If you’re a mom or dad, you already know how very overwhelming parenting can be. Moms often especially take on this overwhelm, to the point that “the overwhelmed mom” is almost a cliche society has come to expect. (If this sounds familiar, we have a Grace and Truth for Moms podcast for you.)
However, for both moms and dads, parenting can feel like a path of twists and turns, with unforeseen challenges and moments of deep discouragement. These are often the very things that bring incredible opportunities for growth and spiritual depth in families. If you’re in a stage of parenting that feels overwhelming and discouraging, take a deep breath and read on. You can find freedom right in the middle of your current circumstances.
Why is being a parent so overwhelming?
The unexpected hardships of parenting are a common theme in the stories of the families I have coached over the years. You may have begun this parenting journey with ideals and dreams. But then you find yourself grappling with realities that seem a world away from your expectations. As beloved and wonderful as our children are, they come with their own unique challenges. Some may wrestle with big emotions and behavioral issues, and others with learning differences or challenges – or maybe all of the above! These struggles can lead you into a whirlwind of doubt, making you question your competence and the future of your family.
But if you look for tips and tools and engage with “gotta fix this quick” angst, it can all go south quickly. (We’ve all done that at some point…)
That’s where faith and a deeper look come in…
Hold on to faith when hope is elusive
In many ways, parenting mirrors the essence of walking by faith, a concept deeply rooted in scripture. Biblical figures like Abraham and Sarah exemplify this faith journey. Despite their old age and lack of children, they held onto God’s promise of becoming ancestors to a nation. Similarly, you are called to hold on to faith in your family’s potential and purpose, even when current circumstances seem to contradict this hope.
Identity in faith vs. identity in struggles
It is tempting to identify yourself and your children through the lens of your struggles. You might have taken on (for yourself and your child) labels like “the angry dad,” “the hot mess mom,” or “the difficult child.” However, faith invites you to see beyond these struggles.
In the Bible, God often calls out a different identity in His people, one based on potential and divine purpose, rather than current struggles. Never alone or abandoned. Precious and loved. Called to receive God’s blessing and pass it on to others.
Embracing this perspective can profoundly change how you view yourself, your children, and your future together. God is with you, for you, and there is so much hope! And that can greatly reduce everyone’s stress and overwhelm. Research shows, “Even in the toughest times, when a person can think positively about the future, they are capable of reducing the stress felt by their family members by as much as 60 percent.”
This shift in perspective might seem beyond you right now, but there are practical ways to free your thinking from persistent overwhelm and discouragement and engage with your kids in truly helpful ways!
3 strategies to relieve your overwhelmed feelings
1. Identify any lies driving your overwhelm
When you’re slipping into being overwhelmed and discouraged, the love of God can seem far off and unattainable. These overwhelmed feelings can sometimes be a spiritual attack rooted in lies about your identity. Understanding this is crucial in combating it.
Realizing that the lies might be from your Enemy (the “father of lies”) can help you decide you’ve had enough! One mom found that if she got a little angry at the lies and the Liar – “No. I’m not giving these lies power to rake me over the coals again!!” then she could turn her thinking to embrace the loving presence of her heavenly Father.
Often, these lies are “toxic half-truths”. They have a little coating of truth that can cause you to swallow the lie without question. Here’s an example of rejecting the lies while still being realistic about challenges:
Lie: “I’m just an angry parent.”
Truth: “I get angry more than I want to, but I’m learning. Anger does not define me.”
Lie: “I’m pouring my anxiety into my daughter!”
Truth: “My anxiety affects my daughter but doesn’t control her. We can practice calming strategies together.”
2. Keep God’s grace and truth front and center
When you identify the lies, replace them with God’s grace and truth! What are the true beliefs that encourage you when things are hard? Write them down, post them, say them out loud. Ask a friend to remind you of them.
We have a list of 100 Truth Phrases to Keep You Going that you can download. A few that have encouraged overwhelmed parents are:
- God has given me this child. He will give me what I need to parent them.
- This is hard for me, but even harder for my child.
- God has so much mercy for us in this struggle.
- My focus is fertilizer. Look for the good.
If you’re really upset and dysregulated, and it is a struggle to connect with God’s grace and truth, “motion changes emotion.” You might just need a brisk walk. (Yes, you can do this inside your house!) Or 10 deep breaths with your favorite aromatherapy scent. Or a warm shower. Or put on some loud worship music. Whatever helps your brain calm your fight/flight so you can hang onto God’s truth.
3. Find community and support
It’s easy to retreat and withdraw when you feel overwhelmed and discouraged, but parenthood was never meant to be a solitary journey.
Growth usually happens best in community, whether it’s a church group, a parenting class, or a supportive circle of friends. It can be as simple as a regular text or voice messaging thread with a friend who “gets you” – who can encourage you with a sense of shared struggles and victories and pray for you when it’s really tough.
Anchoring your beliefs in God’s grace and truth by identifying lies, focusing on truth, and having a supportive community prepares you to effectively use practical strategies to help your child. It will reduce the angst and overwhelm that can derail your efforts!
