"Someday you'll look back and miss this" is just about the worst thing you could say to a struggling mom. A mother who's had enough needs empathy and encouragement, and she feels guilty enough without anyone insinuating that she should appreciate this time because "it goes by so quickly." That's not the way to answer a cry for help from an overwhelmed mother. There are plenty of things you can say to the mom who feels like quitting, however, that are supportive and sympathetic. I know, because sometimes I want to give up, too.
I'm having one of those weeks. The kind where unloading the dishwasher feels like too much and I'm just hanging on for dear life until bedtime. At seven months pregnant, I'm exhausted and uncomfortable. My toddler is currently punishing me (at least it feels that way) for leaving her at hourly care so I could attend a training. My husband's new job has him working horrendous hours, so he's gone before I wake up and home after I've gone to sleep. In other words, I need help. As I sit in a semi-catatonic state on the couch with a tantrum-throwing child at my feet, all I can think is, "How am I ever going to manage two?"
When a mom confides in you that she's just so done, it might be tempting to say, "You can't quit." Don't. We know we can't really throw in the towel, but we need to have our feelings validated and our hardships acknowledged. This is what we need to hear:
"I've Been There"
If you can speak from experience, please do. When a mom is in a place where she just can't anymore, she needs to know that there's nothing "wrong" with her. That it is, in fact, natural to want to bail at times on the tremendous responsibilities that come with motherhood.
"It Won't Always Be This Way"
When your 2-year-old toddler has just thrown the apple slices they asked for at your face, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel (especially when everyone else is saying, "You know, 3 is worse."). A voice of experience attesting that toddlers are jerks and it does get better is incredibly reassuring.
No one (literally, no one) can do what you do or be who you are to your children the way you do and are. It may not seem like it, but the time you spent playing blocks on the floor, the load of laundry you did, and the booboos you kissed better — they all made a difference to the people who matter most: your kids.
"You Have The Hardest Job In The World"
Motherhood is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. There is no other work that requires such patience and sacrifice, that is so relentlessly demanding at the same time as it is almost universally under-appreciated. And yet, it is the most important job in the world because you are raising human beings.
"You Can Do This"
Sometimes, what a struggling mama needs most is a vote of confidence — a cheerleader who says, "You're amazing and I know you've got this." Because she is and she can, even if she doesn't always believe it herself.
"You're Not A Bad Mom For Feeling This Way"
There is nothing wrong with you if the idea of not having to be mom for 24 hours sounds like a dream come true. Wanting to hang up the "do not disturb" sign doesn't mean that you don't love your kids fiercely and without condition. You're not broken. You're not defective. You're normal.
"I'm Here For You"
We weren't meant to do this alone. Moms need to be able to rely on their villages for support, and that assistance should be as concrete as possible. Yes, mama needs a listening ear, but she also needs someone to show up with a casserole or haul her kids to open gym so she can truly take a break.
"Help Is Available"
A mom at her breaking point needs more than words. She needs to be directed to resources that can help her deal with her feelings of isolation and desperation. A caring friend can be instrumental in removing the stigma around mental health issues and getting mom the professional help she needs.
"It's Worth It"
You're not going to enjoy every moment of being a parent. But in between wiping snotty noses and cleaning out car seats, you will find moments to rejoice in. For example, your little one learning the words to a song you taught them from your childhood, tiny hands on your face and the words "mama, you pretty," and watching them sleep.
What you give up, you will get back in spades, even if you can't see it right now.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.