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Help for a Stressed, Overwhelmed Single Mom

15 Nov

A single mother of a 9-month-old is having a hard time containing her anger and frustration, while missing his father…

Dear Belleruth,

Right now I’m struggling.  I know everyone struggles, but life is really hard on me because I am both mother and father to my son.  I want what’s best for him, but still, sometimes I catch myself wanting to scream at him.  He’s only a baby - 9 months old – and he can’t help it.

At other times, I have days like today, when I can’t stop smiling, even if yesterday I wanted to yell at him for doing exactly what he’s doing right now.
When I get frustrated, I just wish his dad was around to help. I’m so lost and confused, I just don’t know what to do now.

I quit smoking two weeks ago and I can already tell that I’m happier for having done that. But I don’t know what else to do for all the intense stress and frustration.  
Sometimes I think I’ve got bipolar disorder, I’m so up and down.

I can’t talk to family and friends about this, because they wouldn’t believe me, even if I tried to tell them. They would just say, “Oh, don’t be silly.  You’re a great mom”.  I wonder if that’s really true.

Sad Sally

Dear Sally,

Wow.  This is a lot of stress.  And of course, you’re right – your son is just being a baby.

I suppose the key is for you to find ways to find real support that's available and nourishing to you.  Longing for your son’s father, who evidently is not in the picture, will just lead to more disappointment, anger and resentment... and could result in your displacing that frustration on your son. That’s probably a chunk of what’s happening anyway.

It would be great if you could eventually let go of your understandable wish for his dad to help out and just grieve that relationship and move on.  Easier said than done, I know. But that would help you a lot in the long run.

In the meantime, since you don’t feel you can talk to your family and friends, could you talk to a counselor and get a neutral evaluation of your current condition?  You could be situationally depressed. (You don’t sound bipolar - up and down moods that change within hours or days is not an indication of manic depressive illness). This could be temporary and related to your situation.

After all, you’ve experienced the loss of this baby’s father; you quit smoking, for heaven’s sake (BRAVA!!! No small feat!); you’re stuck in the house with this little squeezer, having temporarily lost a lot of your spontaneity and autonomy to this needy little guy who’s totally dependent on you, and who’s too young to have a clue that, hey, you’re a person with needs, too.  Any one of these things would be enough to lead to depression and stress.

So here are some thoughts:

Absent a counselor or family service social worker, have you got a friend or neighbor to confide in – someone who knows how to listen? I would be good if you could just flat out tell somebody how hard this is on you, how angry you get, and to please stop telling you what a good parent you are - this just isolates you further.  What you need is for a nonjudgmental somebody with empathy to listen to you!

Or what about joining a new single mom support group?  Or maybe a local anger management group?  

Another place you could go - especially if you have trouble talking about these issues face to face - is online. There are some terrific single parent support groups there.  A lot of emotional lifelines get established there.  

Can you structure some regular, weekly time for yourself away from the baby, so you can catch a break and get some time to yourself to decompress..... you'll also appreciate him more for having been away from him.
 Is there anyone who can take care of your son for a few hours a week that you trust?  Is there a church that offers some reasonable day care or a way for you to trade skills?  
Or even an exercise or yoga class that has built-in babysitting...  An art class at the Y...  Any of these things could help take the edge off your exasperation.

I know that if you're holding down a job, that's even more difficult.  And if you’re depressed, you may not feel like doing anything, let alone something extra.  But something that isn't work or baby care might be exactly what you need..

And of course, guided imagery can help.  I'd recommend Relaxation & Wellness for starters or Anger & Forgiveness or Self-Compassion Meditations. These things will help to balance your mood and lift your spirits.

I do hope you can find ways to nourish yourself, in spite of all the difficulties.  This too shall pass!  I wish you the very best.  Glad you reached out.  Please stay in touch.

Best wishes,

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award