I’m talking about parental burnout today – what it is, how to know you’re in it, and what to do about it.
Burnout is one of those things that everyone is going to encounter at times throughout their lives, and it can be hard to notice it and differentiate it from day-to-day stress. Burnout often starts as daily stress but gets bigger if you don’t recognize it and do something about it. We usually hear about burnout as it relates to work and employment. However, burnout is not just a problem of the high-achieving CEO or underpaid intern. It is also common among parents whether they work outside the home or not. Our children can be extremely demanding bosses, and the pressure to “do it right” is never higher than when it affects our offspring!
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU’RE BURNED OUT
- You feel mentally and physically exhausted all the time – I’m talking all the time. Not just when you didn’t get enough sleep or had a particularly difficult day with your children or your boss. This exhaustion can spill over into feelings of dread about the next day, lack of focus or concentration, getting sick more easily, insomnia, and feelings of anxiety or anger.
- You feel detached and cynical – When you’re burned out, you can’t find the joy in anything, you want to isolate yourself and not participate in activities with your children or even with your partner or other adults. Things you used to enjoy being part of. You may find yourself inventing ways to interact with your children as little as possible. All of this often leads to feelings of guilt and shame for parents, which I will talk about more in just a bit.
- You feel ineffective in all of your roles – The first two signs sort of lead into the third. When we feel exhausted, anxious, irritable, detached, etc. we aren’t able to show up as a very effective parent, partner, or worker. We literally don’t have any more left to give. Our cup is empty. All our fuel is spent, which is the dictionary definition of the word burnout.
PARENTAL BURNOUT GUILT
As I mentioned above, parents often have another level of difficulty when it comes to burnout and that is the guilt and shame that goes along with being burned out on our children. I mean, many of us chose to bring kids into our families on purpose. So there must be something wrong with us if we aren’t enjoying it all the time and soaking up all of those precious moments everyone told us about, right?
It’s easy to get into a guilt spiral that just perpetuates the feelings of burnout and we often feel like it’s shameful to talk about. Until very recently nearly 100% of media depictions and social media viewpoints on parenting have been that it’s supposed to be fun, cute, easy, joyful, a blessing. And if your family and your parenting didn’t look like that, then I guess you were doing it wrong. I think there is a movement toward more honest and diverse portrayals of parenting and family life, but we obviously need more and more conversations around these topics.
More on that soapbox another time, probably!
WHAT TO DO ABOUT PARENTAL BURNOUT
So you’ve identified that you’re totally burned out or on your way there at least. So now what? What can we do to pull ourselves out of this place and prevent it in the future? I’m going to say two words that will probably either have you cheering and clapping or rolling your eyes.
If you’re rolling your eyes, stick with me. I’m not going to tell you to get a massage and take a bubble bath and then you’ll be fixed. Those things are nice, but what we all need is a self-care plan that we engage with daily. I know you’ve heard it before, but I’m going to say it again: as parents, we HAVE TO take care of ourselves first. This is not optional, y’all! When you don’t prioritize caring for yourself, that’s when burnout happens.
So what am I talking about when I say you need a self-care plan? I mean that you need to develop habits and routines that keep you well on a mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical level. I’m going to give some examples of ways to care for yourself in each of these aspects, but use them as a starting point for your own self-care plan. And also know that your plan can and will change as your needs and life circumstances change.
Physical – go to the doctor when you’re sick or need a check-up, feed your body food that makes it happy, move your body in ways that makes it happy, get enough rest and sleep, go outside when the weather is nice. Here’s where the massages and bubble baths come in too!
Mental – Read a good book or article, Listen to an interesting podcast, Do a crossword or sudoku puzzle while drinking your favorite beverage (coffee, tea, wine, beer, water???), Take a class on something that interests you.
Emotional – Go to therapy, Meditate, Journal about your internal world, Engage your creative side through art, music, creative writing, Watch a sad movie and feel that release, Watch a funny movie or show that makes you laugh out loud.
Spiritual – Pray, Meditate, Read religious or spiritual writings, Attend religious services, listen to/watch spiritual or religious teachers, Go out in nature and mindfully appreciate it.
This is obviously nowhere near to an exhaustive list, but hopefully gives you a place to start. There are as many ways to engage in self-care as there are people in the world, and the important thing is to find combinations that work for you and to practice them daily. Over time, you will find that daily self-care routines will help pull you out of burnout, be able to recognize the early signs of it more quickly, and prevent more serious symptoms from occurring in the future.
Until next week, take GOOD CARE of yourself!
PS: If you’re feeling burned out as a parent or just as a person in the world, I can help you rediscover your content and present self. Give me a call or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free 15-minute consultation call.