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One Mom's Nervous Breakdown

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Guest blogger Cindy: This has been a long summer vacation for my kids -- one that's STILL going on because of the budget cuts in our school district. The remainder of the summer break wouldn't have been a big deal (for me, anyway) if the kids' camp hadn't ended two weeks ago ... which means that I have been faced with keeping them at home while trying to work from my home office.

woman screaming
We have a pool, so I figured the kids would just fill the rest of the summer with swimming and other ways of entertaining themselves. How bad could it be? The universe, it turns out, had definite views on the matter ....

My kids didn't want to swim. They wanted me to take them places, referee their constant fights and provide other forms of entertainment (the water park, Six Flags, etc.), all while whining incessantly, making noise and creating mess on top of more mess. After a week of this, I completely lost it. I screamed at them, threatened everything I could think of and then went and sat in my car to rest my forehead on the steering wheel and cry. I thought, I get how parents walk out on their kids. I get it. I would never do that, of course, but at that moment I sure wanted to. 

If there are parents who are exposed to this consistently ... well, I don't see how they keep their sanity. Mine, I was pretty sure, had just taken off. I had never felt more hopeless. I called my husband -- who had little sympathy because he was headed into a meeting -- and he told me to "buck up." I knew he was right: We had these children by choice, and it's a parent's duty to raise responsible, kind and loving members of society -- no matter how hard it gets at times. But I had reached a limit I didn't know existed. 

I locked myself in my room for the rest of the afternoon, and when my husband walked in that night, I passed him on my way out. I just grabbed the keys and drove and cried and cried and cried. I didn't know I had that many tears. When I got home, I went straight to bed without talking to anyone. The next morning when I woke up, as soon as I realized where I was (within close proximity to my children), I seized up as if I were readying myself for battle. And then I locked myself in the bathroom and cried some more. When I looked in the mirror, it was as if someone from a mugshot was staring back at me. My kids knew something was up, and at separate times, they each tried to comfort me. But I wanted to be alone. 

One part of me knew that something inside me had flipped out, but that part of me didn't necessarily care. I just wanted it all to go away -- which I knew wouldn't (couldn't) happen -- and so I felt trapped. It was horrible. I was horrible. 

That night, my husband surprised me with a sitter, and he took me to a movie. Except as soon as we parked in front of the theater, I started sobbing, and he ended up driving me around for two hours while my nose ran and I stared out the window, silent, like a mental patient. God knows what was going through his head -- I know he didn't bargain for a wife who couldn't effectively deal with her own children. But I couldn't help it. 

It took a full four days for me to come out of whatever it was that had taken hold of me. That's something you don't think about before you have kids: You can't just walk away. Granted, you don't think you'd ever want to, but still -- things happen that are unexpected, and suddenly you're this person you thought you'd never be. It's not like dating, where you can break up with someone if it doesn't work out. Those kids are always gonna be there, and you do have to buck up. 

I realize this whole thing is not their fault -- it's mine. It's my lack of parenting skills, of coping skills. I have less than a week before they go back to school, and when they do, I will be able to process why I reacted like I did. To be honest, I'm kind of scared of myself, because now I know what can happen. How can a mother let something so mundane make her so crazy? I'm guessing what I had was some kind of nervous breakdown. 

I would appreciate advice from any readers out there. I'm sure I'll get all kinds of negative comments (and I probably deserve them), but hopefully somebody's out there with some compassion who could give me some kind words.

next: Want Bilingual Kids? Use Your Nanny!
31 comments so far | Post a comment now
Heather September 10, 2010, 12:51 PM

That is a pretty severe reaction there. I wonder how long that was building? I think you need to work in some serious “You” time and stop letting them control you. Kids need to know how to entertain themselves. I work full time, so the only real blocks of time I have with my kids are on the weekends, so sometimes around Thursday of each week, I’ll ask them, what do you want to do this weekend? Then we discuss it. We’ve done local zoo trips, ice cream, parks, all kinds of stuff. The difference is that you work at home. When you work at home, you need to tell them, from (say for arguments sake) 12:00 to 4:00, mommy is working. That means you entertain yourselves. Then stick to it. Remember, you should always be there for your kids, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be there for you, too. And try the movie night again with your husband. You need some quality time with him too. There is a reason they call it work/home balance. It’s like a tight-rope walk. You’ve gotta keep your balance. Hope things get better for you and don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you are a bad mom or not good enough, because there are worse things you can do.

