What is Parental Burnout?
Yes, parental burnout is a real thing. It is so easy for parents to fall into a routine while neglecting to take care of themselves. The frustration, irritability, and lethargy sneak up without warning, resulting in self-shaming thoughts by the parent who begins to doubt his or her ability to handle this demanding job. In order to avoid the downward spiral of guilt and hopelessness, it is essential for parents to become familiar with the warning signs of parental burnout.
- You are easily frustrated or irritable. Every little incident seems to bother you regardless of how small or irrelevant that issue may be. In other words, you simply want to pull your hair out.
- You are overly exhausted. You may be saying to yourself “Of course I’m exhausted. I have a baby who won’t sleep!” Parenting and fatigue go hand in hand, and lethargy can additionally be related to other factors such as poor nutrition. However, if you notice tiredness coupled with frustration at the thought of parenting, parental burnout may be the cause.
- You experience feelings of worthlessness. Despite doing everything possible to ensure your children are happy and healthy, you still view yourself as a failure. This lack of self-confidence leads to even more sadness and perhaps anxiety as thoughts of inadequacy override any illustrations of success.
- You distance yourself from family and friends. As you go through the motions of fulfilling tasks for and engaging with your children, you feel withdrawn and often times disassociate. On the outside it appears as though you have a loving and close relationship with your children, while you guiltily feel disconnected from them on an emotional level.
- You feel overwhelmed with everyday tasks. The thought of running to soccer practice, then cooking dinner, doing homework, and then getting the kids ready for bed is too much to fathom. Guilt overcomes you as you dread completing the tasks you feel you should cherish as a parent. One unexpected hiccup in your daily plan causes you to feel as though everything else will unquestionably fall apart.
Parental burnout does not discriminate. While the signs are often more intense for single parents, parents of high-risk or disabled children, and those parents with limited socioeconomic resources, it is not uncommon for the burnout to attack those on the other end of the spectrum. It is imperative for anyone experiencing this misery to become aware of the signs and familiar with ways to reduce or even avoid parental burnout.
First, find some “me” time.
“As a parent, getting my kids to understand that when mommy needs time alone, she needs it. So I give them time where it’s all about them and then mommy has her day.” – Samone
“It was challenging for me when I realized that I was no longer able to just go and come whenever I wanted to. How do I manage this time? Who do I trust to watch them? How do I balance education and recreation? I learned that if I created “daddy time” I was more likely to be balanced and prepared to tackle any challenge. – Jason
The suggestion of “me” time is usually met with eye rolling or a frustrated shaking of the head; however, self-care is more important than any task you’re striving to cross off your to-do list. Whether it be 20 minutes of exercise, 30 minutes soaking in the tub, an hour of reading in bed, or 15 minutes of meditation and prayer, your mental well-being will improve if you make yourself a priority. Some find that even ten minutes of journaling can make an entire day more enjoyable. Remember, it is not selfish to take time out for yourself; on the contrary, it is potentially harmful not to.
In order to accomplish this goal, it is necessary to talk to your kids. Children are smart, resilient and much more understanding than we typically assume they will be. In fact, most children enjoy being a part of the “grown-up” conversation, and will happily help Mom plan that bi-weekly pedicure or Dad’s Fantasy Football guy’s night out.
An important addition to “me” time is “us” time. If you have a significant other and are in the throes of the parenting years, it is quite possible that you barely remember what it is like to gaze adoringly into your lover’s eyes over a candlelit dinner. While it may not be possible to enjoy those types as nights as frequently as you have in the past, it is beyond essential for you to make time for the two of you and your relationship… WITHOUT YOUR CHILDREN. Remember, when the kids have all grown up and leave you to wallow in that empty nest, your spouse will be left to wallow alongside you.
Second, build a support system.
“The most trying time for me as a parent was when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eight. I had to be there for her while also attending to the needs of my two younger boys and my husband. I felt so overwhelmed and so alone, because I was doing everything on my own. It has always been hard for me to ask for help, and that was a time where I needed it the most. I had to be everything for everyone.” – Caronda
The old saying “it takes a village,” can be applied to parenting life on a daily basis. It is essential for you to embrace those people who support and encourage your journey and readily pitch in and lend a helping hand when you need one. You will know you’ve found your village when help is at your door before you’ve realized it was even needed. Many parents feel that seeking out a support system can be awkward and embarrassing; however, it is quite possible that you will reach out to someone struggling through the chaos of parenting just like you, hoping someone will reach out help make the pandemonium more manageable. Joining support groups in your area is a fantastic way to find those making their way down the same path you’re navigating, providing you with a validating reminder that you are not alone.
Third, do not be afraid to seek therapy.
“Because of my trauma as a teenager, I would fear becoming a parent. I remember wanting to do everything “right” when my child was born; however, I quickly learned that there is no such thing. I sought treatment in dealing with my anxieties and frustrations, and also found better coping strategies.” – Unanimous
While talking to friends and family about your doubts and struggles can certainly be helpful, it is oftentimes difficult to let all of your thoughts and feelings flow freely when talking to those you love. Seeking the support of a professional therapist allows you to leave the filter at the door and unload every stressful, guilt-ridden, unexplainable thought you’re having on an unbiased individual who is trained to help you untangle the scrambled messages flowing through your mind. By guiding you in the determination of specific stressors and triggers in your life, a mental health counselor can additionally aid you in discovering coping strategies which help make those seemingly overbearing stressors and triggers become manageable instead of intimidating.
Lastly, rest, hydrate, and eat well.
“I thought the reason I wasn’t feeling well was because I was so overwhelmed and depressed. I had no motivation to exercise, didn’t want to eat healthy foods, and just basically stopped taking care of myself. It took me a long time to realize that in order to stop feeling that depression, I HAD to eat well, I HAD to get a good night’s sleep, and I HAD to exercise.”
“There have been many obstacles on my journey as a mother, but I have found strength in taking care of myself spiritual, physically, and mentally. My husband was the support I needed. I also spent time journaling, exercising, but most importantly I turned to my faith and the community it provided.” – Michelle
Taking care of your body not only helps you feel better physically but impacts your mental health as well. A good sleep schedule allows you to start each day feeling rejuvenated and focused while staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy diet keeps your body running at full strength throughout the day. If you are suffering from depression, you may find that the thought of exercising or eating healthily sounds as exciting as a root canal… in fact, a root canal may sound more appealing to you as you wouldn’t be required to get up and move around. If this is the case for you, please seek the help of a mental health professional in order to address and alleviate these serious symptoms you are experiencing.
A FEW FINAL WORDS: You WILL mess up. You WILL doubt yourself as a parent. You WILL get tired of being a parent! Beating yourself up over these realities will do nothing but make you feel even worse. There is a reason why flight attendants instruct you to put an oxygen mask on yourself before those around you, and that is simply because you will be no good to anyone else if you aren’t prioritizing yourself first. Put on your mask and take a few deep breaths. Only then can you rescue the ones you love.