Single Parenting Stress
Berkeley Parents Network >
All Kinds of Families >
Single Parenting Stress
I am wondering what is your best advice for a single mom to a
special needs son as to how to get some regular down time. My
son is eight months old and we're going through a really rough
patch where he is just not sleeping -- some days I just feel
like his needs are overwhelming. I know I need to take care of
myself, too, but I don't have any family here to help out and
day care expenses are already tight. Any advice is appreciated.
I was just checking out the child-friendly programs at the
Berkeley YMCA, and there is a lot going on. For full members,
they offer up to two hours of childwatch while the parent works
out (for a reasonable fee.) starting at 3 mos. of age. That
might at least give you an opportunity to work out some stress.
There are also monthly parents-night-out opportunities, but the
kid may need to be older for that. Check out their website.
Your local Regional Center may be able to help. Contact them
and get into the system, if you're not already. In the future,
when your kid is older, consider various camps -- day camps, for
a week, for a month. There are camps for kids with special
needs which are a Godsend for parents. Good luck.
Dear single mom with special needs child,
I certainly can relate to not getting a break. I wonder about
networking with other parents with special needs children and
offering short trades so we can each get a break?
i too have no family in this area and 5 years ago when i had my
son had few friends as i had just moved here from another
country. what SAVED me was the gym. many gyms have childcare
that is very affordable - and it was a great chance for me to
socialize, exercise, or sometimes, just read a book! the place
i went to has since closed down, but i would hightly recommend
the smaller gyms as their childcare situations are usually more
intimate. i know 24 hour fitness in moroga (?) has childcare -
and they have another new gym in oakland that has great
childcare. good luck.
Have you tried moms groups? Most of my socializing happens within the group
including babysitter swaps when I want to do something different.
You can post on BPN and try to establish one with other kids your child's age in your
neighborhood or close by.
There are also activities you can do with your child, e.g. La Pena Culture Center, where
you will meet other parents.
Hope you get a break
My daughter didn't have special needs but was and is very demanding and
If you can't afford a baby sitter and don't have access to a mother's
don't feel comfortable with swapping time, I think the best way to get
down time is
to put your child in a carrier and do as much of your housework, errands
personal care (like shower--using a saucer or play pen) when the baby is
that way, when your child is asleep, then that time is all yours. Even if
it's only 30
mins a few times per day, it is a good break. I used all safe, non-toxic
(baby wipes are great for dusting!), like vinegar and water, and roasted
big hunks of
meat and made big pots of soup so that I wouldn't have to cook every day.
found going to the store with a friend or other mom made it social and
an active/needy child. 3 kids with 2 adults is easier than one needy
child with one
adult. Get super organized so that your life is more efficient, so nap
time isn't taken
up with any obligatory work. The single parent's resource guide at the
public library was really helpful.
single and sometimes by myself
I need help in knowing whether or not my feelings are normal,
or if I really need to get some help. I am a single mom with a
3-year old son and I am finding that, lately, I have been
constantly irritated with him, irritated with being needed all
the time, and irritated with being a single mom and having to
carry so much all the time (I also work full-time). I feel
terrible for feeling this way, so much that it's become a
vicious cycle - feeling irritated, then feeling terrible for
feeling irritated, which irritates me even more!
I know that what I need is a break; what have other single moms
on this forum done when you've needed a break, but there's no
relief in sight? My son's father is not in the picture, except
for that check once a month in the mail, and I do not have any
family that lives close enough to help with a few hours a week
so that I can go to the coffee shop and read in peace and
quiet. Although I have a lot of friends, they all have their
own families with multiple kids, so I feel really bad to even
ask if they could watch my one kid in addition to their own. I
also think a big problem is that when I try to express my
frustration to my friends, they kind of look at me like ''what
are you complaining about?'', since I only have one kid and they
have two or three, but I'm also a single mom, and they all have
husbands who are very hands on. Anyway, not to get into the
haves and have-nots, but the bottom line is that I feel burnt
out and I think I'm taking it out on my kid by being so
Is it normal to feel this way???? I feel so bad, I love my son
so much and I never want to do anything or say anything to him
to make him feel that my frustration is his fault. I guess I
need a better way to take some time for myself so I can be a
better person for him, but I don't know how to do that given
all that I said above, and the fact that I am struggling
financially that hiring a sitter is out of the question.
Does anyone have any suggestions on how to be less irritated
and enjoy the time that I have with my son more, and not feel
like I want to get away all the time?
