You know the feeling. You’re sitting at the park trying desperately to keep an eye on all your kids, and you see Mary sitting there, calm and smiling as is normal for her, while all five of hers are running all over the place. She’s also active in the PTA, a den leader, and her daughter’s Girl Scout troop.
Over on the other side is Nora. She’s organizing a game of tag for all the kids. It’s no surprise as she is constantly throwing great parties for her own kids, and has a side business as a party arranger for the community.
How is it they can keep it all together, when you feel like you are coming apart?
Every morning for you is a controlled chaos. You always have at least one child throwing a tantrum, or one that is having a meltdown from the veggies meal subscription you ordered to make sure they eat healthy.
What you don’t see is that two years ago, Mary almost had a breakdown and used to take psychiatric help. Nora used to have trouble keeping her house clean, let alone organized. At one point, both felt exactly like you do as they watched other parents go about parenting, as though it was the easiest thing in the world. It isn’t.
The difference is that they both learned how to take care of their own needs in order to better care for others. Parenting is hard and it comes with no handbook. All too often, parents face burnout.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is what happens when your body can no longer deal with the stress that you are facing. Your body releases a substance called cortisol that helps reduce feelings that come with stress. Unfortunately, when the stress is ongoing, the production of cortisol can’t keep up because your body isn’t given a chance to rest.
Once the stress reaches a certain level, you start to feel changes in both your body and your mind. A parent facing burnout may notice things such as:
- You lose your temper quicker and more often
- You are often late or miss appointments.
- You experience brain fog or forgetfulness.
- You feel depressed and often alone.
- You start dreading spending time with your kids.
- You sleep poorly and have a feeling of permanent exhaustion.
- You feel disconnected from your kids and question your effectiveness as a parent.
The good news is that there is hope. You can get through periods of burnout and learn ways to avoid relapsing in the future. Let’s take a look.
How to Avoid Parenting Burnout
Ask For Help
You don’t have to do everything alone. Reach out and ask for the help you need. This can be in the form of talking with a counselor, getting additional help with a prescription to alleviate anxiety and promote sleep, hiring a babysitter, or reaching out to friends and relatives. The point is to know that there is nothing wrong with admitting you need some help at the moment. You’d be surprised at how many people around you are actually just waiting to learn what they can do to help.
Set Realistic Expectations
There are no perfect parents, so you need to stop thinking you have to be one. Your kids aren’t going to end up malnourished if you feed them fast food one night a week. They aren’t going to feel neglected if you leave them with a babysitter every so often to get time for yourself. What your kids will remember is whether you seemed happy when you were with them.
Many of us have trouble setting clear boundaries, especially with our kids. We worry that if we deny them things, they will end up damaged emotionally. The truth is that your kids need to learn that they can’t always have things their way and that it is important to consider others.
Give Kids Responsibilities
As they grow, kids need to start learning how to do the things that will make them become functioning adults. Giving them age-appropriate chores will allow them to gain a sense of accomplishment as well as lift a bit of your load. You don’t want to place too much responsibility on them, but age-appropriate tasks will allow for growth in them.
Your body can’t respond to stress easily if it isn’t healthy. Make it a priority to eat healthy meals, add an exercise routine to your schedule, and get regular sleep. Give your body a chance to help you.
Many people put themselves at the bottom of their to-do lists, and we all know that getting to the bottom of the list rarely happens. Take time each day to spend time alone doing something just for you. It can be a long bath, a walk, or anything that is for you.
Create a Support System
Sit down and make a list of people you feel you can turn to. It can be a professional, a family member, or even a group of other parents who join together to give each other a needed break. Start a babysitting coop, and exchange childcare services. Have a neighborhood teenager come in to entertain the kids while you spend some alone time. You may be surprised at who wants to help.
Final Thoughts on Avoiding Parent Burnout
Burnout can have you feeling like you are a horrible parent. Remind yourself as often as you need to that this is something that most parents experience at one point, and you are not alone. There is hope and a less stressful future.