what can be put off—or even removed from the list. It’s surprisingly calming and freeing. Give it a try.

Beware of Digital Distractions

Do you ever notice that you’re crankier when you’re using your phone or computer? And that during those times, “interruptions” from your family members can cause you to react poorly?

These handy digital devices we’ve invited into our homes truly are addicting. For all of the convenience they offer, they come with a price and can affect our moods and our productivity.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, check your digital habits.

For Sara Loy, a mom based in Las Vegas, the days that run smoothest happen she clears out mental and physical distractions.

“Mentally, I try get out of my head and not second-guess the past too much or worry about the future,” she said. “It’s important to quickly learn from mistakes and move on. Physically, I try to not play on my phone all night or let the electronics babysit.”

Stop Comparing

There is no blueprint for being a good mom. What’s right for one family may not work for another. What’s more, that maternal instinct is a force to be reckoned with.

And yet, moms tend to torture themselves by comparing their worst days to other people’s best days.

“I definitely started the comparison game, which only made things worse,” shared Lauren Tingley, a mom who suffered from post-natal anxiety. “I would look at the other moms and think, ‘Why aren’t they stressed out? Why do they seem so happy when this is so hard?’”

Nowhere is the comparison trap more evident than on social media. If you find yourself getting down because you’re comparing yourself to others, consider a social media fast.

“Taking a break from social media helps,” Fung said, “as it allows me to focus on what’s going on with my family at this moment, and keeps me from comparing my reality to all those picture-perfect memories I see on my phone.”

Look Inward

While some days may look just like what you’d envisioned, there will be days that really won’t. Ask yourself how much of your negative feelings stem from your own expectations not matching reality.

Might letting go of expectations a little bit give you room to enjoy the life you do have? Might easing your negative self-talk allow you to be more present with your family?

“A good place to start would be to examine your expectations of yourself and what it means to be a “good mom,” said Morgan Cutlip, a mom of two with a doctorate in psychology. “Oftentimes we hold such lofty expectations for ourselves as a ‘mom’ that we are continuously setting ourselves up for feeling like a complete failure. Look inward at what these are, and align them more closely with reality.”

Ask for Help

Many moms hesitate to ask for help. For moms who can’t seem to find relief, professional help or therapy may be needed.

For most moms, even asking their family for help is difficult. “Sometimes as moms we want to think we can—or have to—do everything all by ourselves. This is not true. Asking your partner, your kids, your parents or in-laws for a hand doesn’t make you a bad mom, but it can make you a sane mom,” Wieboldt said.

All Moms Struggle

Motherhood is magical and rewarding beyond most other life experiences, but it can be equally as challenging and draining.

“Just do the best you can do. You are enough!” McBain said. “Remember that even if other moms are presenting as having it all together on social media, in person, at school, etc., know [everyone] struggles.”

If you find yourself struggling, feeling like a failure, and wondering why you just can’t get it together, take solace in the knowledge that this is part of the job. Every mom feels like this from time to time. No mom is perfect all the time and no life is without some hardship.

Barbara Danza
Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.
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