Frustrated and Sad
While there are child raising tips from books etc. about how to
change/modify/channel your child's behavior so it is less
annoying, my advice is this: It's time to ask for help from
those friends of yours that you don't want to bother. I know if
you were my friend and I read your posting I would feel terrible
that 1) I hadn't offered to help and 2) you didn't feel like you
could ask me. And I have 2 children who irritate me a lot! Ask
for something specific, with defined times, so people won't feel
taken advantage of [whatever that means], and tell your friends
how you're at your wits end. It's a big risk, I realize, but
raising children is really, really hard and who better to
apreciate that then your friends with children? If they say no,
then, as painful as it is, you'll know they weren't people who
weren't there for you. When your kid's a bit older and hopefully
less annoying, you can have big multi-kid slumber parties at
your house and return the childcare favor.
You have every reason to feel the way you do. I don't think
you're a freak, or a bad mother. In fact, you should get a gold
medal for just surviving.
Often Irritated Too
I agree with you that taking time for yourself should help --
start with getting enough sleep, healthy food, excercise. To do
find time for you:
1. Make a time management list
2. Make a money management list
3. Cross off or reduce items from the above lists that are not
4. Arrange babysitting swaps with parents of a couple of your
5. Be organized but flexible
6. Reduce non-child-related stresses so you are not stressed
out over your child
Also, I have found exactly the opposite from my friends of two-
parent, multiple child families. Several have been so helpful,
saying that adding my child to their mix every once in a while
is no trouble at all and that they would like to help me have
some time to myself. I am so grateful!
--having fun as a single, working mom of a 3 year old
When my child was younger I was introduced to the concept of
The Babysitting Coop! What a lifesaver that group was for me.
As well as I made some great Mom friends in my neighborhood. It
is a group of moms who will sit for each other to give 'breaks'
or whatever is needed; time for Dr. appts., time with friends,
etc. In return you watch others kids and I found that in some
ways that too gave me a break as my child then had someone new
to play with and did not need me (24/7) as the playmate while
the other children where at my house. Most Babysitting coops
have accounting rules for ''sits'' and other rules, baby safe
homes, and it is usually best to find one in an area close to
you so that sits are convenient.
Good Luck... you might want to post on this network for
Babysitting coops in your area.
Big Fan of Babysitting Coops
I think you do need a break for some ''me'' time. Since you have
friends with kids, you might want to suggest some child
swapping (that is, if you could handle watching other kids in
exchange for some time alone). From my experience, if you pose
the question to friends, it will be very obvious if they are
interested (ie. will respond: ''yes, yes, yes!! when do you want
to start???'') or not (might say, ''oh yeah, we should do that
sometime''). It never hurts to ask, especially if it will be a
reciprocal arrangement, and you will know who is really
Your other option is a babysitting co-op. There is some
information on the Berkeley Parents Network about co-ops. They
work best if you can find one in your neighborhood.
It's that single mom blues thing, isn't it. You love your kid like
nuts and then you just want him to go away. I experience
this feeling even in the best of times, let alone the worst of
them. Here's a few things that have helped me.
1. You're not a horrible person, you're just normal. It's hard
to do this on your own, day in and day out, esp. if you don't
have family near by, etc.
2. There's a series of books out there called ''Your XX year
old''. Without fail after I've read the one for my child's year, I'm
able to back off and let him be a bit more. They're short, to
the point. Just a little perspective on where he is seems to
help ability to take him where he is and that helps with the
3. So of course the crux of it all is that 2 parent families are
able to give each other a break and we single parents have
none. That said, when I find ways to get what I need, it
helps. Ride the stationery bike while he watches his show
in the am, etc.
4. People don't get that when we work full time the last tihng
we feel like doing is put our kid in daycare at the Y or
something to get a workout in. That said it may be that your
kid is old enough to enjoy 2 hours at a friends' house. Pick a
friend that doesn't drive you batty (child or parent) and offer
to swap. When you get those 2 hours DO NOT clean the
house. Leave your home. Go to a cafe and sit still. It'll drive
you batty but it's a good batty. When it's your turn to
reciprocate, pick that other kid up and take them both to a
park, not your house. THen you don't have to pick everything
up afterwards. Bring a latte, and sit still. Hey it's not perfect,
but you take what you can get.
5. Seek out other working parents. People w/out kids do
NOT get it, even if they love kids. There's just no
replacement for connections with other parents. That said,
some of our best stand-ins don't have kids but will take
mine for an hour and mow the lawn with him while I just
have some time to breathe.
6. The one thing I know that kills me after I've been with my
kid for 2 or 3 solid days is that if I don't have some adventure
planned, for each day, starting in the morning, I go crazy.
Best with another grown-up with child, worse if I fail to do
something. Staying in the house is crippling, emotionally.
7. Check out single moms by choice. You might meet
someone likeminded, you might find support, you;ll
definitely meet people in the same boat.
8. Something oddly rejuvenating, even with your child or
maybe esp with him, is fooling around in the garden.
