What is parental burnout and can you recognize the signs? Read on.
In the early days of parenthood when sleep is rare and caffeine intake is at an all-time high, some days the highlight of the day is the kids’ nap times. Forget about a world of curiosity and wonder, can I just get a few minutes of quiet or some adult conversation please? After the initial novelty of having a baby fades into the reality of consecutive nights of sleepless or disturbed sleep, exhaustion compounds, each day blends into the next, and the mom or dad guilt of “I’m not doing enough for my kids” or “I’m not spending enough time with my kids”, many parents feel like they lose their sense of self and who they used to be before becoming parents.
Speaking with other parent friends, variations of a common sentiment are most quietly shared when they were away from judgmental eyes and they can relax the obligatory perma-smiles on their faces to say that maybe life isn’t 100% awesome life all the time. Yes, they love parenthood but they are just so tired a lot of the time. I’ve heard people say things like, “when life used to be fun”, “I have kids… this is my life now”, “motherhood/fatherhood is so lonely” or “the old me is dead”. They often don’t have a term to verbalize what they are experiencing and use the word ‘tired’.
However, I think the more accurate word is burnout. Parental burnout.
Wait—you might say. Isn’t burnout something that happens at work? It does. However, it can also apply to any experience including the parenthood experience. Parents may think they are afflicted with what I refer to as Parental Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (PCFS). Note: this isn’t a real syndrome according to Google but I like mnemonics to describe things and this seems catchy.
So, what is burnout and how does it apply to the parenthood experience?
The Webster’s definition of burnout is the ‘exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolong stress or frustration’.
Psychology Today notes, ‘ [b]urnout is not a simple result of long hours. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when you’re not in control of how you carry out your job, when you’re working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, and when you lack social support. If you don’t tailor your responsibilities… or at least take a break once in a while, you could face a mountain of mental and physical health problems’.
Hm, not being in control of your time, lack of social support, and don’t/can’t take a break in a while?
Parents, does this sound familiar?
You’re probably experiencing parental burnout if you are experiencing one or more of the following:
1. You’re tired all the time
2. You find yourself more irritable than usual or have lower frustration tolerance
3. Can’t remember the last time you did anything for yourself that is non-kid related
4. Don’t remember what day it or what you did a few days ago. Everything is a blur
5. Sometimes long for the days you were child free or wish you had more time to yourself
6. Feel guilty for having those feelings
7. Think your child may be doing their behaviors on purpose to annoy you
8. Not sure how have conversations with others about non-children related topics.
9. Forgotten who you are as a person and/or can’t remember what you liked to do when you used to have free time
10. Feel obligated to say you are happy 100% of the time
11. When you do have a moment to yourself, you don’t know what to do and may just sit there unsure of what to do.
12. Sigh a lot and not sure why
I could go on but you get the picture.
Parents, be aware of this and look for the signs. The first step is recognizing there is an issue. The next step is doing something about it.
I cannot stress the importance of taking a time out for yourself and asking for help with responsibilities. You do not need to do it all. You already do enough! Get a house cleaning person, babysitter, daycare, etc. and make the time for self care. Some of my self care ideas.
Parenting is a meaningful and enlightening experience. However, one cannot enjoy any experience if not in the correct mindset or without the proper rest. So, make the moment yours. To use the analogy of sailing, there will be rough seas but the goal is to not drown. This analogy aside, please do not drown in parenting.
Friends and family members of people with kids, please avoid saying directly or indirectly, “isn’t that what you signed up for?” or “other people have kids too so why can’t you manage?” or “have you tried x, y, z?”
This kind of ‘advice’ is unhelpful and frankly, judgmental. You don’t know what anyone else is going through. And they likely aren’t sharing it with you if you are making the kind of statements as above.
Please know that your friends with kids love being a parent but they still need your support–even if it is just venting. If you actually want to be there for your people, say something like “want to talk about it?” or “how can we help?” and please follow through. Don’t crush their hope with false promises.
So go ahead and give your parent friend a break. They will happily return the favor.
All of your friends with kids
27 4 20