“How hard could it be to only have to worry about taking care of yourself?” I found myself asking. “Do you know what I would give to have even 48 hours where I didn’t have to meet anyone else’s needs, let alone a year?” We will touch on how awful that was again later. I did mention “dark” and “loathsome”, right?
If you read my the first post I wrote about Parental Burnout (you can read it here), you know it’s something I struggle with. The above quote is from the same article, it was something I’d said to my husband when we were heatedly discussing burnout and ways to solve it. We were both emotional during the conversation, but what I said was bang out of line.
The words spilled out before my filter kicked in, and however true they may be, they were unfair. I did apologize, and we spent some time discussing each other’s perspectives on that year apart and what it did for our marriage and our parenting.
The problem is my words came from a place of deep pain I kept buried for too long. See, I’m a people pleaser. While I’m feisty and will stand up for myself in general, I also have a tendency to dig in and get done what needs to be done. (I credit that personality trait to my dad, if he ever reads this, thank you for that resiliency.) The year Aaron was in Korea meant getting things done was a trade-off. I sacrificed a lot of things for me I normally used to prevent burnout in the first place.
We both agreed burnout resembles preventative medical practice. The idea is we take steps to prevent burnout, so if we do struggle here and there, it isn’t so bad. Without regular preventative measures, we fall into the trap I succumbed to during Aaron’s deployment. Burnout for me is now so bad, I have to use stronger tactics in order to come back to an equilibrium state.
I linked an article by Robyn Koslowitz, Ph.D. printed in Psychology Today in the first post about Parental Burnout. Here’s another chance to check it out: The Burnout We Can’t Talk About: Parental Burnout . I wanted to share a quote from it, because I think it’s important to understand why treating burnout is so important.
“Burnout prevents parents from being emotionally present with their children.”Robyn Koslowitz, Ph.D. in Psychology Today
I spend a great deal of my time with my children, and I never want them to feel unloved, unwanted, unseen, or unheard. Emotional disconnection leads to those feelings. I don’t want my children to feel ignored, and telling them I gave up a large part of my identity in order to raise them isn’t going to help them understand what’s going on with me. Especially since they’re all under four. Instead, I do my best to ensure I’m a healthy, capable caregiver who meets their needs.
I’ve done a fair amount of reading in search of solutions, and most articles and resources say the same thing. They give what I call band aids. If you’re injured, you put a band aid on to protect your wound, and go about your business. The difference is, our bodies heal without our conscious thought. Burnout does not. These techniques will help you make it until you can take the steps to heal, hence the name I’ve given them.
These are the things I have done to get me to the next day.
- Letting things go; not just dropping the subject or throwing stuff out, but not completing household chores or activities because the world won’t end if it’s not done
- Taking things one day at a time, sometimes one hour, or even one minute
- Walking away from a situation (within reason) and taking some deep breaths
- Box Breathing (find instructions here – I use this as a band aid AND as a solution)
- VENTING VENTING VENTING
- Waking up earlier than my kids for quiet time
- Ordering takeout instead of cooking
Some injuries are more serious than others, and maybe we have to apply a heavier band aid to get by. The same can be said for levels of burnout. Burnout doesn’t happen all at once, it happens over time by overextending ourselves. In the end, band aids aren’t a fix for burnout. They’re a buffer we can use to protect our mental health until we are in a position to make things better.
My biggest frustration with all the articles I’ve read is this: These “band aid” type techniques can be used as preventative measures as well, if you’re not yet burned out. By the time someone is searching for ways to deal with burnout, though, they’re past the stage where prevention is a viable option. Treating the symptoms and not the underlying condition doesn’t help resolve the problem.
These are coping tools I found that might work for other people, but didn’t necessarily work well for me, or I could use as a band aid, maybe.