Weeding, watering, planting seedlings--it's all very relaxing,
very quiet, and as I plant I seem to feed myself. It's only a
bonus that he is as peaceful as anything when we're
digging in the dirt. very good de-stressor.
Good luck!! And one other thing, buy yourself flowers every
now and then. It helps.
I would like to reply to ''Irritated With My Child'' Frustrated and
Sad by saying that I am also feeling very much like you and
while I'm not a single parent I often feel like I am and we are
extremely on a limited budget so prescool or daycare or
babysitter are not an option. Since I'm going through the
same thing I would not even consider giving advice only to
say that my saving grace is that I am part of a mothers group
and that is the network I have or rather we have my two little
girls and I (I also have no family local) I'm not sure if you
work full time or not but you would be welcomed to email
me and I could give you information about my moms group
or you could find one through Neighborhood Parents
Network at http://www.parentsnet.org/npn_adv.html. feel free
to email me
First, let me say that three appears to be a tough time -- maybe
than the so-called ''terrible twos,'' at least in some children. I
three-year-old much harder to deal with than he ever was at two (all
little diversionary tactics don't work anymore because he's too smart,
aware of what I'm doing, and now he's begun to be deliberately
So I'd say some amount of irritation is normal.
Second, I think what I'd recommend is some kind of trading off of
childcare. Maybe you could find a friend who has just one child about
your child's age; maybe some of your multiple-child families have
four/five year old children, and would be willing to watch your child
night a week in exchange for your watching their children. In many
cases having multiple children around is actually easier than just one,
especially when they are two and a half or older, as they will play
together sometimes, rather than needing your constant, 100% undivided
attention all the time. And I'm guessing that having a night all to
would make watching two or three kids one night a week worth it.
I can fully sympathize with you as I was in this exact same
position a few years ago myself. There are several things you can
do. First of all, recognize that this is normal and stop blaming
yourself. You just need a break now and then from the heavy
burden of being the only parent. Second, cultivate playdates with
your child's friends, one Saturday afternoon they can be at your
houme, the next at the friend's home. This will obviously give
you a break when you have a completely free afternoon, but even
when the kids are at your house you will have to interact less
with children and can at least take care of some house chores or
do a crossword puzzle without constantly being uninterrupted. Try
to make this a regular thing, something you can count on.
For other times when you get irritated, well, that's hard. One
technique is to try to get yourself to stop, take a deep breath,
focus on how much you love your child. Something to remember:
this will not last. By the time your child is a teenager you'll
be lucky if you get to see them at all some days. My grandfater
always said of my brother when he was three that he could wear
out an iron horse and aggravate a fly to death.
Oh my God!! yes, yes, YES, you are normal!!!! I take it that
since you work full-time that your child is in daycare? Then
when you get home you have to start cleaning, cooking,
relating, bathing, getting the kid ready for bed, putting him to
bed, and THEN you can sit down with a book. I know the
scene and my daughter is 13! I found that it helps to do
things out of the ordinary. Then I feel less like a work-horse
and more like I'm doing something fun and different for the
two of us. My daughter liked doing things spontaneously,
like a fun surprise. With the nice weather here, instead of
coming home and doing the routine, pack a picnic dinner
and eat out in a park, or get pizza one night a week at a
different place (remember-pizza has all the foods groups all
rolled into one!). Pretend you are camping in your living
room and sleep on the floor. Instead of having a meal at the
table, eat on the floor on a blanket, with finger foods only. Try
and have a dinner at least once a month with friends over
(potluck of course), invite your childs friend home after
daycare/work and do a sleepover. Trade weekend
sleepovers (even if your friends have more kids, they tend to
occupy eachother and one more isn't that much more), then
you will get one night to yourself. On the weekends figure
out short trips to take that are fun, like the beach, Tilden or
Redwood parks, children's playground in GG park, Pier
39-sea lions (you can take the ferry there), farmers' markets,
Coyote Hills, in Fremont. All the East Bay Regional Parks
have nice visitors centers for exploring. Stay out all day,
bring food with you, come home and feel like you've really
DONE something and you and your kid will be nice and
sleepy and content. On an evening when you are already
tired you might rent a decent video and curl up with your
child and veg-out or read while he is watching-1/2 hour of tv
won't poison him. Take a bubblebath together. Have
relaxing tea together. What I am trying to say is vary your
days and evenings. That was my struggle, that even if
friends weren't available, I was still caught in my own rut,
and not enjoying it or my child. When I can get myself up and
out I always feel better. You are SO normal. I don't think
childrearing was really meant for one person to do alone.
