Burn Out for parents is common place due to Situation Stress. This occurs for us as parents when we are constantly required to be “ON” for everyone around us. We provide a whole gamut of support both physical and mental that requires demanding stamina. Additionally, we are required to physically soothe and comfort the people we love around us. By the end of the day, it is not unreasonable to not want to have to speak to anyone or touch/be touched by anyone through pure exhaustion. During the day, we may also be in situations where we must remain calm and in control while chaos or conflict is around us, whether it’s in the playground, the boardroom or on the freeway. To avoid parental burnout, here are some tips on how to manage the day to stresses to avoid Parental Burnout.
1.Shift Your Priorities.
One of the hardest things to adjust to as a new parent is to let go of some of the things you once valued most. For example, having a neat and tidy house or a clean car. Mother of boys, my curse of choice is Lego. Give yourself permission to let some things go. It doesn’t have to be forever, it doesn’t even have to be all the time. When I would go out for business meetings or networking events in the evening, my husband would breeze through. Me, on the other hand, I would exhaust myself and count down the hours until my husband was home to help. The difference? I just had to have dinner cooked, the kitchen clean, the lunches made, the kids showered, homework was done and uniforms/work clothes ready for tomorrow. My husband’s approach? Takeaway food, leave the dishes, forget the homework and does it really matter if the kids don’t shower for tonight? His Result? Happy, stress-free household. My Result? A stressed household with a cranky drill sergeant mother. If it’s just every now and then, does it really matter? It doesn’t have to be the same every night just tonight.
2. Marry-up the Priorities.
A business coach taught me a very important lesson. He said to me that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have your business. I don’t enjoy exercise, fitness activity etc. but I know I need to do it. So it’s always the first thing to sacrifice. I’ve learnt that what I value most drives over what I value least, despite it being important. My coach instructed me to schedule health time. Treat that appointment with the same priority I would a client. If a client asks for an appointment at that time, I must reply I am unavailable.
I have learnt that to motivate myself, I must tie into my dreaded activity something that I value, something I get great reward from or that has high importance for me. For example, I did not value the exercise but I valued my professional development training and taking my kids skateboarding at the park. So to tie in all three things, I listened to a podcast, while doing power-walking laps around a big park that my kids could also skateboard in. When the kids were younger, I often valued the opportunity to visit a play centre where they could play and I could have a cappuccino and read my book.
3. Stop and Smell the Roses.
Seriously, when you are out and about, take the time to stop and smell the roses. Yes, having a massage or booking into that retreat are wonderful methods of time out, requiring your commitment of time and money. But allow a little practice of daily mindfulness and gratitude into your life. Taking a few moment to really embrace and embellish the joyful moments in your day will release a little burst of endorphins which counteract the side effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Take time to close your eyes and breathe. Smell the rose or coffee, feel the sun on your skin, embrace the distant laughter of your children in the park, enjoy that sunset…..just for a moment.
4. When they rest, you rest.
This is a hard one to adopt. My Mum taught me this one. Particularly when they’re babies. You need to keep the energy in sync. No point trying to rest when your child is full of beans or hungry. If your child is asleep, take this opportunity to be restful yourself. Rest does not always have to be sleep either. Sit down with a cuppa, read a book, meditate, lie down and watch a movie. Sometimes just a rest is as good as a sleep.
5. Create a Restful Space.
I remember when my two boys were toddlers, I would dread that sound, early on a Saturday morning as I heard them stir, ready to start the day. My husband and I would take turns in getting up to the children. We would often place a mattress on the lounge room floor and lay down with the kids to watch Playschool or Wiggles. Even as crawlers, this gave us an opportunity to get down to their level and “restfully” play, engage and supervise. As they grew older and were less at risk, it became more like sleeping with one eye open. Being calm, still and slow also kept them calm, still and slow. Laying down cuddling them while they were watching TV sometimes allows for a little doze.
When you need your children to be occupied at home or in another environment, have a pre-packed backpack ready for each child containing cheap distractions. I would include things like matchbox cars, colouring in, stickers, puppets etc. I would top up the supply occasionally from the cheap shops. As I walked out the door I’d through in a zip lock bag of crackers or cut up fruit and a bottle of water, food being a good distraction too.
6. Self Sufficient.
Ask any single parent who has managed to survive burn out and they will tell you how important it is to teach children from an early age to do things for themselves. Even as infants, this may be teaching them to appropriately self-comfort. So rather than picking up your child every time they whimper, sit with them and engage them. Teach your children to contribute and to find value in contributing. Reiterate the value of teamwork and treat your child as if they were a young adult so they feel more comfortable to shoulder responsibility. It’s not easy, but if you don’t do it, you’ll make a rod for your own back. I know you’ve heard that before. Yes, my kids protest, especially now that they are older but I always revert back to my old response. For example, “So you don’t think you should always take out the rubbish? I’ll take out the rubbish if you like and you can take over for me. I’m just unpacking the dishwasher and refilling it”. They soon change their attitude.
7. Avoiding Supermarket Protests with Emergency Distractions.
My boys are now 12 and 10 but I still use this distraction (it’s not tantrums it’s bemoaning “How much loooooonger?”.) I would get the boys to find things on my shopping list, count the apples into the bag etc. Now, I challenge my boys to find the cheapest item per unit cost or the Australia made product. When they were particularly little, I would keep a balloon folded up in the side pocket of my handbag. A balloon was a wonderful distraction that my little boys loved to bounce on the trolley, blow up etc (as long as they didn’t make the squeaking noise) and most often would create a welcome distraction, long enough for me to get through the checkout with disaster.
8. Make Appointments with Yourself.
Calendars and diaries are a valuable tool. But also schedule your down time. It’s very easy for busy productive people to fill their diaries full of important activity, but without your health, it all become worthless. Be sure to block out times for physical and mental health and stick to it. I still find I need to set an alarm in the evening to remind me to STOP what I am doing and prepare to rest, instead of going, going, going and dropping into bed, wondering why I can’t sleep.
9. Found Time.
This is an interesting principle. As a busy parent, you find that things that are important but not urgent, get neglected. For example, reading the school newsletter, writing a birthday card to a friend or a thank you card. I discovered a principle that revolutionised my way of dealing with this and gave me a sense of relief around these little things I was neglecting.
I learnt the principle of Found Time. The idea is simple yet effective. You create a small file of these small things. When you are waiting to pick up the kids from school, sitting in the Doctor’s surgery, waiting for someone at an appointment, you have found just a little bit of time. Use this time to catch up on those small, important things.
What are your tips for avoiding parental burnout? Have you tried any of these methods? I'd love for you to share your experiences, please leave your comments below, at the bottom of this blog.
Barbara Clifford (The Time Tamer) is a current student of the Stress Management Institute. She has spent over 20 years working in stressful, time precious industries such as film, hospitality and marketing. She has always had a burning passion to create order out of chaos and personal development. Barbara is sought after like a beacon in a sea of chaos to provide professional clarity and mental breathing space. Barbara’s professional experience has included contracts with small business, Not For Profits, Aboriginal Organisations, Media, Marketing, Aged Care and Health Services.