Cranky Mama Syndrome

As a teenager, I remember a time when my dad seemed to be perpetually cranky. Years later, I found out that he was suffering severe insomnia, something I wish I’d known at the time as I would have (I hope) been more sympathetic.

Lately I’ve been feeling like a similarly cranky parent. Some days, after being up half the night caring for my new baby (3 months after birth, my preemie is developmentally about 3 weeks old), I feel exhausted and overwhelmed. The dishes are dirty in the sink, the baby needs feeding, the older kids need breakfast, and no matter how many times I sweep the floor, it always seems dirty. Those are the days that it’s hard not to feel cranky–or to fight the temptation to hide in my room and disappear into a book.

Other days, I struggle to find sympathy for my older kids. My oldest, always sensitive to disruptions in his routine, has struggled with the adjustment to first grade and all-day school on top of the adjustment to a new baby brother (not to mention his brother’s long hospital stay). Some days, the smallest thing sets him off: the other day he was mad at me because his name didn’t have as many syllables as his siblings or the other kids in his class. Last week he came back from a field trip complaining about everything from the food for lunch to the bus ride. I tell him that happiness is a choice–and then feel like a hypocrite as I struggle to make that choice myself. My middle child, a daughter, is generally well-adjusted, but even she seems to be screaming at her brother more often these days.

I don’t want to star in my kids’ childhood memories as their cranky mama. Unfortunately, cranky is often an easier default temperament than patient or happy. (At least for me).

It’s not that I expect everything to be sunshine and roses: I’ve been a mother long enough to know that not everything about motherhood is joyous or glamorous. It’s more that right now I find myself struggling to appreciate the good moments like I should. Or maybe as a trained pessimist (my mom always thought that if you expected the worst you couldn’t be disappointed), I haven’t quite caught the knack of positive thinking.

So today, I’d like to appeal to the brilliant hive mind of Segullah: what are your tricks for getting through tough times with grace? How do you avoid being cranky in stressful times?

 

About Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. She served a mission in the Hungary Budapest mission. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework.

24 thoughts on “Cranky Mama Syndrome

  1. Give yourself permission to be cranky sometimes. It’ll pass more quickly that way. It’s ok not to be the perfect mom. Sometimes we fight and fight and fight our imperfection and it just makes it worse. Accept it . . . acknowledge it . . . that doesn’t mean you have to revel in it by any means. ;) But we live in a telestial world in telestial bodies and this is part of what we signed up for and it’s ok. Same for your son. I have a daughter who has a difficult time with transitions–she get’s emotionally “stuck” on things that don’t go the way she is expecting. But if I tell her to buck up, it just makes it worse. He’s about six years old? I’m 38 and I’m still trying to figure out how to “choose happiness.” It’s a life-long endeavor. Maybe instead, focus on plowing through despite feeling bad. And the change in feelings will come . . . eventually. We’re a lot better at changing our actions than we are at changing our feelings. It sounds to me like you are doing a fabulous job during a difficult season. Keep plowing through.

  2. Michael J. Fox was interviewed recently and he said that if you expect the worse–and it actually happens–you’ve only succeeded in living it twice. I thought that was sage wisdom.

    Also, I think it’s important–as a mother–to strike that balance between finding happiness/patience and being honest with our feelings and frustrations. Ignoring those times when we’re hurt or upset or frustrated or run-down simply makes us a doormat to our feelings and ignores a very real part of our experience.

    It’s in the PROCESSING of those feelings where we can find healthy ways to venture from Point A (cranky/sad/exhausted) to Point B (accepting/happy/peaceful).

    I think we often perpetuate the lie that it’s bad to be cranky or upset or hurt as a mother–but those feelings are real and deserve the respect and attention that our other (more pleasant) feelings merit. BUT. I’ve found the trick is in working through those bad moments in healthy ways before they get projected into my interactions with my children.

  3. It’s impossible to not be cranky sometimes–I’ve got a lot of the same things as you going on–sensitive 1st grader, exhausting pregnancy, everything else I need to do … I’ve found the most effective thing with my 1st grader is to just ignore the complaint and give a big hug. Who wouldn’t love to feel like there’s someone in the world who isn’t against you, but on your side, when you’re tired and cranky? I’ve also found it effective to ignore details of bickering between the kids and just have them hug each other and say a few nice things about each other during this time of short patience for everyone. The house may be a mess; I may be tired, but I’d really like everyone to feel like we’re a team that loves each other, even when we’re not feeling our best.

  4. Those years when all my children were little were the years I felt cranky all the time, too. It’s a hard time, and I think we should acknowledge that it’s just tough! Not enough sleep does wacky things to us that can bring down the best of us. Put yourself in time-out once in awhile. Try to recognize the ridiculousness of the situation (sleep deprived mom doesn’t shower in three days, is covered in spit-up, trying to convince son he has enough syllables in his name to be respectable.) because it really is pretty funny. Laughing about it can relieve a lot if tension. So much of my life is filled with those ridiculous moments. If I can try to laugh about it, everyone is happier. Boy, is it hard sometimes! Hang in there!

