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Sarah Norris – The Baby Detective

Real Life Parenting – How to Cope When Things Go Wrong
August 8, 2017

Real Life Parenting – How to Cope When Things Go Wrong

The 4 most important things to help you cope when life as a parent gets tough.


When I work with parents one of the things I stress is the importance of consistency, and that applies to everything from routines and sleep signals, to feeding habits and play patterns.

The reason this is so important is that, although babies cannot understand what we tell them, they are very good at spotting patterns. It is an evolutionary advantage honed by millions of years, and it allows them to make sense of the world around them. It benefits their ability to get food, avoid danger, bond with family and extended family and fit in to the society they are living in. It helps them understand what is expected of them, and, in turn, what they can expect from those around them, it lessens their confusion and helps them cope better with their new life.

The more consistent you are, the easier you make life for your baby and your family. However, there are times when consistency could, and should be sacrificed to make way for something more immediately important and that something is survival !

Sometimes, even for the most competent and organised parents, real life rears its ugly head and demands our attention, and all our normal patterns and habits get thrown in to chaos as we try to cope.

I am talking about those times when we are so sleep deprived that we can’t think straight, when we are so exhausted we don’t even have the energy to cry.

When unexpected events slap us in the face and we have no time, or money, or energy, or enough support to deal with them.

I am talking about when we are ill, or our kids are ill, or you are the only person left standing after an office flu out-break and you have to close a deal or make a presentation.

Or, as I witnessed last week, when the drains back up after a rain storm and flood the house with gallons of sewage at 3 in the morning !

I have seen with my own eyes, in person and on social media, people desperately trying to cope whilst they care for their new baby, clean, shop, cook healthy food for their older kids, all the time worrying about sticking to routines and schedules.

They worry about losing control, and letting their normal standards slip, and ‘not being good parents’, as if that was the most terrible thing in the world.

These are the times when I tell people to just let go.

Let go of doing what you normally do, and just focus on surviving whatever is going on at the time.

Just for a day or two, will it really matter if you demand feed your routine based baby or vice versa?

Does it matter if you have to leave your baby to cry because you don’t have the patience to deal with it safely, or let them sleep an extra hour because you are desperate for sleep yourself ?

Will it matter if you let your older children watch TV all day, if it means you can throw up in peace, or call a close friend so you can talk and stay (marginally) sane ?

Does it matter if the laundry piles up, and the dishes don’t get washed if it means you can get on and deal with plumbers ?

Will it harm your kids if they have to eat toast and cereal for a couple of days until payday or they have to miss a playdate so you can go to a job interview ?

The answer is of course, no…none of these things matter in the short term.

I know that with a new baby and with older children we use routines and habits to prop us up and ensure things run smoothly, and that sticking to this helps us feel in control. I feel that way myself, but sometimes the only thing you can do is let go of your normal standards and get by any way you can, just until things settle down again.

I think the biggest fear is that if we let things go we will never get them back under control again, and that we will have ‘ruined everything’…forever !

The truth though is quite the opposite, especially if you remember that all-important pattern-spotting ability your children have.

Once the crisis is over all you need to do is to return to your previous routine and your baby or child will remember it and slot right back in.

This might not be instant, but if you remember the key factor of consistency, they will be settled again in 3 days, because 3 days seems to be the magic number for breaking and creating new habits with babies and young children.

Whether I am sleep training, troubleshooting, getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle…whatever it is, as long as I focus on consistency, it never seems to take longer than 3 days. I have also heard many other maternity nurses, trouble shooters and sleep trainers say the same thing, so it is not because I am some sort of a miracle worker.

To sum it up, try and remember these 4 things

    1. You are human so sometimes you will not be able to cope.
    2. It is alright to let go and be an ok parent, or even a crappy parent in order to survive.
    3. Babies and children are much more resilient than adults. They will be fine.
    4. Once it is all over it will usually only take 3 days or less to get things back on track……if you focus on being consistent.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, don’t make life harder than it already is, let things slide when you need to, and have faith in yourself that you can pull it all back together again afterwards

                                                   Because this is what Real Life Parenting is all about xx


I would love to hear from any other parents who have struggled with letting go in times of  stress, especially if you can share any great (or not so great) coping strategies,

Sarah x

The Author

I’m Sarah Norris, a Baby Care Consultant and Parenting Coach.

I have spent over twenty five years, often working 24 hours, 6 days a week, supporting hundreds of families with new or young babies aged from newborn to 12 months old, and often helping with their toddlers and older children.

I help parents discover what parenting style they want to use to care for their baby, and offer advice on different approaches that might suit them and their circumstances best.


  1. Emma

    Love this! We get so het up about being the ‘perfect’ parent or seeming to be. I’ve definitely let go more with my second than with my first – it just works better for us. I can’t get over that 3am sewage flood- wow! That must have been so awful!!

    • Sarah Norris - The Baby Detective

      Thanks Emma. You hit the nail on the head about trying to be the perfect parent…I wish I could get parents to understand that it is an impossible goal, and just allow yourselves to be normally, humanly fallible…it all works out ok in the end.
      Would you believe the sewage incident happened on my one night off ? Perfect timing on my part ????, but the whole house was in turmoil for a couple of days so we allowed more tv time for toddler to keep him off wet carpets, and more relaxed routine for Baby whilst we dealt with the aftermath.x

  2. Danielle Harvey

    Sarah – what a refreshing read! So incredibly important to remind ourselves that life sometimes gets in the way – it’s often out of our control, but it doesn’t mean that things will never go back, it’s just about getting through whatever it is, and coming out the other side.

    • Sarah Norris - The Baby Detective

      THanks the reply, Danielle. We are all trying to be good parents but, as you say, life sometimes gets in the way and the most important thing then is just getting through it any way we can x

  3. Samara

    Hi Sarah, I stumbled on this article and it feels very timely. My husband had to leave on an urgent work trip and his return date kept getting extended, so I have been on my own with a toddler and a new baby for the last 8 days. It has been a crazy week, which has included me injuring myself and a trip to the ER for my toddler at 3 in the morning. That really threw our schedule off, which in turn made me very anxious. I have been so worried about missed naps and late bedtimes and throwing together meals haphazardly, but at the end of the day none of that matters. Everyone is fine, and tomorrow’s another day, and as you said: kids are super resilient. Thanks for the reminder!
    Samara recently posted…Ride-On Toys for 8-Year-Olds – 11 Top Picks

    • Sarah Norris - The Baby Detective

      Hi Samara, thanks for commenting, and I’m glad You liked the article.
      So many parents put extra pressure on themselves by worrying about being ‘perfect parents’ even at times of high stress and it just makes things harder.
      It sounds like you have really been put to the test with a week like that, and that is a lot to cope with but, as you say, all the worry about schedules etc didn’t really matter, you got through it the best way you could and that is real-life parenting.
      As far as I’m concerned anyone with a toddler and a baby is hero just for getting through an ordinary day !!
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Sarah x

  4. Josephine Lesley

    Hello Sarah, the article is so helpful, that’s true for many parents. To become a parent has never been easier, there are things in life that are beyond our reach. Thanks for sharing.


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