That is a result of our modern society (we could go on about
that!). And above all: BREATHE. Everything changes. You
will work it out.
all the best from one of many sometimes irritated single moms
Boy, I really feel for you. I am so impressed with single
parents - even as a parent with a very involved partner, I
struggle with these same issues. I frequently feel irritated
with all that I have to carry. Your feelings are very, very
So, my situation's not the same as yours - but I also work full
time and then come home to full time care of my son on nights
and weekends (we are on basically one income, and my husband
has the boy-o all day every day). We struggle all the time
with not having enough time, emotional space, or support for
ourselves, and not having the funds to buy it. It's really
One thing we have done, since we don't have money for a sitter,
is arrange for a childcare swap with a friend. It's just once
a week - she watches our son and then we watch her son the next
night. You may be able to work something out with your friends
like that if you can manage several kids at once - that will
make it feel more equitable to you. I find that it's not much
more work to have 2 toddlers around than 1. Everyone needs a
regular date night or a self night here and there. We have it
in our ''marriage contract'' that we make weekly date nights a
priority (now, we don't always get them but we sure try!). I
have my self night on fridays - therapy and then the gym, and I
take my time coming home.
We also have a few childless friends and coworkers who are very
generous with their babysitting time. So far, we haven't once
had to pay for a babysitter, and our friends have really valued
their time with our son and appreciated the opportunity to get
to know him. Try asking - you may receive.
Other things to think about - try to think of self-time as a
necessary part of your life - you NEED to take care of
yourself; it's part of taking care of your son. When I am
grounded in myself, I am a much better parent: I can really
appreciate and enjoy my son instead of feeling overwhelmed and
frustrated and annoyed, and I can proactively think about how I
want to be as a parent, instead of being in a constant cycle of
panicked reaction to every wave of responsibility. Even if
it's something as simple as spending ten minutes before you go
to bed every night just breathing, meditating, relaxing, and
BEING KIND TO YOURSELF. I fall into the trap of beating myself
up for not being able to be more available for my son. This is
such a burden! I have started to notice (with the help of
therapy and some very insightful friends) when I am beating
myself up, and I try to stop that tendency and instead tell
myself ''I am doing the best I can. I do not have to be
perfect - I do not WANT to be perfect.'' And every once in a
while I freak out about my life and have to get someone else to
tell it to me.
The other step that I have taken is to plan for a time every
week in which I am just doing something with my son. When I am
taking care of him, but also cooking dinner, trying to get the
laundry done, etc., I am often irritated because I need to do
things and he wants my full attention: our agendas are
different. If I proactively spend some time on the weekend
just having a good time with him, I am much less likely to be
irritated, and much more likely to enjoy him.
I also find that my relationship with him is harder when I am
rushed and trying to get out of the house or something. So I
try to leave a little extra time and make games out of things
so that we don't get into me hurrying and him resisting.
So, now I am just rambling. Obviously this is a big issue for
me as well, and probably every other parent at some time or
another. Parenting is so hard, and we're in a society now that
doesn't value it much or provide much support. We have to get
our support for ourselves. Maybe you could join a
playgroup/support group for other single parents. There's also
a parenting support crisis line if you just need to talk to
someone. Come to think of it, if you need to talk to someone -
feel free to call me.
Good luck, take care of yourself.
First of all, I think you are totally justified in complaining.
I only have one child, I work full-time, and whenever my husband
goes away on a business trip for even a DAY, I feel completely
overwhelmed and think How on earth would I survive without him?
And, my husband doesn't even do all that much, quite frankly.
But just having another adult around to give you that 5-15
minute respite to focus on one task by yourself... it's
priceless. So, I understand your feelings. Some suggestions:
by the time kids are 3, it can sometimes be less work to take
care of them together with a friend. Do any of your friends have
kids who could come over for a playdate? You can sit in their
room and watch them play while reading a magazine, at least.
And, if you give a playdate, you should be able to get a
playdate in return! Do any of your friends have kids who are
slightly older who could be a ''mother's helper''? I know you said
sitters are financially out of the question, but a ten year old
might be willing to work for $2-3 per hour, and even though you
can't leave the house, a 10 year old can really keep a 3 year
old out of your hair quite well. Also, I get most irritated when
I'm either hormonal or sleep-deprived. If this is you, try to
see if there is anything you can do to alleviate either
condition. Lastly, you have my sympathy, if that helps!!!
Wow, been there, done that. I found that I'm mostly irritated
with my son when I'm hungry or tired, or something else entirely
(usually money) is bothering me. I've also found it comes in
waves. Someone once told me that there are 6 month phases, which
has been true for my son: a 6-month phase of AGH! HE'S SO
FRUSTRATING! followed by a 6-month phase of ''Wow, I love him SO
much! What a great kid!''
