Gentle parenting when life is falling apart

On this blog we talk a lot about gentle parenting and respectful connection with our kids. We know that it can be a hard thing to do consistently, and that it takes effort and energy and intentionality on a day to day basis. Acknowledging this, I’d like to talk about how to parent gently and respectfully when life is falling apart. 

Every day parenting is hard enough, but at some point (or points) in life we all face circumstances that add extra difficulty. They are often unexpected, traumatic, stressful and life altering. A sudden severe illness. An injury. A death in the family. The break down of a relationship. A betrayal. A change of job. A big move. All these things can really throw out our sense of equilibrium and disturb our usual routines of self care, mindfulness, and the activities we use to get us through our day.

The effect of big changes on our lives can be subtle or really obvious. Regardless, these effects trickle down to impact our kids and our relationships with them. It is really common for parents to worry about the impact of the change on the children, as well as the impact the change has on them as parents, and that upsetting the children. I hear people say they need to hold it together for the kids, or lamenting that they aren’t coping and the kids are suffering as a result.

But holding it together when you wake up every morning already overwhelmed, when your head is so full of pain you can’t think about anything else, when you are so blindsided that there’s not much in the world that makes sense right now, when you are so stunned you feel physically ill and the feeling lasts for days and days, when there is so much uncertainty that you are having trouble even deciding what to eat for breakfast, when life feels more than you can manage for yourself let alone for your kids as well…… that’s one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever do as a parent.

So how do we?

How do we get up in the morning and parent gently when the world has been turned upside down?

For each of us it will be slightly different. The small things we do to get through will depend on who we are, what our situation is and what support we have available to us. Receiving meals cooked by friends, having family stay with kids while you take some time to recharge, or getting in a cleaner might take off some of the physical load.

Ultimately though, for me maintaining my ability to parent gently is about looking after my state of mind. The mental and emotional load I carry is much harder for me to manage than the physical tasks when I am trying to connect with my kids. Finding a listening ear is often a great support. And sometimes that listening ear comes with some gentle supporting words. When I recently experienced a life altering change that left me feeling completely broken, I found myself clinging on to these few phrases spoken to me by caring friends.

“It’s totally understandable that you feel this way.”

“Take your time.”

“This was always going to be awful, and it will be for a while yet, but you will be okay.”

“Be gentle to yourself.”

These words captured the crux of where I needed help. I needed support to look after myself, to acknowledge the ways I was struggling and to process those, so I could move through it all in a healthy way and be available to support my children well. Making sure my own emotional needs were met was crucial in the days when I was overwhelmed to the point of having no reserves left in my tank to give to others. If I wasn’t looking after myself I could not look after my children.

Sometimes that looked like having some time alone to journal and sort out my thoughts alone. Sometimes it was talking to a friend who was strong enough to listen as I processed my thoughts in a very raw and in the moment way, while they held space for me and acted as an anchor til I found my way back to a calm place. Sometimes it was sitting with a therapist who could give objective feedback about where I might want to adjust my thinking in more productive ways.

Sometimes it was running- literally running- and thinking. Sometimes it was turing up to karate training for no other reason than I didn’t want to answer questions about why I wasn’t there, and then remembering how much I love to train, how good it is for me and how it helps me clear my mind.

Sometimes it was binge watching netfilx instead of sleeping, and emptying my mind completely of reality for a while just to catch a break. Sometimes it was eating well, and sometimes it was eating junk. Sometimes it was fooling around doing things that I “probably shouldn’t”, sometimes it was being responsible when I felt like I couldn’t.

Sometimes it was allowing myself to feel broken and crying in the shower for an hour. Sometimes it was choking back tears and carrying on.

But always it was about what I needed in the moment, on that day, to get me through…. without assigning a value or judgement to what I was doing. No right or wrong. No good or bad.

I made an effort to be gentle to myself. Only then did I have the ability to remain gentle and connected with my children.

If your life is falling apart right now, if you are struggling to get through each day, and especially if you are criticising yourself for not being able to have it all together at the moment…..

Know that it is alright to feel this way.

Take your time.

Remember that it won’t last forever.

Look after yourself- however you need to.

Ask for help if you need it.

Let your emotions out.

Stop judging what you do and feel as good or bad.

Please, be gentle to yourself.

5 replies
  1. Lee
    Lee says:

    This article was just what I needed to read tonight. I am feeling like an absolute failure as a parent as once again I lost my composure and snapped over something that now seems insignificant. Thank you.

    • Michelle Sutton
      Michelle Sutton says:

      We all have those moments. Be gentle to yourself 😉 and hang in there Lee.
      Sending my best wishes, Michelle

  2. Katherine
    Katherine says:

    Well said! I think this applies to any parent struggling to keep up with demands, work and home as well as unexpected life events. 🙂


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