PREVENTING PARENTAL BURNOUTJan 12, 2023
As a childcare practitioner and parent coach, I’m seeing more and more parents suffering from parental burnout and this growing mental health condition can affect any parent at any time.
Parents often confide in me that they look forward to going to work for a break. But It’s not that parents don’t love or want to spend time with their children, they’re just trying to conserve their energy and hold it altogether.
Our current busyness dis-ease means we’re juggling parenting with a career, home and relationships, leaving many parents consumed by exhaustion and overwhelm. All of these pressures over time soon accumulate, causing us to parent on Auto Pilot Mode, as we try to get through each day. But you can only get so far before you realise you’re at burnout and you’re losing that human connection with those you love most -your children.
So, what exactly is Parenting Burnout and how can you prevent it?
What is Parenting Burnout?
It’s more than the general feeling of frustration you get when making packed lunches for school, helping with homework or ironing the school uniforms.
It’s an accumulation of stress that causes acute exhaustion over time, leaving you feeling emotionally drained and disconnected.
It’s as if there’s no joy left in your life, which can cause poor sleeping patterns, unhealthy diet choices and even substance abuse. All of which end up taking a toll on both physical and mental health, manifesting as apathy, stress and anxiety.
The dread of too many things to buy, not enough money, too much afterschool activities, not enough time or support from others, can all cause an imbalance that makes you doubt your ability to cope.
When you lack these resources to support you and feel like it’s all too much, you find yourself distancing yourself from you children. Spending long periods of time hiding on the toilet for a break, fantasizing of running away from it all.
This then results in feelings of shame, guilt and judgement, as you negatively compare yourself to other parents or a version of you pre burnout, when you perceived yourself to be a good parent.
But don’t worry, here’s some pointers to help you prevent or overcome this debilitating condition and realign with the parent you’d most like to be.
Share the load
Parents, feel responsible for everything but there’s always going to be laundry in the basket, dishes in the sink, and dust on the TV. And it’s not your sole responsibility to try to keep on top of everything. If you’re daunted by the never-ending household chores, consider paying someone else to do the ones you hate, such as ironing. There’re reasonable priced services out there, and the time and stress they save more than make up for the cost.
And when it comes to helping your child with their homework, you aren't a teacher, so if math's homework is a stress, find your child a home or online tutor to help.
More importantly, share how you’re feeling with others, that’s what friends and family are for, so reconnect with loved ones, contact friends for a catch up or join an online social support group, of other parents in the same situation as you. There’s no shame in asking for help and support, a problem shared is a problem halved and you’ll be surprised to find you’re not alone in how you feel.
Acknowledge and Appreciate.
It's easy to overlook what you've achieved when you focus on what's still to be done. Be your own best friend and pat yourself on the back for each 'to do' you check off your list. It doesn't have to be perfect. Praise your efforts as much as your accomplishments as you would your child and never underestimate what you already have in your life that is good and what’s going right.
Before bed each night think of three things that you’re grateful for that day. Even if that was not shouting at your children, it’s a good start in helping you focus on the positives and become more self-aware.
When feeling burnt out it can be hard to find the positives around you but they’re there. If you find this difficult think about how much worse could life be right now and you’ll soon discover value in those people and things you may be overlooking.
Make U Time a Priority
You Time is vital to maintaining inner balance and gaining a clearer perspective. Daily time to tend to your own needs and to relax is a necessity, this includes what you eat, and how you sleep, both of which are essential to your overall health. Exercise, meditation, yoga, painting, reading, writing, and walking in nature are also great ways to boost serotonin, the brain's feel-good chemicals too.
Make yourself a cuppa now and list as many things as you can in ten minutes that you would like to do if only you had more time.
This will spark your inspiration so you start to feel hopeful and excited again and will remind you of all those forgotten hobbies or dreams, that you’ve buried beneath the daily responsibilities of life. Then make time now to do those things on your list.
Say ‘No!’ to Time Takers and Ditch the Guilt
‘But I don’t have time to do more things!’ I hear you cry. You do, its just other people will take your time and attention if you don’t claim it for yourself.
Being at everyone’s beck and call may seem worthy, but this scattering of your time and attention can result in going nowhere and doing nothing fast.
You aren’t responsible for others all the time. When you know how you want to spend your time and who with, this allows you to say ‘No’ to other ‘less important’ things and stops you over committing yourself when you have too much to do already.
