As a mom, I have two modes. There’s regular, every day mode. In this mode, things aren’t perfect, but I do a reasonably good job of being a mom. Healthy meals are prepared, the kids are clean and presentable, educational activities are favored over sitting in front of the television all day. I’m no Donna Reed; but I manage to get things done.

Parenting in Survival Mode

Then there are days like today. Days that require a different mode: survival mode. Routines are abandoned. Children are dirty. Snacks are unhealthy. Cartoons are watched. All of these things are were in full effect today. It was the very definition of survival mode. I gave up on any chance of it being a normal day, and just tried to survive.

When my kids were younger, I used to beat myself up over these “survival mode” days. I felt that every day I didn’t live up to my full parenting potential was somehow harming my kids. I would struggle in vain to enforce healthy snacks, reading books, and bedtimes, and sometimes I would end up in tears when nothing I tried was working. The exhaustion, the frustration, and the guilt were a toxic combination for me. I would feel paralyzed; like I couldn’t do anything right. And then I would be in a funk that would last for days.

I remember very clearly a night right after we brought our youngest home. My oldest was 16 months old at the time, and he had a bad ear infection, which meant that he wasn’t sleeping well. And of course I also had a newborn, who woke every couple of hours to nurse. I would nurse the baby to sleep, and then go get the toddler who was crying in his crib. I’d rock the toddler until he fell into a deep enough sleep that I could put him back in the crib without him waking – and by that time the baby was ready to eat again. The baby would nurse himself to sleep, and then his brother would  be up again. It was awful. I remember sitting in my recliner, sobbing and thinking to myself, “I can’t do this. I cannot be the mother of two children. I am failing.” I even said it out loud, “I can’t do this.” It was one of my parenting lows. I was so tired, and I thought that I should be handling the situation with a smile instead of tears.

These days, I’m a little more laid back. I certainly don’t enjoy survival mode days, but I’ve realized that one day of cupcakes for dinner and Phineas and Ferb on a loop isn’t going to permanently damage my children. Some days the biggest accomplishment you make is just getting through. And that’s ok.

Moms, I propose that we stop beating ourselves up over these survival mode days. They exist; I would even say they are an inevitable fact of motherhood. Instead of feeling guilty when they happen, let’s just be thankful when they’re over, and hopeful for the next day.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a cupcake to eat.