Feeling overwhelmed… I don’t think there would be one parent on earth who hasn’t felt this way from time to time.
Why is this such a common and shared experience?
It’s actually so simple.
We were never designed to do this alone. And by “this” I mean conceive (obviously), birth, nourish, parent, sleep with and emotionally support a child.
I stumbled upon an interesting article in regards to going back to work written by a psychologist who basically stated that parenting in isolation is a very unusual scenario yet so common in today’s Western society. He recommended staying home from employment with your children for a minimum of 3 years and that there should always be at least two caregivers within the home at any given time (grandparents, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunties, etc).
Now, this is not a judgement of personal choices or circumstances or a comment on anyone’s financial situation. In most families, it’s simply not feasible to cease employment for 3 whole years and some do not even wish for this. The point about having two caregivers present is also a cultural norm elsewhere but not so much where I live (South Australia). His recommendations were not to offend but simply to shed some light on the evolution of parenting - and how maybe our mothers, fathers and children haven’t yet caught up. And maybe they never will. Hence, the struggle. However, I find it interesting that his recommendations would basically solve nearly all problems in the history of parenting ever.
Recovering from birth and bonding with baby? Stay in bed. Someone else will do the rest.
Postnatal depression? There’s someone with you at all times to ensure your safety and to increase feelings of connectedness and decrease isolation.
Difficulty settling your baby? There’s someone there to take over and give you a rest.
Baby only wants to nap on you but you have washing to do and lunch to prepare? Someone else does the washing and prepares the lunch.
Your toddler wants to play but your newborn wants a quiet space to feed? Someone else amuses the toddler or settles the newborn.
You want to nap? Or shower? Someone keeps the kids safe and fed while you do so.
You can’t keep up with housework and nourishing your children physically and emotionally? Struggling to balance work and home life?
You get the picture. There is a sense of collaboration and a shared sacred space.
I find that I crave support both physically, practically and emotionally almost daily. Sometimes, I feel lonely. Previously, I always saw this as a weakness or a failure on my part. I now know that this is simply not the case. What's actually happening, is that social evolution and modern parenting has failed me.
I can attribute almost every single moment of anger, despair and overwhelm with trying to do too much at once. There’s a great section within Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali which basically states that we are much more likely to become agitated and express anger when we are distracted (aka multitasking - a common state of being as a parent).
I even remember seeing a psychologist and chatting with her about all the little things I was struggling to keep on top of. She asked me: “do you even need to do all that?” She felt that I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself. And maybe I was. But I really did need to do all that and I was still learning how to do all that.
Changing a nappy in the middle of the night and struggling with no nappies in reach... or finding time between night wakings to pump and realising that I forgot to put the clean breast pump by the bed is indeed an inconvenience.
Something that would have taken me two minutes in broad daylight suddenly takes 10 minutes of fumbling around in the dark (with a now crying baby). This is somewhat problematic for a mother still counting how many broken hours of sleep she’s chasing.
So, yes, I do need to do all that. But how beneficial would in-home support have been? Having someone by my side to notice what I needed before I even had the thought. Of course, my husband would do anything to support me. And part of that support was to go to work to earn money for us to eat and have our beautiful home. He would then come home from work and assist so very greatly - more than most (an unfortunate truth). But unless someone is immersing themselves in the environment alongside the primary caregiver all day long, it can be hard to express those needs and those tasks. Through no fault of his own, by the time you’ve asked for help, you could have just done it. But your head is full up. This is the mental and emotional load of parenthood.
Furthermore, the working parent has their own mental load. Everything is just... busy.
I understand that the recommendations above seem extremely unrealistic. And they actually are in today’s climate. But why? Why do we have this attitude that needing help is a burden to others? Or that asking for help is a weakness? Or something like a postpartum doula is unnecessary? Or too expensive? Or that we actually deserve more?
Within this, there is room to let go. Realise that you are just one person. And you literally cannot do it all. Some days, you will do it all. But at what expense? Do you run around out of breath? Do you feel slightly disconnected?
Interesting, from the same school of thought is Attachment Parenting International. They highlight that best practice is a supportive environment for both children and parents. But their guidelines state: “remain flexible and keep your sense of humour”. What absolute perfection.
How about this... In each moment of overwhelm or anger, ask yourself: am I trying to do too much? Can this task wait? If you’re 100% honest and in a process of letting go, you might find the answer is to soften, release and keep your sense of humour. And leave the dishes in the sink. Your sense of calm and accomplishment does not need to rest on a clean kitchen and a perfectly organised playroom.
You got this, mama. You have so got this.