  5. Rosalyn: I’m kinda cranky, and I have less demanding challenges, so I feel unqualified to make a suggestion.

    But I do better when I focus on “now” and dial back on the picture in my head that I’m striving for. For example, I really lowered my standards for cleaning the house, and that got rid of a lot of contention for me. Also, I had to let go of my expectation for my son’s performance at school. That improved my relationship with him. And if I can stop living in my head so much and focus on what my body is doing by doing yoga breathing, that helps decrease my anxiety. Also, my sister–who has children older than mine–told me to enjoy every age and stage.

    I am now feeling like Polonius from Hamlet, despensing rapid-fire advice. If I were there, I’d just wash a sinkful of your dishes, give you a hug and say, “You rock!” You will find your path.

  6. Coke Zero. I take it “medicinally” to ward off crankiness. My mom swears that Dr. Pepper saved her marriage, so I think it’s a genetic fix. :)

  7. Oh Rosalyn, I really needed to read today! I just yelled at my crying six-year-old instead of offering comfort, because he hurt himself messing around on the couch when he should have been getting dressed. It can be so hard to be generous and loving and forgiving when all I want is someone to be those things for me. I have a hard time giving empathy to my kids when I feel like my well is dry.

    I think I agree with what other people have said–try and get as much sleep as you can, lower your expectations for yourself and others (easier said than done), and try to find relaxing and/or humorous things to do with your time. This will pass. It really will even if it doesn’t seem like it

  8. Sometimes we need to realize we have limits and ask others to help us. Sometimes we think it’s all or nothing, but when we give ourselves permission to ask for little things, things change. Ask for help with dinner, even if it’s just fast food night, help with kids, help with the house, sometimes emotionally it feels like giving up, but really it’s important we have support. Seek value and treasure that support in the form of husbands, Grandparents, neighbors and church members. Let other’s help.

  9. I’m welling up just reading all of your kind, supportive comments! Thank you! Sometimes I think the acknowledgement (by other women) that what we are doing *is* as hard as we feel like it is can be really validating.

    I didn’t mean to complain here–I think I have been blessed with my life–I’m just looking for a better attitude on bad days. These suggestions help–truly!

  10. My sweet 6-month old baby broke her femur a week ago. We’ve been adjusting to life with a spica cast and less sleep. My husband isn’t being treated well at work, and, control freak that I am, it kills me that I can’t fix it. I spent a lot of time last week crying, but I’m gradually trying to handle my problems with grace and cheerful(not grim) determination. I saw a picture on Pinterest of a free-flying balloon with the words “let it go” beneath it. I think I need to hang that on my wall because it’s the answer to nearly all of my crankiness.

  11. Lately, I’ve convinced myself I need to be enough to feed the 5,000. Really, I just need to bring what I can to the table and the Lord will make it enough. And even then, how many of the 5,000 brought bread or fish? And they were still fed.

    I say, acknowledge your feelings and what is happening. Talk, talk, talk it out with friends, husband, other moms. Be gentle with yourself. Be still and know that HE is God.

  12. One way I get through stressful times (already mentioned) has been by lowering my expectations and slowing down. Right now, with a newborn myself, I have reduced my chores to just a few–including washing the laundry (kids fold most of it) and showering daily and fixing hair and makeup (if I skip this it exacerbates EVERYTHING crazy in my life) and making sure we have dinner. And taking a nap. I am grateful that I have older kids who do a lot of the other chores (but I guess the tradeoff is that my evenings are nuts with their activities.) Making time for prayer and scripture study helps a lot too.

  13. There is something so therapeutic in realizing I’m not the only one that struggles with being the grouchy mom. I have two school-aged daughters that I’m homeschooling, two toddlers, and 20 violin students, and all too often, I feel like I’m a drill sargeant instead of a mom.

    I have, however, found a huge difference in my coping ability when I make time to really study the scriptures and feed myself spiritually, and when I take time to really pray. It surprised me that it’s taken me this long to understand that prayer and (real) scripture study makes that kind of a difference, (I mean, seriously, I’ve been taught these things since I was 3!) but I’ve found deeper reservoirs of patience and kindness when I’m closer to the spirit.

    Another thing that has helped is getting completely showered, dressed etc before my kids get up. There is something about feeling together before the chaos starts. It also gives me a chance to kneel in prayer before the day starts, and I’ve found myself looking forward to that quiet time.

    And Karin, (#12) thanks for your comment. I LOVE that analogy, and will need to think on that for a while.

  14. I have no advice-only sympathy. You, my dear, have every reason in the world to feel cranky. Would it help if you knew that “this too shall pass.” As long as your are so severely sleep deprived you will feel cranky. Wish I were there to give you a break. xox

  15. Thanks for sharing! When I was growing up I always wondered why my mom was cranky when we were getting ready to go on a vacation. Everyone else seemed to be super excited, so what was the deal with mom? As a mom it didn’t take me long to realize how stressfull packing for a large family can be!