The irritating times may be when he's really growing (in all the
various ways). Hold fast to your anger, hire a babysitter and GET
OUT, get enough sleep (and/or get help for a sleep issue if
that's what it is), and enough nutrition. And resolve other
irritating issues--I've found that with money, if I sit down and
write down what I have & a plan for eradicating a debt, I feel
MUCH better, even if I still have that debt.
As for your friends, I suspect their response to your frustration
was more of ''Oh, please, God, don't ask me to babysit; I'm
already so tired!'' or something. You may be surprised at what
they're really feeling in response to your cries.
Good luck with this; it can be a VERY tough age. And a really
great one, too.
I feel for you. I'm also a single mother of an almost 4 year
old. I also work full time, but my son's father is involved in
his life (has him every other weekend). There have been various
times when I've felt that my son was driving me crazy. You're
right on when you say that you need a break. Sometimes it takes
only 15 minutes to decompress, but finding that 15 minutes can
seem nearly impossible. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I
don't. Try putting in a video or finding an age-appropriate
show on TV. Try a computer or internet game. Anything so that
you can take a few minutes for yourself. Sometimes I turn on
the hose in the backyard and let my son soak himself, the patio
furniture - whatever, as long as it keeps him busy for a few
minutes. It took a while, but he finally understood that he
needed to play alone for a few minutes. I promise that it gets
Please feel free to reply to my email if you want talk.
Are you kidding? You are perfectly normal! I don't know how you
can do it!
I have a 2-year-old and a wonderful husband and I still get
irritated with my child. Everyone needs some ''me'' time, some
time when you don't have to be at anyone's beck and call.
The solution, of course, is to get some time away. If you can
afford to, the obvious thing is to get a babysitter. For
example, the parents of one of my daughter's little friends take
care of her for 3 hours a day and some evening nights. I pay
them about $20 a day which works out for all of us.
If you can't afford it, try a baby sitting swap. You take care
of another child once, they take care of your child next time.
Finally, ask your friends to help you and babysit once in a while.
For the naturally and normally irritated single mom,
I am sure you'll get tons of supporting emails-how could you
not? I was smiling when I read about your desire to sit in a
cafe and read a book....As a single mom myself (also for a 3
y/o) I leave such dreams aside, knowing they are not realistic
(at least, not for a single mom w/o supporting, local family) I
sympathize with everything you wrote- I know it in my bones-the
need for a break, the feeling of ''I can't take it anymore,'' the
lack of support, the irritation, impatience, and for me,the
biggest is exhaustion (as my child wakes up 2x each night and I
work f/t and am chronically tired) Being so tired is a major
contributing factor for my irritation and lack of patience w my
child. The solutions? Well, I try to do a few things (but they
are not enough, as I am burned out very often)
1. Join the YMCA and take child w you (on the w/e, if you work
all week) Leave child in Child Care (cheap and very nice-at the
Berkeley Y) and work out for 2 hrs or so. (My child loves to
spend time there and I enjoy a work-out, jacuzzi, sauna etc)
2. Find a teenage babysitter who is young and enthusiastic so
your child will be looking forward to spending time w her/him.
Teenagers charge less money-so it's doable. And don't have guilt-
child will be ok w a friendly, young sitter.
3. Try to get a massage every once in a while. I know a
wonderful masseus, whose teenage daughter will play w your
child, while you're getting your massage (Christina Del Gallo at
510 531 5963)
4. Try to relax, meditate,take a bath after child goes to sleep.
Try to go to sleep early.
But it's tough. It does take a village to raise a child-but in
this society it's viewed differently (see letter of Lonely
Single mom) I often tell my child-''Mommy is tired, Mommy is
sorry she is angry'' ''mommy needs Mommy-time now'' and I tell my
child how much I love him very often. But I know he pays the
price for all my frustrations and exhaustion. Still, he is very
happy and will probably turn out to be a perfectly wonderful
All the best.
I feel for you. I feel terrible after I've been irritable with my son.
I love him and
I know it hurts him deeply. I struggle with this myself and have made
Hands down the best way I have found to bring a greater sense of peace
happiness to my life has been meditation. I too wish to read books in
but I've found that a few minutes spent meditating is my best bang for
buck. When I meditate I can get in touch with my feelings and regain a
peace. Although I am not a single mother I am with my 3 year old son
the time. I have few moments all to myself. I've been trying to
day for 15 minutes when he is sleeping. It has helped me be a kinder
If you are interested here's a place to poke around
My second suggestion is more practical in nature. Your friends with
kids would probably love to trade babysitting with you. Yes you would
one Saturday evening with three kids, but it might be alot of fun. Make
party and enjoy the kids. Then the next Saturday you would be free as
well a bird with no babies in the nest. You can build up some credits
the friends have more kids than you and maybe every once in a while
toss you a freebie.