- The ever nebulous term “self-care”: do something that recharges your batteries, per say
- “Self-love” or “self-compassion”. I struggle with depression, so this often makes my problems worse instead of better, but it might work for someone else
- Support groups. I don’t do well in groups (I talk too much and it annoys people) but others might
- Changing your diet
- Not feeling guilty for taking some time for yourself
These are the things I found help me truly feel less stress, things that allow me to connect better with my children and genuinely look with joy and positivity on my life. They work for me, but may not work for everyone else. Some of them can work as band aids, but I do them when I feel good, too. Remember, solutions are to bring you back to a state of joy, and to prevent burnout.
- I see a therapist regularly
- I communicate regularly with my husband and we work on solutions one day at a time; what worked yesterday may not work today
- I try to be flexible, because a large contributor to my burnout is unrealistic expectations of what I can or should be doing
- Prioritization; I regularly review what I’m doing and expend a little extra time making sure I’m completing imminent tasks, not just things that are easy, and I also try to prioritize balance. This goes a long way to preventing burnout
- Being realistic about my expectations for what I can accomplish without overextending myself
- Make a point of listing all of what I did accomplish in a day, and all the things that went right
- Writing – this often this helps me to see underlying problems, so I can fix the causes, not the symptoms
- Thinking about myself with kindness and grace – it sounds trite, but reminding myself I’m doing a lot, I’m only human, I’m only one person, and I’m doing better than I think goes a long way
- Deep breathing techniques – especially box breathing
- Scheduling time off
- Gratitude journal
- Meal preparation in bulk
- Involving my kids in some of my activities (laundry, meal times, cleaning)
- Finding new and interesting activities to do with the kids
- Occasionally hiring childcare to get a break
- Talking to my kids like they are adults. (See explanation below)
- “Chunking” my tasks – breaking each large task up into very small steps so it reduces the feeling of overwhelm when I have to take on a large (or unpleasant) task
- Scheduling appointments with myself that have “unscheduled time” – this means that I don’t have a looming scheduled event that puts pressure on making the most of my time, and I don’t have to navigate responsibilities such as childcare or household chores
I realize not all of the solutions that work for me will work for other people. I don’t implement all of these things at one time, but instead fit in what I can. I do what I can with the resources I have. Not to be cliché, but I do my best to focus on what I can control, and deep breathe my way through what I can’t.
To follow up on “talking to my kids like they’re adults”: I don’t mean I expect them to understand and accommodate my burnout, meet me emotionally, or take care of me. That’s my job as their mother, not the other way around.
However, I am honest about how I feel, and explain what I’m feeling in a way they understand. I also explain how I manage that emotion, so they understand our emotions don’t dictate our actions. They need to see it’s okay to validate how we feel, but still take responsibility for our choices. We control our behavior.
This approach helps me not lash out, and more importantly, it teaches them that people have limits to what they can handle, even their parents. I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling it’s okay to walk all over other people, and this kind of empathy is a lesson I can easily teach while teaching them to be emotionally stable and also self-sufficient.
At the end of the day, these solutions are what work for me. I’m not a licensed therapist or medical professional, and I recommend anyone struggling to seek out professional advice or care. It’s not realistic to assume everyone can apply these tools to their life. I’m lucky to have the resources I have, and I know not everyone has them. I can’t postulate the situation of every parent, because like our children, we are all different in our parenting style and our personalities.
Currently, my burnout level is very high. My therapist used the term “severe”. There are levels described in this article, something I looked up after my last therapy appointment. I use what I know, what I’ve written above, to combat the levels of burnout I’m experiencing. I haven’t done a great job lately, but I’m still trying and still learning.
I know I need to hit the reset button, and I will get to a place soon where I can do so. Right now, I’m using my band aids, and taking everything one day at a time, one problem at a time. A few extra resources are listed below my final quote, as well as additional resources in the first post. I hope this article has shown another parent they aren’t alone, and there is a way to come back from the feeling of defeat from burnout.
“I can’t promise to fix all your problems, but I can promise you won’t have to face them alone.” – Unknown