    I love all the advice that I have read in the comments. Somedays I tell myself that my only “job” is to be happy. Smile, tell the kids I love them, and don’t raise my voice. Sometimes it helps to take a break from all my other “jobs” and just focus on being happy.

  16. I remember when my kids were 8, 6 and 3 my newly married sister, who didn’t have children yet, said to me “when I have kids I am not going to be so mad all the time. I’m not going to yell at them or be as ornery as you are.” It hurt. A lot. (Obviously the memory still does because my kids are now 24, 22 and 19.) I remember telling her she can only judge me when she’s walked in my shoes. It was a wake up call to me though. I thought about what she said a lot over the years. I tried to be nicer and smile more. I didn’t want my kids to think they had the mean mom.

    It was many years later when she was telling me how tired she was, how her three kids were driving her nuts. She looked at me and something suddenly clicked. With tears in her eyes, she apologized. I had not reminded her of what she said, but she had remembered how judgemental she had been of my lacking parenting skills. We cried together. Parenting is hard. There is no perfect manual that I know of. Everyone is different and must find their way. Truly, the gospel, and my goal of eternal life with my family, has made me stop and think of how I act towards my kids. I love them. I want them to know I love them. Do they still think I lose it sometimes? Oh yea. But, really, who doesn’t?

    You are not alone.

    Sleep, read, take a time out. Do what you need to relax a bit. Step back and realize that you are probably doing a much better job than you think you are.

  17. Be a lazier mom. I read this article that talked about how a few thousand school-aged kids were asked to give their parents “grades” for their parenting. Most parents got A’s for the amount of time they spent with the kids, the amount of love and affection they showed, and even the amount of discipline that was used. But what most parents FAILED in was their child’s rating of their parents’ mood and the ways they deal with stress.

    After reading this, I decided that I needed to “improve my grade” with mood and not worry as much about the things that parents commonly get “A’s” on. So I spend a little less time with them, concentrate a little less on making them feel love every single second of the day, and instead focus more on “what can reduce my stress level to an appropriate level?” So my kids watch 2 hours of TV instead of one, I take them to he park more often so I can chat with my mom while they’re playing, I do more babysitting trades with the neighbor. And I’m a happier mommy!

    Remember that 50 years ago kids played outside unsupervised from dawn until dusk. Parents hardly saw their kids! Give yourself tons of slack and start enjoying life again!

  18. I’m sorry life is so hard right now, Rosalyn. I feel for you. My situation right now is more like your dad’s so I understand how hard it is to fight the cranky. Sometimes I look around and wonder why everyone is being so bratty and then realize it is because I am being so bratty! All this advice so far has been really great and I think part of it is just realizing you are in a particularly rough spot and you just have to hold on for a while. But one thing I have discovered that helps is to just pour on the positive. It’s like a mental exercise. I still yell and get frustrated, but I also try really hard to just love the tar out of them. Hug them and tell them i love them unceasingly. tell them they are wonderful and smart and kind and funny. tell myself that. tell my husband that. its sort of like a balm to help heal the hurts of a stressful time and usually it acts as a sort of tide turner. If i do this deliberately for a while we all start to see life a little rosier and we find ourselves in a better place and miraculously less stressed, even when the stressors are still there. Am I making any sense? Good luck, and remember that the house can be a mess right now. You have a premie newborn for heaven’s sake!

  19. My only addition is from what you said about your dad. If you had known he suffered from insomnia you would have been more understanding, so don’t be afraid to tell your kids you’re sorry and doing the best you can. When I told my oldest son I was still learning how to be a mom, our relationship improved.

    And have your vter come do your dishes!

  20. Been there; fone that. So sorry. I think i speak for all of us when i say i wish i could come over right now and give you a hug and take your kids to the park. One thing to add, be sure to consider post partum issues. Next, do whatever you can to get more sleep. We simply arent designed to function without it. Next, let your first grsder change his name for awhile, its a way you can allow him to feel bith noticed and that he has some control over his life. When my second son was four i realized how little i liked him. I was devastated with guilt. He deserved a mom whom adored him. So, i prayed. Desperately for The Lord to help me fall in love with thst challenging kid. He is 20 now. Charming as all get out and that constant challenging has been channeled into his training for Special Forces. Have hope, get some sleep, and know you are doing better than you think you are.

  21. aside from having realistic expectations of yourself, remember to have realistic expectations of your children. as i find myself hissing at my daughters to talk more quietly so that they don’t wake up the baby, i have to remind myself that they are four and two years old and it really isn’t reasonable to expect them to whisper while they’re playing.

    i feel like i’m actually pretty realistic about what i can do and handle in my current sleep-deprived, mother of three small children state, but i frequently expect my children to behave far above their maturity levels, which is usually what leads me to be cranky, raise my voice to that ugly tone that i always regret later, and drives me to my knees in repentant and pleading prayer.

  22. Pristiq. Heaven-sent. Changed my life. I went from being snappy, prone to feeling rage-y about stupid things, and and unproductive mess to being myself: happy, cheerful, if a little scattered, and I love my baby, now. Win-win-win.

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