3 Sanity-Saving Tips for Overworked Moms

Refilling yourself when you feel sucked dry.

Posted Sep 26, 2020

Every week, I speak with many exhausted moms who show dignity, grace, and indefatigable determination in the midst of overwhelming demands on them. These include young and older married moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms, and single moms of diverse backgrounds. 

Don't get me wrong—dads are under heaps of parenting stress as well. I know many dads who work tirelessly in the home, outside the home, and are amazingly strong in providing family support. That said, mothers in particular, based on my 30 years of family counseling experience, usually take on the major onslaught of struggles with challenging, reactive children and teens.

According to Fortune Magazine (August 3, 2020), The economic impact of working moms’ coronavirus-related juggling act has been estimated at $341 billion. Not only are women and working moms balancing a plethora of responsibilities as the lines between career and parenthood are indefinitely blurred with shelter-in-place, they are also fearing for their jobs—approximately 60% of the jobs eliminated in the first wave of pandemic-induced layoffs were held by women. Single moms have been particularly hard hit by the crisis, losing jobs at a far higher rate than other families with children.

Let's not forget about stay-at-home moms who may not be employed but are also working 24/7 while facing the seemingly ceaseless demands of children who are struggling with online learning, and the absence of, or limited number of, outside of the home, expressive outlets (e.g., sports, dance, gymnastics, outings with peers) to let off steam. These moms more than ever are on the front lines are catching the major brunt of children and teens expressing all the other daily and pandemic-related frustrations. 

As I describe further in my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (2nd) Edition, challenging reactive kids, teens, and including adult children, often are very skilled at wearing down even the most seemingly solid and emotionally together parents. Some keys to managing oppositional and defiant children discussed in this book are:

  • Be calm, firm, and non-controlling to avoid fruitless, counterproductive power struggles.
  • Lead with empathy.
  • Become their emotion coach (remember the brain does not fully mature until our mid-twenties).
  •  Use consequences wisely through what I describe as Dependable Discipline, and praise children impactfully when they show positive behaviors. 

Here are three tips I have found especially helpful to moms to feel emotionally fulfilled when barraged by facing the myriad of challenges and demands coming in from all directions.

1. Know Your Value!

This three-word phrase, "Know Your Value!" is like a shield to protect you from all the times you feel not appreciated or even devalued. To help you know your value, make a list of all you have done and do for your kids. You know what I am talking about: meals cooked, being a nurturing listener, helping with school responsibilities, field trips, coordinating activities in the home and outside the home with peers and other functions. This list is probably best to keep to yourself. But if you are feeling depleted and underappreciated, it is your way of reassuring yourself that you have tremendous value. 

2. Take Off That "Kick Me" Sign

I have seen way too many moms metaphorically wear "Kick Me" signs. What I mean by this is that children of all ages seem to know that the one person on the planet that will accept them — no matter what— is their mom. It is easy to forget that usually, children are hurting when they act in insensitive and even mean ways.

As I write in my latest book, The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, upsetting emotions, when not managed and dealt with effectively, come out sideways. This is because children and teens' emotional struggles put them on the "bottle it up and explode (or implode) later" plan. It is usually moms that feel compelled to bear the brunt of the harsh thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that come out sideways from children and teens. 

You are not doing yourself, or your child, a favor by being a target for unjustified blame, manipulations, or put-downs. Setting boundaries with your child or teen may seem impossible at this point because you hopelessly feel that nothing will work. Please don't feel that way.  Once you recognize what is going on, take off that "Kick Me" sign, and do things differently going forward. 

You can make empowering statements such as:

  • “Yes, you are right, I’m yelling right now. That’s not going to help either of us. I apologize. I’m going to collect myself and let’s try to discuss this calmly in a few minutes.”
  • “I hear that’s how you see it. I see it differently. It may help us to move on if we agree to disagree instead of continuing to fight.”
  • “I can see that you’re very frustrated. Just know I’m here for you if you’d like to talk. I hope that once we calm down, we will be able to have a constructive conversation about this.”
  • “I can’t control the way you choose to speak to me [or your sibling, other parent, relative] when you are upset. I think our conversation will go better and I'll be able to hear you if you speak with me more respectfully.”
  • “It’ll work better for both of us if you can say what you mean without saying it meanly.”

3. Be Kind to Yourself 

The term self-compassion has received increasing attention in the last few years. Popularized by Dr. Kristen Neff, self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with criticism.

All of us during our lifetime are learning and growing. We are allowed to make mistakes, overreact, and say things that we wish didn't or could have said better. Remind yourself frequently that hoping to be perfect all the time is an unrealistic expectation. Isolated incidents of less than desirable interactions with your children will not damage them.

It may be natural to catastrophize difficult interactions, believing that they will negatively impact the relationship long-term but keep in mind that relationships are made up of countless interactions. As long as your overall "body of work" is positive and caring, you can trust that your child strongly benefits from your parenting. The fact that you are reading this post reflects your love for your children and how much you care! 

For more about Dr. Jeff, click here.


Bernstein, J. (2020). The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing.

Bernstein, J. (2015). 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (2nd Ed.) Perseus Books, New York, NY.

Bernstein J. (2009) Liking the Child You Love, Perseus Books, New York, NY. 

Bernstein, J. (2019). The Stress Survival Guide for Teens. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Bernstein, J. (2017). Letting go of Anger—Card deck for teens. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing.

Bernstein, J. (2017). Mindfulness for Teen Worry: (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications)

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