Samantha September 10, 2010, 2:23 PM

I have nothing but compassion for you!! I too have hit walls since my three children were born. As “they” always say, there is no handbook for parenting. Sometimes circumstances seem completely beyond us and it doesn’t matter how much our spouses or kids love us, we can’t see any out or compromise. As a military spouse who has to go it alone quite a bit, it has taken me years to find a balance for myself. Finding the little things I can do for myself, or finding things I can skip doing or put off if it could help my sanity was a lifesaver. Please know you are not alone in feeling this way, and I for one have every confidence that you love your kids, and will figure this out for you and for them. Good Luck!!

Ali @PickleSugarPlum September 10, 2010, 2:44 PM

It’s okay to feel this way. Some of us feel like this ALL THE TIME, and keep it hidden until we finally explode from the pressures…It’s okay for your family to see that SuperMom is human, too! I think that it’s easy for kids and husbands to take it all for granted when you don’t communicate how you are feeling. Sometimes a little wake-up is in order for everyone. Better that you had a PEACEFUL melt-down, and didn’t take the road of violence. Kudos to you for keeping your temper in check through it all.

cathy September 10, 2010, 3:30 PM

I completely undersand What you went through. I have been there many times myself. We had 7 kids in 14 years. Nobody tells you there will be days like that. We all have an idealized concept of what our life will be like. Where we will be. Our kids and husbands. It can be crushing when reality doesn’t follow suit. As mothers I think many of us take on more than our share of the blame for this imbalance between our dreams and reality. Just remember if you get up more often than you fall down it will be ok.

Aja September 10, 2010, 3:32 PM

Oh boy- have I been there. In fact I think I get to a place where I want to break down at least once a week and it is always over the seemingly mundane. I think the reason why it happened is for all of the reasons you stated. You can’t walk away, no matter how bad it gets, and because of that motherhood can sometimes make you feel extremely trapped. As crazy as it felt to you at the time, you probably just needed some time to escape, and locking yourself away and cutting yourself off let you have some time to get away and to feel what you wanted to feel.
I wish that I had some real advice for you but I just wanted to say that I understand.

Donna September 10, 2010, 4:17 PM

Every Mom has felt this way, so don’t beat yourself up over it. And if a Mom says she hasn’t felt this way, then she is probably lying.

Being a Mom is wonderful. But it is also very emotionally draining at times. Not to mention physically draining at times too.

Hang in there! We all understand and have been there!

susan September 10, 2010, 4:58 PM

I was there this summer as well. I think when you work from home it is difficult when school is out. I too work from home and when school is in I can concentrate and be very productive. I can keep the house orderly and everything on schedule. When school is out, it seems like my day is so interrupted by one thing or another. The more I try to keep normalcy the more it seems I am out of control. Thank goodness it’s September!!!

Stacy September 10, 2010, 5:40 PM

Please get professional help. Pastoral counsel, therapy or a medical consultation…from a mom whose similar mini breakdowns went unaddressed long enough to turn into a dangerous mental health crisis.

KS September 10, 2010, 5:42 PM

I’m one of those in it every day moms so I know how you could have gotten to that point. It can be quite a shock when your children are at their worst day in and day out. At our house that’s when momma and daddy bring down the hammer fist (not literal) and our children hate life until such time as they realize how to behave like civilized humans again.
We have all had points where we wonder where we went wrong and how things got so darn off track. What works in our home is for my husband and I to sit down and discuss solutions that we are both comfortable with and that we both feel are going to be effective. The funny thing is we have more children than any of our friends and we get more compliments on how well behaved and kind they are to each other. MMMHHHHmmmm that’s because of the hammer fist, don’t you know?

