By Alita Blanchard, Parent Coach
“Breathe. Your kids need you. Not perfect. But you. With your worries. And your laughs. And your fails. And your try agains. Your love. Your showing up. That’s what matters. Breathe, sweet mum.” (Rachel Martin, Finding Joy)
Feel like you are overwhelmingly exhausted? You are not alone.
Research by a UK children’s charity Action for Children has found more than 80% of parents are struggling with at least one symptom of burnout due to the Covid–19 pandemic.
WHAT IS BURNOUT?
‘Burnout’ is said to be caused by a prolonged response to chronic and overwhelming parental stress. The first stage is overwhelming exhaustion. Parents of younger children tend to feel more physically exhausted. Parents of pre–teens and teens may experience more emotional exhaustion because of conflicts with children.
Most common signs include:
- Disruption to sleep
- Feeling isolated – a sense of being alone even with others around
- Anxiety or Depression – symptoms might include low mood, feelings of hopelessness, low self–esteem, lack of energy and problems with sleep. Call your GP to discuss
- Short temper and snapping at your children and partner
- Low tolerance for irritations
- Brain fog – memory problems, lack of clarity
- Heightened sensitivity to your emotions and environment – bright lights, sounds, crowds
- Increased coping mechanisms – using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
According to UK research, more women are likely to be struggling with signs of parental burnout due to the pandemic than men.
THE IMPACT OF BURNOUT
- Fear and worry about how to
- ‘get everything done’
- Parents distance themselves from children to preserve energy
- Loss of fulfilment in parenting
- Increase in neglect and aggression towards children
- Increased feelings of shame,
- distress and guilt
- Repeating cycle of punishment, shame, exhaustion and sensitivity.
When you have reached this point, it’s time to strip back to basics. Let go of ideals. Find support systems. Nurture yourself in micro moments of self compassion. And yes this all takes work and being somewhat vulnerable. But it’s key to moving through parental burnout.
SUPPORT SYSTEMS ARE KEY
You must have some type of support system in parenting to help you through difficult times. Push through your fear and reach out for support.
Support systems might look like:
- Therapists and counselling
- Building new friendships that
- feel safe
- Motherhood support groups
- Listening partnerships
- Emotionally supportive coaches
- Parenting/ Mothers circles.
Make small changes:
- Delegate tasks in the home to
- partner and kids
- Have a family circle to discuss
- the key stress areas and problem solve together
- Involve the kids in more daily chores and clean up – set expectations and start small. Expect some battles
- and upsets
- Cut back on activities and commitments
- Major increase in time outdoors – walking, sitting, being.
IMPROVE PARENTING KNOWLEDGE
If your parenting style is creating additional stress and you feel lost and alone:
- Listen to podcasts that feel supportive
Parenting courses and workshops
- Listen to meditations (I always recommend @insighttimer meditations by Sarah Blondin, Tara Brach and Fleur Chambers).
SELF COMPASSION IS A MUST IN PARENTING
Many people carry the heavy weight of perfectionism. And where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking.
The antidote to shame is self compassion. Treating yourself like you would treat a good friend in need. When those we love fall short, we often make allowances, show grace, and offer support. As mothers, we don’t offer ourselves the same kindness. We tend to magnify our shortcomings. We beat ourselves up, set the expectations far too high, and get caught in the spiral of negative thinking.
Self–compassion encompasses three components:
- Self–kindness eg. I am doing my best. There is no such thing as perfect
- Common humanity (knowing that you are not alone) eg. We all make mistakes. Everyone has tough days
- Mindfulness (being present in the moment without judgment).
eg. I am here right now. I am safe to be me. I am worthy of this time. five long exhales.
YOUR NEEDS MATTER
Finding a way to take care of yourself as a parent can be a challenge, but it is possible. You will need to push through feelings of guilt and “wrongness”.
Know this – your needs matter just as much as your childrens:
- Prioritise rest time – put on a show, put your feet up. Cosy blanket. Hot drink. Notice the guilt and say to yourself “I am worthy of care and rest”
- Yoga nidra – even 5–10 minutes can help your body to find rest
- Sitting outside for 10 minutes a day
- Saying “yes” to things that interest you
- Saying “no” when you really want to
- Eating nourishing food
- Listening to music that brings joy
- Going to bed early
- Watching comedy shows
- Let go of high expectations imposed by others and by yourself
- Regular nervous system care practices
(Email email@example.com for ebook on nervous system care).
CONNECTION AND COMMUNITY IS VITAL
Build relationships with people who are on a similar path. Yes it can feel awkward and vulnerable – do it anyway.
- Say hello to that mum at the park/cafe/playgroup/online. Get to know each other. Swap recipes and maybe one day, swap childcare
- Go to a Mothers Circle and practice being vulnerable – sharing stories, crying and laughing, creates a lightness within you, knowing you are not alone and often, connection to other women in supportive spaces
- Nurture friendships – we all need at least 1–2 people to deeply lean on. If you don’t have the person yet, start visioning them. Who do you want in your life?
- Start a new hobby eg. art class, yoga, dance, ceramics
- Get to know your neighbours.
What are you needing most right now in parenting?
What’s one step you can take towards getting that need met?
Alita Blanchard, The Aware Mama – Based on the NSW Central Coast, Alita is a mother of 4 boys and is a Conscious Parent Coach, Rites of Passage and Mother’s Circle facilitator. She provides regular workshops, mothers circles, events, 1:1 parenting support and a full parenting course based on attachment, brain and nervous system science.