Mummy meltdowns

What to do if you're facing a mothering meltdown of mega proportions

Looking back, there was only one way that love story could have ended. When you bring a white leather sofa into a house full of kids, it is tempting fate. Part of me knew that the pristine loveliness was a temporary pleasure.

When the first red scribbles appeared though, gone was that calm acceptance of the inevitable. Kids and markers were swept up with a ferocity unseen since Mike Tyson hung up his boxing gloves.

In my defence, it had been a long day. Daddy was away, the house looked like a bomb site, and there was work I’d brought home from the office. I raged and I ranted. Then I did the sensible adult thing, which of course was locking myself in the bathroom to bawl my eyes out.

Once the storm had passed, I felt calmer, and a wee bit embarrassed. I apologised and we all cleaned up together. On the plus side, the kids now know better than to scribble on the sofa again (the walls are still fair game, though). That’s about as win-win a situation you can get as a parent, I reckon.

What this little vignette of the dark side of motherhood should tell you is that it’s not just toddlers who specialise in industrial-strength meltdowns. Mums are equally susceptible.

Who’s at risk?

‘A meltdown is more likely to occur when you are feeling tired, hungry or just need some space,’ says Carmen Benton, parenting educator and counsellor at LifeWorks.

Stressed mums: Environmental factors are big contributors to a mummy meltdown, say the experts. And it’s irrespective of whether the mum works outside the home or inside. ‘Stay-at-home mums without any help may feel alone, overwhelmed and pressured to fulfill their role as care-giver. Working mothers face similar pressures as well as stress at work and guilt about leaving their children at home,’ says Dr Alaa Abuali, counselling psychologist at Synergy Integrated Medical Centre.

Type A mums: ‘Most mothers plan for everything, and then realise they didn’t take into account their own mood or feelings or health factors. Anxious mothers, who are rigid with their plans, are more likely to experience meltdowns,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi. ‘Expect and prepare for things to not go as planned.’

Moaning mums: It’s not just about external triggers, though. Benton believes that a pessimistic personality is more likely to find life ‘hard work’ and is therefore more prone to a meltdown. In short, looking on the bright side of life can make all the difference.

When to call the doctor

Mums who feel unable to cope or think they have post-natal depression should get professional help. ‘Counselling can help mothers work through issues that prevent them from enjoying parenting,’ says Benton.

‘Children with a depressed or anxious parent have significantly higher rates of psychological disorders and are more likely to be depressed themselves. If your daily ability to function is being affected, you should seek
professional help. Talking to a counsellor can be a preventative measure to help parents deal with their feelings in a safe and confidential environment,’ adds Dr Abuali.

Coping strategies

Erma Bombeck once said she could understand why certain species eat their young ones. A meltdown may not be your finest hour, but it is an opportunity to learn for both you and your children. ‘They will learn that it’s ok to be angry, but what we do with our anger is the most important thing,’ says Benton. ‘When we make a mistake, we need to apologise to those we may have hurt, or at least confused.’ All of us have our own bag of tricks to stay sane. A mum I know likes to go running. Another listens to hard rock on the iPod.’

What The experts say

It takes a village: There are no awards for being a ‘mumtyr’. Ask for help when you need it, whether from your partner, a neighbour, babysitter or a friend.

You are No 1: Before maternal ambivalence mutates into full-blown resentment, follow Benton’s advice and make time for other things: be it reading a novel, listening to music or playing your guitar, or practise relaxation techniques to reduce stress.

Be emotionally aware: Dr Abuali says it is important to be conscious of feelings and cope with them effectively. ‘Focus on positives and envision a safe place when feeling overwhelmed. I encourage parents to be mindful of how they are reacting, and how to diffuse the situation to take better care of themselves and their children.’

Get organised: Dr Afridi recommends having a system. ‘Be organised with a routine. It creates a sense of safety and consistency for you and your children. Have a plan, but be prepared for changes and don’t be inflexible. You are in for a lot of meltdowns if you can’t go with the flow now and then. Before you know it they will be independent. Instead of pushing children to grow up, stop and notice what they are doing. Take time to enjoy the journey.’

Helping hands

Carmen Benton
Parenting educator; 04 394 2464,

Dr Saliha Afridi
Clinical psychologist; 050 345 8425,

Dr Alaa Abu Ali
Counselling psychologist, Synergy Integrated Medical Centre; 04 348 5452,

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