Truthfully the best thing I have found is to enjoy my son and just be
present with him when we are together. I've found that I get irritated
trying not to be with him mentally when we are physically together.
make sense? There's a lot of happiness to be experienced in these
with our three year old children. It's a struggle to maintain this
mindset, but I
think it's really worth it. When I fail I try not to beat myself up.
I apologize and
I wish you happiness
Of course these feelings are normal, but at the same time you don't
to just continue to struggle with them. There are ways to improve your
relationship with your emotional life, and I happen to have written a
book about one of them. In The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to
Emotional Self-Healing, I tell about how to make friends with feelings
like irritation, anger, fear, etc., how to be a listener to your own
When you don't push them away or make them wrong, when you really
listen to yourself as you would listen to a friend, when you can say to
your irritated feelings, ''Of course!''... they will melt away. And you
well discover that there is something about you and your feelings to be
learned. For example, you may have given up something important to
you, in order to be a mother of a 3-year-old. That needs to be
acknowledged. Even if nothing can be done about it! Acknowledging
feelings and what's under them makes such a BIG difference! It takes
only a moment, and yet it's re-establishing a loving relationship with
your own self.
I was just congratulating myself that I found the phrase "terrible
twos" to be so innaccurate, as surely 2 is the most beguiling,
loving, interesting time, despite its challenges. But I have to say,
in the last weeks, and especially the last few days, my almost- 2.5
year old has been testing me to the limit. Maybe it's partly the
holiday season and all its stresses/excesses, but this began a bit
before the holidays. He's started to develop a lot of obsessions and
obsessive behavior (refusing to wear anything but striped overalls
every day, being upset if his food is "broken," or crumbled or in any
way imperfect, needing things to face a certain way, needing me to
hold his books when we read together in just the right position, and
on and on). When any of these things goes awry, like I try to get
him to wear something else, or a piece of his waffle crumbles off
when I'm cutting it, or I don't let him put a fifth coat of
toothpaste (another of his new obsessions) on his toothbrush, he is
NEVER just mildly upset, he is always in full meltdown mode
instantly. Often these moments last just that--a few minutes, and
comfort, reflecting back his feelings or redirection works to calm
him down. But even when the incidents pass quickly (and they don't
always), there are probably 5 or so of these just in the time between
his getting up and us going to day care or a sitter coming (I'm a
single mom newly working full time). And then there are 5 or more
when we're together again in the evening. On days when I'm with him
the whole day, there could be 20 incidents in a day. And even if
they last only a few minutes, the sheer accumulation of them becomes
incredibly wearing. Right now I'm in an extremely stressful time of
my life--a full-time job commitment that takes up even more time than
I anticipated, some deadlines from free-lance work I have, the normal
holiday stresses exacerbated by my first real holiday seperate from
my husband and an acute awareness of how alone I feel, etc., a recent
bout of bad stomach flu, and, as a result of all these things,
complete sleep deprivation and bad nutrition. Of course I'm sure
some of my son's behavior is triggered by my stress, but I usually
manage a lot of patience with him, and lately, it's just begun to
feel like he's gone out of control and I'm on the verge of doing so,
so the patience wears thin pretty fast, and I'm ashamed of how I've
been handling him. Losing my temper constantly with him and feeling
completely unsure of whether I've been too lenient--giving him what
he wants to keep him from screaming (it's only recently that I've
instituted a three-doses-of-toothpaste per brushing session rule) or
if I'm fighting the small stuff and should give in more. My
instincts tell me not to give him what he wants when he screams, but
he has no other method of demanding than that, so he pretty much
screams for everything. He's also, in recent days, begun hitting his
toys and throwing things, and all the methods I've tried for heading
that off at the pass have failed (I've warned, then taken away the
thing he's thrown, moved him away from toys he's hitting, tried to
get him to playact with his stuffed bear to model alternative
behaviours--he just makes the bear hit the toys). While the answer
might be to try to take a break, have someone sit so I can get out or
something, I've been feeling so guilty about not spending enough time
with him as it is, that I don't think that's the answer. So this is
a long-winded way of asking both for suggestions about how to gently
handle this behavior more successfully, and also whether people think
it IS all pretty much normal two-year-old behavior or whether
something else might be going on. Thanks.
