The Life of a Busy Parent: A Recipe for Burnout
Parents can have a lot to think about. After the rush of childbirth and the excitement of infancy, the responsibilities start to add up. The job of parenting can seem to be endless. If you’re the primary caregiver to your children, your day probably starts early and finishes late. You get your children out of bed, get them fed, get them dressed, make their lunches, and get them off to school. After that, you might work a full day, and then do the morning routine in reverse: get kids from school or the bus stop, get them fed, get them clean, get them in their pajamas, and get them back to bed. For stay-at-home parents with toddlers or infants, there can seem to be no break at all: the tasks of caregiving can be completely consuming. For parents with kids in elementary, middle, or high school, after-school activities kick in, and the job of parenting tends to change from teacher and caregiver to chauffer and personal assistant. On top of all that, the Internet is filled with advice articles for parents, telling them what to do and how to do it. The experts say that in order to ensure success later in life, kids should take music lessons, learn a foreign language, and get plenty of exercise by participating in sports, martial arts, yoga classes and/or dance classes. Children’s health specialists tell parents their kids need to eat well-balanced home cooked meals of healthy, whole grain foods and avoid sugary snacks and drinks at all costs.
It’s no wonder that at times many parents feel like they’re on the edge of a nervous breakdown, because there’s no possible way to do everything the experts advise—unless through some stroke of magic, four extra hours were added to every day, and the need for sleep eliminated. If you’re one of those parents, this article is for you. It’s important to remember that you are not alone, and that many other parents are dealing with similar stresses. It’s not easy, but it is possible to be a great parent without going completely insane. If you feel like you’re coming close to parenting burnout, there are a few things you can do to restore a semblance of balance and sanity to your life.
How to Avoid Parenting Burnout
It may be hard to believe, but not every parenting article on the Internet is filled with advice on what parents should be doing for their kids. Some of them actually focus on how parents can take care of themselves, and the following tips are a summary of the best of what they have to offer.
- Go easy on yourself. It’s important to remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. Forget about perfection, because it doesn’t exist. Whether you’re a stay-at-home dad, a single parent with two jobs, or a mom who works too much and struggles just to get home for family dinners, be kind to yourself. Do your best, and let the chips fall where they may. As they saying goes, “Kids don’t need you to be perfect, they just need you.”
- Find an outlet. Though it may be challenging, time-wise, parents need to find positive and proactive ways to manage stress. Some of the same advice that the experts have for children also apply to parents: exercise, hobbies, and quality time spent out of the house with friends (the adult version of going to the playground) can all go a long way to relieving the stress of parenting.
- Find support. Reach out to friends, family, and coworkers for help. There’s no shame in admitting that you might just need a night off from being mom or dad. This is crucial to understand: recognizing you need support is a strength, not a weakness. Though it may not always take an entire village to raise a child, sometimes it does take a babysitter, a grandparent, or a friend to give you a few hours off.
- Focus on the positive. Most parents forget how much good they’re already doing for their children. Rather than obsessing about what you aren’t doing for your child, take some time to inventory what you are doing for your child: if you make a list of the things you do for your child every single day, you’ll probably get a little perspective, and realize that you’re doing a far better job than you give yourself credit for.
- Take a Day. One great piece of advice is to take one day a week where both parents and children get to break the family rules. Get take-out for dinner and eat it in front of the TV. Stay up late watching a movie. Eat an extra cookie. Though serious dietary restrictions need to be considered, and a doctor’s advice should always be followed, it’s generally safe to say that one day away from whole grain organic food is not going to do any harm, and it’s ok to leave the dishes in the sink every now and then – no one is going to come over and judge you for it.
Enjoy the Journey
Parenting is a huge responsibility and can cause a great deal of stress, but it doesn’t last forever. Kids eventually grow up, move on, and lead their own lives. While dealing with the day-to-day details of being a mom, dad, or primary caregiver, it’s easy for parents to forget an important fact: parenting can be a lot of fun. If you feel like you’re on the edge of parenting burnout, do yourself a favor by making room in your life for one or two of the suggestions above – you’ll be surprised by the results.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.