Parenting style: survivalist

Survival mode: when everything is going wrong that could go wrong, we give ourselves permission to ride out the chaos. It sounds silly, but this was one of the most transformative lessons in my first year of parenthood.

LuLuEdward Photography

I remember the first time I was introduced to “survivalist parenting.” We were in the early weeks when crying was at its peak with my first born. I took every cry so personal. If my baby wasn’t responding to me like the baby books promised, then I was missing something. Where am I failing? Except that I wasn’t. Motherhood is so far from perfect, and having a baby is one of the messiest, hardest, most exhausting chapters.

“Give yourself grace; you are in survival mode,” these wiser moms echoed. “If that means takeout for dinner again, then do that.” 

You mean it’s OK to script my own motherhood and to take “shortcuts?”

Oh my god. Yes. 

Survival mode is about reminding ourselves that the hardships are normal. That what will make us in fact a better parent is being flexible. That, sometimes, our very best efforts come with very little reward, but that doesn’t mean we’re failing.

So we do what works instead of what we thought would work, and we free ourselves from these external pressures that tell us to think, act, feel, and look a certain way. Suddenly these shortcuts were really just me finding my path as a new mom.

So here I am five weeks postpartum with baby no. 2. The challenges are different with two under two. They are so close in age yet so far apart developmentally. One can run around while the other can’t even sit up. One can talk while the other can only cry to communicate. One craves constant exploration while the other craves constant touch. They both need me very much in very different ways at the very same time. 

Yesterday was a great day. It played out how I wanted it to play out. They slept at the same time. No one screamed at me. I cooked a delicious beef pappardelle dinner that my toddler actually ate.

Today, on the other hand, was a total circus. They refused to sleep. They screamed at me, and I could barely free my hands long enough to throw together a PB&J. It was incredibly frustrating and emotionally draining. I kicked into survival mode, and I allowed myself to surrender this idea that I was entitled to another good day just because I was doing the “right” things.

This is what makes motherhood so challenging. We can’t take much credit for the good days or the bad days because we will have both, at random. At least now I know better than to take it personal. I’m a good mom who has bad days.

And on those bad days, is it really that I’m taking shortcuts? Or is it that I’m just experiencing the growing pains of getting wiser?

The old me would’ve compared the beef pappardelle night to the PB&J night. The wiser me recognizes that there’s no real comparison to make because our love is enough.

Our love is enough.


    1. I think it depends on what your survival mode means to you. Is it something that helps you or hinders you? It has taken on new meaning for me. It used to be “just getting by,” and I couldn’t wait to get out of it. But now, as I’ve enteted a totally different stage of motherhood, it actually kind of keeps me grounded in a weird way. Perhaps part of that was a perspective shift. I needed to lower my expectations and accept the fact that motherhood requires so much surrendering of what control we used to have of our days and nights. So now, even though I’ve got two under two, survival mode is what keeps me in check. What reminds me that it’s ok to have off days rather than getting hung up on them. Once I accept this, it becomes a good thing 🙂

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