Wow!! You have so much going on right now...between job, marital
separation & normal holiday stress. Try not to be too hard on
yourself, it really sounds like you are doing the best that you can,
especially without a partner. I don't have experience with 2 year
olds...my only child is only 8 months. But, as I read your story, I
couldn't help thinking that your son must be reacting to the change of
having you newly back at work full time. I don't know how long you
have been separated but I am sure that that too is having a great
affect on him. He is having to deal with being apart from you more
than he is used to PLUS being apart from dad...that is a lot of
separation. Two year olds are in the developmental phase where they
are testing out separateness & independence & maybe your son feels
conflicted about his wishes to be apart from you. He may be angry at
you, but not really know why, cause he misses you & his dad. I know
there is not much you can do...I am sure you have important reasons
for returning to full time work. Any way you could get some help,
from friends or family, to help you manage household stuff or give you
some time alone. I know I just wrote that your son may be reacting to
time away from you but without some time alone (not at work) to
nurture yourself it can be hard to have the energy & patience to
handle a two year old. Sorry I have no specific advice on limit
setting with your son...you sound like you know what to do but are
just too overwhelmed to always do it perfectly. Good Luck & Hang in
In response to the single parent with the 2-year-old challenges, I
just want to respond that your posting really struck a chord with me,
because I agree that 2-year-olds are amazingly appealing, wonderful,
and fascinating. But I, also, have a nearly 2.5-year-old who's
driving me nearly batty about 50% of the time (the other 50% I'm
completely enraptured). The things you describe are completely
par-for-the course in my house, and since I don't think I have any
answers I won't give you any, but I'll just say that you're not
alone!! I'd be glad to get together, or just compare notes if you
want. In any case, good luck! (to both of us....)
You will get better qualified answers, but it does not
sound like "normal" terrible twos to me. I would
guess there is some issue with the seperation that is
causing your son to need to try to control as much of
his environment as he can. Suggestions that may or
may not be relevant include getting counceling,
including co-parenting classes that include your son,
cutting back on as many time draining activities as
possible in order to increase time spent with him, and
doing whatever you can to get yourself "in a better
place." Make sure you take care of yourself by
getting a minimun of exercise, eating well, and
getting sleep. You have to be in shape to care for
your son. I also would not back off on discipline,
he may be needing that structure now more than ever.
Bring in outside help, even temporarily. Your mother,
family, ex-husband, ask for help anywhere you can get
it. You are in a very tough situation that will get
better. Good luck.
As a single parent of a 4.5 yr. old and a 1 yr. old I could relate to
much of what you shared in your e-mail asking for suggestions. I
experience a level of exhaustion on every level(physical, mental,
emotional, spiritual) that overwhelms me at times.
Some of what is going on may be because your child is 2.5, some may be
the holidays, some your new schedule, your stress...whatever. I have
given up trying to figure out WHY stuff is happening in our family. I
just need my energy to focus on WHAT to do about it.
I would recommend the following books as great support: Becoming the
Parent You Want to Be by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, Real Boys by
William Pollack, Single Mothers Companion by Marsha R. Leslie. Of
course you don't have much time to read but a few pages can make a
I would also suggest that you take your son on a special outing. Tell
him that you want some special time for the two of you and really make
it stand out as special. I think you both need to know that you are
important to each other in this challenging time.
In my view, it is not only quality time with a parent but Quantity
that children require to feel safe, especially during times of
transition. I hope you will spend as much time as possible with him
As far as discipline-there are so many different ways to
parent...Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, mentioned above will help
you find your way of discipline. You might also want to check out
books by William Sears, M.D. for some ideas on discipline.
I find very simple things give me a sense of peace and self-care these
days; taking the time to make a cup of tea (I never have a chance to
sit and drink the whole cup but just making it feels good!), staying
up that extra 30 minutes for a long hot bath with a candle burning,
bundling us all up for a slow walk...whatever makes you slow down for
just a bit and remember what is really important to you.
Additionally, I highly recommend play therapy with a child
psychologist for your son. Many people seem to think children don't
benefit from therapy but I can say from my experience that it has
absolutely saved my son from the devastation of being a child of
divorce. He is working things out Now. I am confident that in the
long run he will not need to do this work in his later years because
he is able to move through his grief and emotional pain now.
Single parents need and deserve a lot of support, from family,
friends, society and each other. Thank you for reaching out!
Also at about 2.5 my second son (now 3.5) began to show some similar
behaviors. He became very rigid about certain things - eg what he
wore, what cup he used, etc. Basically our 'regular' infant (ie
regular bedtime, eating schedule, etc.), used his need for routine to
express his own individuality, act out his emotions, etc.
Some things that worked for us: 1) At one point I realized that the
days were worse when we didn't follow the usually morning rituals -
the main one was taking time to have cuddle time in Mom's bed when he
first got up in the morning. So even if I was up and dressed before
he woke I would get back in bed to spend time with him after he woke
up. Perhaps you can identify some key expectations, on his part, that
can be brought back into your routine. 2) If he gets too upset, then
we use a time out- not as punishment, but as time for him to calm down
before we deal with the issue upsetting him. 3) Setting certain clear
rules - just like you did with the toothpaste issue. 4) Warning him
if there is to be a change- eg. his jeans are too dirty to wear so
we'll have to find something else.- While this doesn't always
alleviate the immediate emotional outburst, with time it does help.