Trish September 10, 2010, 8:45 PM

I could have written this post. More than once. I am a SAHM to 3 small children and there has been more than one time that I have lost my cool to this extent. Lots of crying and moping, guilt and not understanding myself or my reaction. I do not think you and I are the only ones. It’s such a hard job raising kids. It takes a toll on every part of us - emotional, mental, physical, spiritual. And then the guilt we feel when we don’t behave the way we think we should. Give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself. We’re only human.

Kristen September 11, 2010, 1:13 AM

You know every mom has gone through this. I am a homeschooling mother and I have gone through this myself. I don’t think it just happens quickly, I think their are other things involved that you bottle up. I think the best part of this happening to you is that you realize you are not invincible, you have compassion for others, you judge less and you feel grateful for a support system.
I have gone through something like this and it made me a more humble and less judgmental person, I am grateful for the experience but pray I never go through it again.

Lisa September 11, 2010, 7:04 AM

I can understand how you feel. Sending you a hug. This summer I had about a month where my son was at home without some sort of activitiy. My husband had decided in earlier in the year to quit a good job and start a biz. So when summer rolled around there was NO money to hire a sitter. He worked from home and I work from home. Son also has ADHD and needs lots of activity and attention. He was constantly interrupting me. Or the dogs would start barking, or my husband would want to know where something was. (Apparently he can’t look for paperclips himself.) There would be kids at the door wanting to come over and play. I couldn’t even write a sentence of an email or go to the bathroom without some interruption. I got SO ANGRY.

Your husband sounds like mine. It is easy to say, “Oh Buck up.” when HE’S not the one having to work and take care of the kids at the same time day in and day out. Mine would also demand complete silence when he’d make or take a call. And god for bid he work in his office. No, he insisted on working at the kitchen table, in the MIDDLE OF ALL THE ACTIVITY.

Sending you hugs. Children are demanding but you know, these men need to step up too. Don’t let your hubby off the hook so easily. It took two people to make those kids. And his job doesn’t end with him earning a steady paycheck. You obviously need some time to recharge. And if you guys can’t afford a sitter, he needs to take them out a few hours at a time either during the week or on the weekends. Or find stuff for him to do. You might have to get sneaky. I bought my son two very cheap tickets to a baseball game. I knew he wouldn’t want ME to go. He’ll take his dad and I’ll get a quiet house for a few hours some night.

I already know that next summer things will have to change. I will need to find some sort of camp or daycare that my son will go to at 4 days a week for at least 6 hours a day. My sanity is worth it.

SSIAZ September 11, 2010, 8:22 AM

I totally understand how you feel. I’m a single mom of 3 (some biological, others by blood) and at least once a week I feel as if the walls are closing in on me. You have nothing to feel sorry for or ashamed about. Being a mom is really the toughest job on the planet b/c it’s 24/7, 365 days a year and you really don’t ever get enough breaks. Try and schedule some time for just yourself and then you and your husband. The most important thing that I have come to realize is that in order to be the best mom that I can I need to take care of myself first. That means if I feel like I am headed for a breakdown I’ll call my mother and let her know I need a break and is she willing to watch the kids for a little while so I can just have some breathing room. You can’t be mom all the time otherwise you end up resenting your life and your kids. You are always going to have moments like this but understand that it’s ok and it just means that your a good mom b/c you are trying to give everything you have to your children. However you need to keep some of yourself just for yourself so you have something to hold on to when the little ones are driving your crazy. Keep your head up and love yourself b/c you are great!

MartiniMama September 11, 2010, 2:33 PM

Wow, I am so sorry that you had this experience!

Next time I would say, don’t assume your kids will amuse themselves. You need to have a plan. You could have perhaps arranged a swap with the parents of some of their friends - they could have gone to their friends’ house one day, and you could have hosted their friends another day. Or maybe you could have planned to take a few days off during the vacation so that you could have gone out somewhere with them and worked out their excess energy or gotten them some entertainment.

Could it be possible that something else is going on with you beyond just the kids pushing you to the edge? Is there something else going on in your life/marriage/work? Maybe some sessions with a counselor to work though any issues you are having might be a good idea if something is bothering you.

