How can you be there for your children when you yourself are overwhelmed?

Dear ones, some of you will surely recognize yourselves in the next few lines – because many of you are really achieving a lot every day and are deployed on different fronts. Elisabeth Raffauf is a trained psychologist and wrote an article for us about exactly these excessive demands:

“It sounds like squaring the circle: Just separated, lost your job, mother in need of care, Corona and now also worried about the war – the storage space in your head has long been full. And then there are the children who need you now more than ever.

Sometimes it’s just too much – also for parents. And it can have various reasons. Personal worries, professional difficulties, social, health and global political crises overwhelm parents and at some point the battery simply runs out.

But then who watches the children? What about them if we lose sight of them? When we simply can’t multitask, but only one thing at a time: Working from home or childcare, looking after our own parents or going to school for parents’ evening. Shopping, cooking, cleaning or listening and spending time with the children.

Children feel the overload

Children sense when their parents can no longer, and it affects them: Some respond to overwhelmed parents by trying to help them and take on parenting duties. They take care of the household, look after younger siblings and listen to their parents’ concerns. They gradually slip into the role of parents, sometimes imperceptibly. This is called parenting in technical jargon: “creating parents”. However, they are completely overwhelmed by this role. Being a child or young person for own development tasks, playing, rebelling against adults, is no longer a place. And they cannot bear the suffering of their parents.

Others become conspicuous. They themselves become ill, suffer from insomnia, eat very little or no longer, cut themselves, behave aggressively or withdraw into themselves.

What can parents do when they can no longer do it themselves?

The first step, of course, is the realization: I am overwhelmed and my child is neglected. Admitting to yourself that it’s too much clears the way for action. Then parents can give the children the signal: It’s not your fault that I’m worried and can’t take it anymore. It depends on the situation. The “enemy” is outside.

For the children, this means above all: You will be seen. I can see that you are suffering right now and that there is no room for your worries.

At the same time, it is important to signal to the children that they should not step in. To convey to you: We will provide support. “You don’t have to comfort me or slide into the role of parent. We get help. We look at who you can talk to, who can help us in the family and what can relieve us. – We talk to acquaintances, relatives, tutors, neighbors who can help us and – if that is not enough: we seek professional advice.”

Reduction of claims brings relief

Sometimes – if we pay attention to the excessive demands, it helps immediately: to lower the demands: Not everything has to be perfect. The apartment doesn’t have to be spotless, the school grades don’t have to be good, we don’t have to take care of Grandma alone. There are good reasons why things aren’t going so well. We recognize that. We take that into account.

So the question arises: What is really important right now? Relaxation, relief and letting go. Is it really that important that the household is tip top, that school grades are good, that the room is cleaned up? No it is not.

What do the children absolutely need? – The children need our eyes. The signal: You are seen and you are important. They need a positive connection with us. The secure feeling of being held and respected. A secure relationship that they can orientate themselves on.

At the same time, you need a place for yourself. An area where you can shape and decide yourself. In this way, they can experience that they themselves have an influence.

What do parents need?

What can you do to relieve yourself? Relaxed parents, parents who can take on their responsibilities, either by getting help, also relax the children.
The first point of contact can always be relatives, acquaintances, people you trust. Talking to others means first of all: spreading your worries over several shoulders. Even if a solution is not immediately in sight. And when you need more, it can be useful to get professional support: Educational counseling centers, for example, offer a low-threshold, free service. You can usually get an appointment for an initial consultation relatively quickly there. And it’s always worth it. So: Don’t be alone with the burden package and rather ask too much than too little.


Elizabeth Raffauf works as a psychologist in his own practice in Cologne.

The author of several educational guides and educational books works for the educational series “Herzfunk” on WDR and is part of the advisory team for the children’s news program “LOGO” on ZDF.

Elisabeth Raffauf herself is the mother of a daughter and a son. Her book has just been published Just educate us!” in Patmos publishing house.

Catherine Nachtsheim

Katharina Nachtsheim has worked as a journalist for 15 years, focusing on family and social issues. She has three children and lives in Berlin.

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