Hope this helps a bit.
Sadly, I don't have any advice, but am in precisely the same position
with my almost 2-year-old daughter. I am so depressed about the way
I've been dealing with her behavior the past two days, and need to get
out of this myself if we're going to turn the dynamic around. Looking
forward to learning from any advice that your message elicits.
Wishing you all the best!!!
I read your post with great interest. My 2.5 year old daughter has
been having lots of amazing tantrums sometimes demonstrating
ambivalence (she wants her diaper both off and on) that can last 1/2
an hour or more. We usually leave her alone to cry and yell (she'll
yell about the original incident that started the tantrum for the
whole 1/2 hour) and come in periodically to tell her we're in the
other room when she's ready to be with us. I also was concerned to
see her hitting her doll while yelling 'no no you have to go in'. (We
don't hit in our family but I didn't try to stop her from this because
I figured she can't hurt the doll and it might help her get some
aggression out. I did comment that she wasn't being very nice to
dolly and ask why she was mad. She didn't say why.) My daughter is
on the borderline of not needing a nap and she is definitely much less
able to cope with frustration when she is tired so we have been trying
to keep her well rested. I'm also trying to evaluate whether any
stresses in our lives are helping create this. I am having some
infertility type medical problems/workup and have been slightly
depressed about it but other than that everything in our lives is on
an even keel. I don't have any advice other than to say we've been
going through similar things. Also, despite guilt feelings, I think
taking a break and taking some time for yourself always helps increase
Sounds remarkably like the 2.5 year old behavior we experienced. And
I thought that 'broken food' and clothing fetish things were unique to
our kid! Best comfort: the number of these tantrums reduces
dramatically within six months, if our experience is any guide. We
(there are two of us...) found that having 'dates' (babysitter) was
--and is-- the key to our sanity. Your strategies seem very on
target. Only advice we might offer: when the tantrum was really bad,
we told our kid he needed to 'cool down' in his room. We let him cry
for about 5 minutes (5 minutes seems like an hour!) and then offered
comfort, which he was ready to receive. We had (have) a ritual--wrap
him up in his favorite blanket, hold him on the rocker, and then read
him one of his favorite books and things are righted. And we did (and
do) give in far more often that we think we 'should'. Which doesn't
change the fact that it was (and is) stressful and exhausting to deal
with a tantrum, and there are no shortcuts we have found.
The behavior the single mom describes sounds just about what my son
was like at 2 1/2. I think it is typical behavior at that age, and
maybe even more common with boys. It is incredibly difficult, and
there were days when I thought I might even become abusive! Because my
son was so challenging, I felt it was important for me to be firm and
consistent constantly, and so everything was a battle -- I wasn't into
"playing games" to get him to do what he needed to do. On the one
hand, I think this worked for him, and his behavior is much more
manageable now (at 4 3/4). I still need to be incredibly firm and
consistent, or he will test me all day. On the other hand, my second
is now 19 months, and is starting to test me, and I recognize it now
as age-appropriate and don't take it as seriously.
I believe breaks and firm limits are very important. I think it was
Brazelton who said that most behavior problems in the children of
working parents are because children save their most challenging
behavior for parents, and working parents who feel guilty about being
away from their children want to be "nice" and don't enforce firm,
consistent limits. "Out of control" kids are reassured by being gently
but firmly shown what behavior will not be accepted. Their behavior
frightens them more than us (which is saying a lot)!
It might help to find a support network of single parents, to help
take care of yourself. This is a hard time, even with two parents to
share the stress!
One positive note -- the "picky" behavior your son is exhibiting is
one of the first signs of readiness for toilet training -- so don't
knock it too much!
I would again like to recommend Rudoph Dreikurs's "Children, the
Challenge". Although the book was written in the early 60's and
family descriptions seem dated to me, it has lots of excellent advice
on discipline, with lots of examples.
One relevant piece of his advice: give the kid control over things
that don't matter, such as obsessions over what to wear, and how to
cut up their food.
The book also advises how the parent can remove themselves from a
power struggle. Dreikurs calls one of his techiques "taking your
sails out of their wind".
I'm not sure whether it can address all the 2-year-old's difficulties,
but you may find that applying its knowledge can produce "miracles"
and leave you in a better position to judge whether other types of
help are required.
After reading this book, you will also know when to be lenient and
when to be firm. The book also gives specific advice about when
consequences or rewards are appropriate, and of what type.
this page was last updated: Nov 23, 2008
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are transitioning to a new website: BerkeleyParentsNetwork.org
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network