How to Break Out of Survival Mode


Sometimes as moms we find ourselves deep in survival mode and can’t find a way out. Many things can put us into survival mode–sickness, sleep regression, teething, life events (big or small). We find ourselves just trying to survive each day. The laundry piles up, the sink is full of dishes, and we can’t remember the last time we swept the floors. Everything feels rushed and busy, and we feel like we just can’t catch up. When I find myself in survival mode, I remember that I must shift my mindset to break out.

Mindset Shift

When all the things I “have” to do run through my mind nonstop, I start thinking about the things I “get” to do. For example, some nights I don’t feel like packing the kids’ lunch boxes for school. They could easily get hot lunch at school. They would rather bring their lunches to school, so I think, “I get to send my kids to school with food I know they enjoy. I get to give them some comforts from home in the middle of their school day.” In the end, they will be grateful.

Another mindset shift that helps me is to stop striving for perfection. Instead, I strive to get the job done. If I can’t finish a task, I will do what I can in the moment. If my kitchen is a disaster area, but I don’t have a lot of time or energy to deal with it, I will start by unloading and reloading the dishwasher. I can stop there, leaving pots and pans and whatever else, letting the dishwasher do its job, and come back to it when I have the energy. Usually, once I load the dishwasher and the mountain of dishes has shrunk, I don’t mind washing the few things left. It doesn’t feel like such a challenge anymore because I didn’t expect myself to do everything all at once.

Practical Steps

Sometimes in survival mode, tasks like self-care and cooking full meals feel like too much. I know a shower will help me feel better, but it feels like an impossible feat. If I can’t shower, the least I can do is comb my hair, wash my face, and brush my teeth. A change of clothes goes a long way, too—even if I’m only trading one pair of sweats for another. When my kids were babies, I would put their bouncy seat in the bathroom while I showered. I could easily poke my head out of the curtain to check on them.

In survival mode, sometimes it feels difficult to think of what to make for dinner. Then there’s the chopping and stirring and standing in front of a hot stove. And then half of the kids won’t even eat it (facepalm). On those days, I find no guilt in throwing chicken nuggets in the oven or making a box of mac and cheese. Another easy dinner option is to pull out any fruits, veggies, cheese, crackers, and any other random snacks – and make a snack board for dinner. My kids love this! It’s typically low prep and it helps us use up things from the fridge before they go bad. PB&J sandwiches or even cereal for dinner are easy options for those kinds of days, too.

Breaking Out of Survival Mode

When I realize that I’m in survival mode, it usually means that I have dropped some of my routines along the way, for whatever reason. When I am ready to claw my way out, I start by re-establishing those routines and patterns.

Those simple habits are:

  • Preparing for the next day every night before bed. Packing lunches, filling water bottles, setting out clothes, and putting backpacks by the door are all things I like to do before bed. I can let out a sigh of relief when I go to bed knowing these things are done.
  • Planning meals ahead of time. Before I grocery shop, I plan out my family’s meals for about two weeks. This helps me avoid having those days that I don’t know what to cook.
  • Establishing a cleaning system. This is something I have always struggled with, but when I follow a cleaning system, it helps me keep on top of things around my home. I try to do a different chore each day (i.e., clean the bathrooms every Wednesday). Every day, I try to do a 15-minute clean-up of the main living areas. My kids participate in this, as well. I try to do at least one load of laundry a day and clean the kitchen after dinner every day. My house is never perfect, but when I follow my routines, I can keep it comfortably clean.

Parenting can be difficult. Sometimes survival mode is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be a constant struggle. When our kids are little, we may have to accept that the house won’t always be clean, showering alone doesn’t always happen, and sometimes the laundry is a little behind. It’s not to accept defeat and give up, but to accept that we do not have the capacity to “do it all” right now. And that’s okay!

It gets easier as the kids grow older and become more independent. We will also become more capable the more we work at it. The best is yet to come.


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