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Carolyn Hax: Marriage, kids, job — add one more thing to be thankful for, and she’ll break

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I’m a mom of two (baby and toddler) who is supposed to be working full-time from home. Spouse is also working full-time. I love my kids but they are driving me insane; the baby is teething and the toddler has been throwing mega-tantrums every day and I’m having a really hard time being as patient as I want to be. Even though my spouse and I are switching off, every second is filled with either child care, necessary cleanup/food prep, work or sleep. Yes, we have a schedule. I’m writing this while I should be working. And I feel so much pressure to just be thankful for all we have. Please help me get my head around this.

— Emotional Trainwreck

Emotional Trainwreck: Please take this as permission to treat certain periods of your life as an unholy free-for-all during which you are not obligated to feel grateful.

Unless gratitude helps — in which case, go ahead with the gratitude exercises.

Some times are really just about getting through.

I've suggested this before and it was really helpful for me during the worst of the pandemic: When overwhelmed, try zooming either way in or way out.

So, zoom in: Think of your next task and only your next task, and don’t let your mind drift to the next thing. A toddler tantrum is probably the best (ha) opportunity to work this muscle. All that matters is your child in that moment. All those big feelings a toddler doesn’t yet have the language to express. You listen, and soothe, and there is nothing else in your life until your child feels heard.

Or zoom out: Look at the ocean, the stars; think of humanity centuries ago. Think of what people have endured through history. Think of how spring and summer push through the soil whether we're paying attention to them or not. Look at art, listen to music.

Again — both can work, depending on what the moment demands.

Where I find it's most stressful to dwell is in the weeks-and-months range. If you're wondering how you can hold yourself together for weeks/months under these conditions, then you're actually undermining yourself. Weeks-and-months range is for optimism, “I can't wait till [good thing]” mode. For negativity, it's way in or way out: “I've got this” or “This is bigger than just me.”

As always, you mileage may vary.

Re: Overwhelmed: I got the best advice on being overwhelmed my first time grading AP exams, on the first morning of eight days. The exams came at you by the hundreds, one after another. I felt a wave of despair. “I can’t do this,” I told the table leader. “Well, can you make it to morning break?” he asked. That was about 10 minutes away. Yes, I told him. “Then, make it to lunch,” he said. “The trouble is you’re looking ahead eight days. Nobody can do this for eight days.” It got me through and I came back for 10 years. And whenever I’m overwhelmed in any situation, I ask myself: Can I make it to morning break?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Yes, great example of zooming in. Similar to 12-step programs, too. One day (hour, minute). Thank you.