But you still need to know what to do when your child is struggling. Our final 3 strategies focus on helping your child.
3 strategies to refresh overwhelmed parenting
1. Scaffold for growth
Overwhelm can happen when you want kids to do something they rarely seem to accomplish (and maybe aren’t really capable of.) You spiral into discouragement as you try harder to get the cooperation and respect you want. Kids feel criticized and disconnected, and it gets worse, not better.
Try taking some of the pressure off to “get it right.” Reducing expectations for a while and giving more support can ease the overwhelm for the whole family.
Just as a building requires scaffolding during construction, your children need support structures in their developmental journey. The key is identifying areas where your child needs support and creating an environment that fosters growth and reduces unnecessary stress.
Scaffolding means you stop to think: “How could I make this a ‘just-right-challenge’ so we can take a step of growth and have something to build on and celebrate?” You might reduce the expectation, break it into steps, provide presence and encouragement, turn up the fun with playfulness, and/or do a regulating sensory activity.
- Simplify morning routines: i.e., have a grab ‘n go breakfast to eat in the car and backpacks and shoes already by the door. Kids can even sleep in tomorrow’s clothes if necessary.
- Add some imaginative play to chore time (and break those chores into manageable mini-wins if needed!)
- At dinner, light a candle and put on soothing music. Serve small portions.
- Create a calming bedtime ritual to help ease your child into sleep.
A great thing about scaffolding is that it is temporary while you all grow the skills you’re lacking. I have done some big scaffolding as a parent. I sometimes think, “What I’m doing right now is kind of crazy!” But a few weeks or months later, I realize, “Oh, we don’t really need this support anymore. This big struggle that I thought maybe we would never overcome is not such a big deal anymore.” And that is always such a celebration!
I remember at the dinner table realizing that I was no longer stressing about everybody staying seated at the dinner table; we were just having delightful family dinners. For a long time, I wasn’t sure that day would ever come, but it did. So, have confidence that the scaffolding will gradually come down as the “building” is built.
2. Prioritize Connection
Overwhelm can quickly drain the joy-filled connection in your family, and that disconnect often feeds kids’ anxious misbehavior (e.g. defiance, disrespect) to get some sort of “connection” with you. It’s tempting to try to quickly regain “control,” but the reality is that the most challenging times are probably when your family feels the most disconnected. Consider how you might slow down and find connection first.
Connection before a challenging time can provide emotional and sensory scaffolding that creates more success.
Before school work, we sometimes put the fireplace on and sit down for a few minutes with a cup of tea and a crunchy snack. Next, we might move into an active game of Simon Says. (Remember, “motion changes emotion.”) Then, when we get started, we’ll use sensory input to connect with each other and bring some joy into our day, and that helps us succeed at some of the tougher tasks like handwriting or math!
Playfulness is another way to effectively connect with your kids and even do some scaffolding. It makes a challenging task a little less overwhelming because now you’re having fun together. When my kids and I start getting cranky, we sometimes go into “cranky pirate mode” (“Arghh, Matey!”), and then we start giggling. It helps break the tension. Playfulness doesn’t have to be complicated; a conspiratorial wink or silly grin can often shift the mood!
Playfulness looks different for each parent. You might not be the most imaginative parent on the planet, but how do you do it when you are playful with your kids? How could that natural strength be a blessing before or during a challenging time with your kids? Lean into the way God created you!
3. Reclaim freedom through resets
Even with all these tools, there will still be tough days. No surprise! These tough days hold rich potential for growing the belief that we don’t have to get it perfect. God’s grace is lavish and abundant!
It’s okay just to halt the day and say, “You know what, let’s remember what’s true here. We love each other, and God loves us, even if we’re not feelin’ it! Let’s connect with each other, and then we’ll go from there.” Some of the most important words you say to your kids might be the grace-filled reminders you repeat on the tough days!
We’re very human parents with very human children, and sometimes, our brains become dysregulated. You can’t just tell your brain, “Okay, get a grip!” Even if you do that on the outside, on the inside you’re probably still feeling that distress. So it’s about shifting gears, taking a break, and doing something different so you can receive God’s love and comfort and reconnect with each other.
Resets might involve taking a break to engage in an inherently joyful activity, like watching funny videos, playing silly music, or going for a nature walk. It could be as simple as a noisy, awkward family hug, having a flying pillow slugging fight, making a big blender of smoothies, a spontaneous dance party, or a few minutes of quiet reflection. Look for simple ideas that help all of you reset. You can develop a toolkit of activities and practices that can help reset the mood and atmosphere of your home. If you’re in one of those overwhelming seasons, taking a “reset break” is one really practical way to receive and pass on God’s grace.
Remember, you are not alone as you navigate the overwhelming, beautiful, faith-filled journey of parenthood! God is with you. He loves you and your children just as you are right now. You are free to learn and grow through your current reality. The pressure is off, and you have a Helper who will come alongside you as you seek to deepen the faith-filled grace in your home.
With the Holy Spirit to empower and guide, you can overcome challenges, build wisdom, and create an environment of deep connection and love through it all. As you lead your family with grace, freedom is yours to reclaim over and over again.