7 Things to Do When You Feel Like a Parenting Failure

Kids out of control, house a mess—what to do when it feels like you're failing

stressed mom - screaming child in background
Feeling like a failure? Every parent has been there. Altrendo Images/Getty Images

When you are a parent, there are some days when everything goes wrong, when you feel like you can't handle any more stress (right before you're hit with more stress), and you want nothing more than to curl up on the sofa with a couple of pints of ice cream and try to forget about the day—except you can't because you've still got to get dinner on the table, make sure teeth are brushed, give the kids a bath, check homework, and read to your child before bed.

The truth is, being a parent means that you sometimes feel like a failure. You may have yelled at your child, forgotten to send an important work email, or had to reach for the take-out menu for dinner. Again. You may look around at the cluttered living room, the piles of laundry, your stressed and cranky child (who is now responding to your stress), and feel very, very imperfect. Before you beat yourself up for not being a better parent, do these 7 things.

  1. Take a deep breath. Just stopping everything to do this one simple thing really helps. Take a deep breath, exhale out the stress, and repeat a few times. Just focusing on your breath for a couple of minutes can help you center your energy and thoughts.
  2. Give yourself a time-out. You may not be able to really focus on yourself until after the kiddos are in bed, but if you're stressed, it's crucial that you give yourself a time-out from the action for at least a few minutes. Take another couple of minutes and do something to get your mind off your stress. Flip through a favorite magazine and mark the articles you'll want to read later, watch a few minutes of movie trailers of films you may want to see, or drink a cup of tea in silence with your bedroom door closed. Let your kids know that you need five minutes without any interruptions, and that you'll come to them after you've recharged your batteries.
  1. Keep in mind that mistakes are learning opportunities. You probably say this to your child all the time when he or she makes a mistake. Now it's time to tell yourself this and give yourself a break. Whether you've made a discipline mistake like yelling at your kid or a general oops like fighting with your spouse in front of the kiddos, remember that you are human. Forgive yourself for your mistake and move on, focusing on what you can do better the next time.
  1. Remember that no one is perfect. That mom who packs gorgeous lunches that are nutritious and has a clean, clutter-free house, all while juggling a fulfilling job? She's probably an inch shy of collapsing from exhaustion and having a nervous breakdown. You never know what really goes on behind closed doors, so try not to compare yourself to other parents who seem to be handling it all without breaking a sweat.
  2. Prioritize and put perfection on the back burner. So you have a growing pile of laundry or dust bunnies that are threatening to merge into tumbleweeds that could mow you down. Make a mental note to set aside some time on the weekend to handle the housework (and get kids to pitch in) and focus on what needs to be done right now. You have two choices: Stress about the fact that your house looks like a tornado hit it or let it go until you have time to do something about it. The same goes for dinner. Take-out can be okay as long as you keep things healthy and include some veggies in the mix. Don't stress as much about what your kid wears to school. Does he really need to look like he stepped out of a J.Crew catalog? No. Clean clothes are all your child really needs, even if they look wrinkled because you and your spouse forgot to fold the clean laundry after it dried. And ease up on any of the perfect home ideas you may have in your head. Parenting is often like triage. Do what you can to fix the biggest problems as best as you can in the time you have.
  1. Pick one thing to focus on the next day. If it all seems overwhelming, it's because it is. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs there is. You won't be able to do everything you want in one day. To make things more manageable, focus on one or two things you want to accomplish and make that your priority for the next day. By breaking things down (cleaning the bathroom, straightening up the living room, cooking a meal with your kids), you can feel a sense of accomplishment, even if you can't get to everything you want to handle.
  2. Talk to a friend. One of the best things you can do when you feel overwhelmed or stressed is to call up a friend. Talking about what's bothering you and getting support can be one of the best ways to manage your stress and feel better about whatever you may be struggling with.

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