Are you putting everyone’s needs before your own? Do you find it difficult to practise self-care in the whirlwind of bringing up kids? Is family life just all getting a bit much? You may be struggling with parental burnout
Spinning too many parenting plates can sometimes leave me feeling overwhelmed, guilty, and to be honest, just a bit down. Some days I wake up and I simply don’t know how I’m going to get it all done. The way I can describe it is that I’m trying to walk through thick mud. I know what I need to do to find my way back to myself, but how am I going to find the time to do this?
Everything feels easier now that my children are older; I remember the crushing exhaustion at the end of each day when my two were little, but there are positive things you can do at whatever stage of parenting you find yourself in. It may just take a little practice - something I still have to remind myself of.
What is parental burnout?
Parental burnout is the exhaustion from trying to do too much. There’s not much left in the tank, but you still find yourself having to battle on through. It’s feeling like there are not enough hours in the day. And no matter what you do, there’s still an unending pile of parenting to get through. It’s natural for parents to have off days, or days they feel really tired. But recent research tells us that parenting burnout is more about the ongoing (and chronic) sense of depletion and stress parents feel as a result of not having enough resources and time to cope with everyday family life. It seems to be a global phenomenon with the highest rates in the USA, Belgium, and Poland.
What are the red flags of parental burnout?
There are various signs of parental burnout, and you may experience things differently from someone else, but the main symptoms are:
- Complete physical and/or emotional exhaustion.
- Experiencing a disconnection from your children.
- Feeling overwhelmed with an intense desire to escape or retreat.
- Going through feelings of shame, wishing you were a ‘better parent’.
“So how am I going to take a break from parenting?” I hear you ask. Well, we can’t really. But there are some small but fundamental changes you can make day-by-day to slow down the speed of the treadmill.
What can I do to reduce parental burnout?
One of the most effective things I can do in my day is to take micro-moments of self-care. In a world that sings the song of ‘doing’ and ‘efficiency’, no wonder parents have it tough. But it’s OK to set boundaries with others (including your children) with the intention of ‘it’s OK to take a little time for me right now; I am deserving of this rest’. That may look like a little walk, a cup of tea without interruption, or a short breathwork practice. What are some other positive things you can do as a parent to make your day easier?
The pressures on parents these days are enormous! Unsolicited advice, social media, work guilt, having to be perfect, and financial stress are just a few of the external daily pressures on parents. In her article, Parenting in lockdown: 4 ways to keep yourself well, Counselling Directory member Janine Evett shows us how to make peace with the idea that you’ll never be the perfect parent.
Sometimes our drive to be the perfect parent can suck the joy from parenting. In an already pressurised environment, it is easy to become bogged down with guilt while we are trying to live up to our ideals and falling short.
She talks about the benefits of self-compassion and how parenting rules need to be bent at times to take the pressure off. So my advice would be to go gentle on yourself. Finding a little kindness in the way you speak to yourself will go a long way.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to ask for help. You’re not a bad parent for reaching out, quite the opposite! You’re showing much strength by being vulnerable and acknowledging how you feel. That could look like sharing the responsibility of parenting with someone you trust in your network of friends or family. You could take turns picking up each other’s children from school, for example. Or one day of the week, alternate making dinner for each other.
Having a community of parents makes me feel like I can always keep my head up above the water even on a tricky day. Just telling them how I really feel at times is so therapeutic. We all love our children and there’s so much joy to be had. But some days are tough and it’s OK to say that out loud. I’m a big fan of two things being true at the same time - you can cherish your life as a parent and find it enduring at times.
Get professional help
You don’t need to hit boiling point before reaching out for professional help. Parenting burnout is a growing syndrome so you’re not on your own here. An effective way of dealing with it is to share how you feel with a qualified counsellor, hypnotherapist, or life coach who can help you develop better coping strategies, as well as a stronger sense of self-compassion, and some ways to reframe self-care. Taking some space to be authentically yourself away from the responsibilities of parenting can be such a rewarding experience.
Remember you’re doing the best you can with what you have right now. I’m holding space for you and wishing you well from one parent to another.