There are days when you are completely crushing it as a mom.
You are making all the connections, validating all the feelings, teaching all the things…essentially firing on all cylinders.
Unfortunately, there are also other days when you just can’t. CAN. NOT.
Everything from the sound of your children’s voices to their tugging on your clothes seems like sensory torture.
Unlike most jobs, there is no option to call in sick from motherhood.
You cannot take a mental health day when the weight of your children’s (seemingly unending) needs is just too much.
This is why it is so important to have a game plan to help you survive a bad day, whenever it occurs.
Here are six essential tips to keep in your back pocket when one of “those” days strikes.
1. Know Your Playgrounds
Kids need to run and play regardless of the season, so while you may know just the playground for late spring and early fall, you need to have options at the ready for the more extreme kinds of weather.
Most elementary schools have great playgrounds, but they are no good when school is in session, and most have zero protection from the elements. There is a growing line of thinking that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing, and I’m all for toughening up our kids (within reason), but this is about you.
Standing outside in the rain or cold is not the way to turn a bad day around.
Make sure you know where to find a playground with natural shade or a canopy, and have indoor options at the ready for wretched weather. Being outside is good for everyone’s mood—adults and kids alike.
Plus, playgrounds are the perfect location for kids to burn off steam with your supervision but without requiring too much of your direct involvement or spending too much of your cold hard cash.
2. The Right Board Game
The ideal board game is easy to play, has few pieces, requires little assembly, and minimizes the chances of a massive brawl between your children.
Kids love games, so this is an easy way to connect with them and show them the attention they so desire without having to “play pretend,” which is really hard to get into when you are trying to survive a bad day (or if you are like me, any time at all).
The options here are endless, but a few of my favorites are Headbandz, Uno, and any memory or matching game. Games in the vein of Zingo!, Kerplunk, and Don’t Break the Ice are also a lot of fun, if you do not mind the clean-up (which is fairly minimal, but even minimal can be a stretch on a day when you are already struggling).
3. Get Moving
Movement and exercise help build energy and endorphins. You can certainly get this at the playground (see suggestion #1), but sometimes a playground is unavailable or just not the best option for your current situation.
When I had my youngest son, in the dead of winter, it was hard to find a good place for my older boys to play that was protected from the elements, but not a germ biohazard for my newborn.
In these situations, YouTube exercise videos (either the adult or kid versions) are great. There are tons of Just Dance knockoffs and kickboxing-esque videos that are sure to get your blood moving and your mood elevated, while still entertaining your kids.
If you are looking for a more serene, centering kind of movement, yoga for kids is another great option that checks all of these boxes. I am always surprised, and a little impressed, by how peaceful my kids can be when posing like a tree, dog, flamingo, etc.
Because you are a mom, you are likely already caffeinated to some degree.
However, a no good, very bad day may call for an extra dose. Brew the coffee extra strong, crack open a Mountain Dew, drink a Five Hour Energy, whatever it takes to get the blood pumping a little faster.
Obviously don’t overdo it (the shakes don’t exactly make a crummy day better), and don’t take this as medical advice, because it isn’t, but sometimes an extra little caffeine push is just what you need to get yourself going again (especially if the exercise endorphins from suggestion #3 still aren’t moving the needle for you).
5. Invite a Friend
This may seem counter-intuitive, because when you are at your worst, company may be the last thing on your mind, but hear me out.
You need to select the right friend for this (helpful, understanding, and possibly with kids the same age); nothing is worse than feeling low and then inviting over someone who is judgmental and will only make you feel worse.
However, a good, true friend, and the extra adult presence, can be just the pick-me-up that you need to survive a bad day with your kids.
Bonus: kids often behave very differently when other people are around, so if yours are really testing the limits, sometimes changing up the company in the house can steer them back on track.
Everyone knows that we are supposed to be limiting screen time (my pediatrician literally asks about it at every well-visit). For a while, I held onto these recommendations so rigidly that I felt like I was unable to snag a break when I really needed it.
If you let the kids watch one cartoon while you try to wake up in the morning (especially if you have early risers), and one while you make dinner (to prevent a mutiny), you’ve basically exhausted your allotted digital distractions for the day.
I have learned that being at an insufferable level of stress just to meet a somewhat arbitrary daily limit is actually worse than just showing the occasional full-length movie and bonding together, peacefully, on the couch.
I am not saying to disregard the recommendations entirely, every day, but a little cartoon-binge for the sake of mom’s sanity is perfectly fine.
Of course, the best way to handle a day when you “just can’t,” is to get someone who can. If you can call in a babysitter, a grandparent, or other family member to help you out on a lousy day, that is wonderful; you should definitely call for reinforcements with zero guilt. For many moms though, that is just not an option.
These six strategies can help keep you afloat until your mom funk subsides. Every mother has these days and the best thing you can do is weather the storm until it passes.
Hopefully, the next day (or the day after that) you will be back to your regular self, handling all of your parenting responsibilities like a boss.
What strategies do you use to survive a bad day with your kids? How do you get things moving in the right direction again? Share your tips in the comments!