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Single Parenting Stress

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > All Kinds of Families > Single Parenting Stress



Really tough time with 8-month-old - need a break

July 2007

Hi all; 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. Tired Mom


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. Teri
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. k
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? Anonymous
hi, 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. anon
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 spirited. If you can't afford a baby sitter and don't have access to a mother's group and/or 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 and personal care (like shower--using a saucer or play pen) when the baby is awake, 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 cleaners (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. I also found going to the store with a friend or other mom made it social and easier with 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 Oakland public library was really helpful. single and sometimes by myself

How to get a break from constant irritation/guilt cycle

April 2004

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 irritated.

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 absolutely necessary
4. Arrange babysitting swaps with parents of a couple of your son's friends
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! Good luck.
--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 interested. 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. Good luck! Sherry
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 power struggles.
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.
me too
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
ed
First, let me say that three appears to be a tough time -- maybe tougher than the so-called ''terrible twos,'' at least in some children. I find my three-year-old much harder to deal with than he ever was at two (all the 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 defiant). 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 three/ four/five year old children, and would be willing to watch your child one 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 yourself would make watching two or three kids one night a week worth it. Karen
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. Good luck. Dianna
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 normal. 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 tough. 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. Jen


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!!! Fran
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. Jennie


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 easier. Please feel free to reply to my email if you want talk. lynn
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. anon
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 person.
All the best. anonymous
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 some inroads. Hands down the best way I have found to bring a greater sense of peace and happiness to my life has been meditation. I too wish to read books in silence, but I've found that a few minutes spent meditating is my best bang for the buck. When I meditate I can get in touch with my feelings and regain a sense of peace. Although I am not a single mother I am with my 3 year old son most of the time. I have few moments all to myself. I've been trying to meditate every day for 15 minutes when he is sleeping. It has helped me be a kinder person. If you are interested here's a place to poke around www.dharmaseed.org. My second suggestion is more practical in nature. Your friends with multiple kids would probably love to trade babysitting with you. Yes you would have one Saturday evening with three kids, but it might be alot of fun. Make it a party and enjoy the kids. Then the next Saturday you would be free as a bird; well a bird with no babies in the nest. You can build up some credits because the friends have more kids than you and maybe every once in a while they'll 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 when I'm trying not to be with him mentally when we are physically together. Does that make sense? There's a lot of happiness to be experienced in these moments 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 try again. I wish you happiness
Of course these feelings are normal, but at the same time you don't have 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 emotions. 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 may 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. Ann

Single Parent with the 2-year-old Blues

Dec 2000

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 there!!!! Ruth
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....) S. Martin
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. Kean
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 huge difference.

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 now.

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. Ellen


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!!! Robin
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 patience.
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. Kevin
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! Meri


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. Fran


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