It’s about learning to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty or upsetting other people, and, it gets a lot easier the more we practice saying it.
‘No’ is a crucial word when it comes to preventing burnout and claiming ‘You Time’ so practice saying ‘No’ more often to others, and stop saying ‘No’ to yourself.
People who demand your time are called ‘Time Takers’. You don’t have to be rude to anyone, but whenever Time Takers ask for your time, simply say;
‘I would ‘ve liked to have helped you out, but I’m already doing something at that time that’s really important to me’.
It’s not being selfish or unloving, it’s about valuing your own time and showing others what it’s worth to you, so they’ll start to appreciate it too.
This includes your children when they demand your time, explaining that you won’t be able to devote time to do whatever they want to do with you later, if you don’t finish what you need to do first, helps. There’s no need to feel guilty, children need U Time for themselves too. Time with their own thoughts to play, ponder, and daydream.
As long as you ‘re present in the time you do spend together, there’s no need to feel guilty.
Present Parenting is consciously being aware and seeing, hearing and feeling everything going on around us. It’s thinking before we respond, not just about what’s going on, but how and why?
Practise being more present in the moment without your children to begin with. Try having an uninterrupted bath, and feel the warm water surround you, notice the sparkling bubbles floating on the surface and the scent of the soap. Feel your skin wet and soapy, and take in the full experience of having a bath.
How often do you bath without thinking about these things or without really enjoying the experience?
You can't be present and ruminate about the past or worry about the future at the same time. Choose to stay present in the now, over those times you have no choice or influence over and go easy on yourself.
Don't Try to be a Perfect Parent
Time is not the issue. Your children are not the issue. You are not the issue. What you think and do is. And those two can both be easily changed.
There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re not a bad mum, you just need to change your perception.
Comparing yourself with ‘Wonder Women’ will not do wonders for your confidence. It’s this striving to be someone that you’re not, that affects your self-confidence and makes you overreact or submissively retreat.
People and circumstances are not always what they appear to be in the schoolyard. Everyone wants to be liked and accepted but don't try to be all things to all people, that's impossible. Just be perfectly you, flaws and all.
Let me share with you a true story that illustrates perception is everything and how easy it can be to change.
Once, whilst dropping my children off to school, one Mum angrily commented; ‘Look at the state of that Mum!’ as she pointed out another Mum to me on the school yard dressed in pyjamas.
‘How embarrassing for that little girl to be brought to school by her Mum dressed in pyjamas.’ She went on, ‘Look, she hasn’t even bothered to get dressed or make any effort to do her own hair, let alone her daughter’s. She is such a bad mother!’
What would you have thought, if you had seen this Mum dressed in pyjamas, dropping her child off to school, looking rather unkempt?
Of course, this Mum was entitled to her own opinion the same as the other Mum was entitled to wear pyjamas; both just had a different perspective on the situation.
Anyway, back to the dishevelled, disorganized, irresponsible Mum, who dropped her child to school dressed in pyjamas.
Or should that be… back to the loving, selfless Mum who had been bedridden for months and was very ill but wanted to take her daughter to school that day no matter what?
Back to that ill Mum who on that one day had mustered all her strength and effort to fulfil her child’s wish of dropping her off to school again, as it could have been her last chance.
Looking at it from that perspective, how does that now make you feel?
The first scenario ignites anger and frustration for the woman in pyjamas but the second evokes sadness and loving empathy for her. Yet, it’s the same woman being observed doing the same thing, the only thing that’s different is how the person observing perceives it.
Everything is not always what it seems. Everyone else may not be as perfect as you may imagine, and you may not be as far from perfect as you may think either.
You are always doing the best you can and that is always good enough!
You can find this article in print or digital format in the 2022 Winter issue of Mums and tots magazine.
Link to Mums and tots magazine
Emma Grant is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, Nutritional Therapist and Parent Coach, as well as founder and co- owner for the past eighteen years at Happy Childcare. You can read more about Present Parenting and managing children’s behaviour in her books The Confident Parent’s Guide to Raising a Happy, Healthy & Successful Child and The Powerful Proactive Parent’s Guide to Present Parenting. Both books are available worldwide from Amazon, including Kindle, Audible and iTunes audiobook versions.
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