Rita September 11, 2010, 4:38 PM

I totally understand how you’re feeling. There’s been many a day where I’ve told my oldest to watch the 3 year old, and I’ve locked myself in my room for a little while, had a good cry, got on the computer for a few minutes to relax, and then came out a little while later feeling a little better.

I’m not a fan of summertime either. My 9 year old is pretty demanding and wants everything done for her because of some mistakes I made when she was younger. I’m now paying for those mistakes, but it’s not too late to repair the damage I’ve done. She’s a good, sweet kid though. We have some more progress to make and I have faith with God’s help we can do it.

I was reading a Kindle preview of a book last night (I forget which book it was), but this mother was riding in an airplane with her brood and the flight attendent was doing the oxygen mask demonstration. She said you have to fix your own mask before you fix your child’s mask. It makes perfect sense for your home life as well. You need to deal with yourself before you can deal with your kids. Does that make you selfish? Perhaps, but I know I’m a better mother because of it. I still put my children’s needs before anyone else’s. I love my children, but I make sure I have a little bit of “me” time everyday, even if I have to stay up a little bit late or wake up a little bit earlier.

Anyone who would respond to this with a hateful comment is in denial, because EVERY mother has had at least one breakdown. Heaven knows I have. NO mother is perfect, and we all need to accept that about each other.

I wish I could hug you and take you out for a drink. You don’t live in Texas, do you? Lol

It will get better sweetie. If you pray, pray and have faith and ask the Lord to guide you every day.

Rita September 11, 2010, 4:47 PM

One more thing, and this goes for all the mommies out there who might not know about this. There’s always 1 or 2 churches (sometimes more) in an area that hosts a Mother’s Day Out program. It’s usually pretty inexpensive and they provide a snack and/or meal. It’s a great social setting for your children and you get to have a day to yourself.

Google “Mother’s Day Out” for more information, the search results will come back with programs in your area. Good Luck!

Frances September 12, 2010, 11:27 PM

You are not alone! I suspect most moms feel like that sometimes, I know I do. There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding motherhood: we’re not supposed to hate it, ever, but that’s unrealistic. We’re people too, with needs and desires, which are so often crowded out be everyone elses needs and desires. I sorted myself out by being selfish from time to time; jealously guarding my “me” time, and taking hold of my life and making some changes. This made me feel empowered and more in control. Check out my site:

Jacqueline September 13, 2010, 8:30 AM

Every mother has a moment in there lives that they just snap. I myself have had that moment. I am a mother of three children, autistic twins, and a severe asthmatic, so keeping them safe and occupied at the same time while I work from home was very difficult. From February of 2006 until April of 2010 I was a single mom, and had so much on my mind that one day, the most mundane things set me off. My final straw that day was my youngest son spilling paint on the carpet. He didn’t understand that it was wrong, but I lost it. I broke down and wept for over an hour while my children looked on. I eventually called my mother and told her to come get them, because I was afraid that if she didn’t I would do something I would regret. I got over it eventually, but it took a while. All moms have their limits. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I found that keeping kids occupied is easier than I could ever imagine. The trick with my kids was to find one thing that they had in common and build activities around that. With my kids it is art. So I set up a mini art studio for them and when I work, at home, they have something they can do until I am done.

Sew mom September 13, 2010, 8:56 AM

Sometimes this can happen when you don’t allow yourself to express how you really feel. I also agree with the commenter who pointed out a need for “me time”. If you give and give and give and give of yourself without rest, how can you expect to have anything left to give? I’ve been right where you are as well. As far as hubbie not being able to relate- more long stretches with the kids solo should help him understand. This too shall pass. Don’t think you have to do it all. It is ok to ask for help.

Katie September 17, 2010, 11:50 AM

Oh my gosh. I empathize so much with you. My daughter has been having insane meltdowns lately and as I was driving home the other day I seriously contemplated just not going home at all. I felt awful. I love my kid but wow. I’ve never had someone push my buttons like she does.

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