Parental burnout: 5 ways to defeat this silent killer
Parental burnout is real, and more dangerous than you imagine it to be. Read on to find out why it happens and what you can do to defeat it.
Parenting is tough, incredibly tough. Some days are good, some days are better, some days leave you feeling useless and other days are rewarding. But if you’re constantly feeling depressed, frustrated and exhausted even before your day begins, you might just be suffering from parental burnout.
Yes, much like professional burnout, parental burnout exists and it is more prevalent now than it was in the past. 1 in eight parents suffer from this condition.
A Singaporean dad’s experience
Simon, a Singaporean dad, won full custody of his young children after the court decided that his drug-addict wife was not in the position to care for their children. As you would expect, this profoundly altered his lifestyle.
This single dad had to begin his days as early as 4am, to get office work out of the way in time for the morning routines, getting his kids to school and himself to the office. He would leave the office earlier to send his kids for Co-curricular actiivties, while managing work on his phone the whole time.
Sounds tough? Well, it doesn’t end there. Evenings were a mad rush for dinner, homework and tucking the kids into bed. Simon would then continue with his office work before retiring for the night.
This crazy cycle continued day after day until Simon’s supervisor advised him to speak to a family therapist. His supervisor had observed that Simon had become highly irritable.
But it was too late. Simon suffered a stroke shortly after speaking to the family therapist.
Thus, his therapist, US-Based Neil D Brown decided to share Simon’s story to promote awareness on parental burnout – a silent killer that many parents don’t even know they are suffering from.
Parental burnout is a 21st century epidemic. It is real and it’s something we must address.
What is parental burnout?
In a healthy parenting journey, parents have a balance between the good, bad, and ugly moments of parenting. They understand that parenting isn’t a walk in the park and when they get through the difficult days, they feel a great sense of satisfaction in spite of the challenges and stress.
Parental burnout however, is a condition where parents do not feel this sense of satisfaction. This in turn leads to a decrease in their parenting effectiveness.
Parental burnout is an emotional state triggered by stress. Parents feel fatigued and that their parenting efforts are futile.
Who is at risk?
Well, to put it bluntly, all parents are at risk of parental burnout but some are at more risk than others.
Mothers generally seem to be more burnt out than dads and that’s got to do with the way women are wired. Mums tend to be sacrificial and constantly prioritise the needs of others over themselves. They do this more than dads.
This leads to them taking it upon themselves to be a domestic goddess and to run the home in the most perfect way they can, even at the expense of their well-being. Inevitably, this contributes to parental burnout.
Stay-at-home mums and working mums are both susceptible to burnout, albeit in different ways. Working mums feel split between the home and office, and are always fighting for time. 24 hours is never enough.
Stay-at-home mums on the other hand don’t have the opportunity to go out and meet people, and have adult interaction on a daily basis. Social isolation, in addition to the lack of recognition for what they do, causes burn out.
Signs and symptoms of parental burnout
- Exhaustion & fatigue
- Believing that other children are better than children (decrease in parental self-esteem)
- Sense of hopelessness (that all your parenting efforts are futile and won’t make a difference)
- Emotional disconnection from your child
Consequences of parental burnout
If parental burnout isn’t identified and treated, it can become chronic and affect you and your ability to function as a parent. The direct implication of this is that the children suffer as well.
When parents burn out, they don’t function well. Children don’t get the right support and nurturing that they should get and this can be damaging to them.
Children become more susceptible to physical, emotional and behavioural problems. In worse cases, both parents and children might display at-risk behaviour such as substance abuse or self-harming thoughts and behaviours.
Parents need to acknowledge that parental burnout isn’t just about stress and feeling lousy. It’s a lot more serious than that. It can become a medical problem.
Chronic stress and anxiety weakens a person’s immune system and makes them more susceptible to many mental and physical illnesses such as chronic anxiety and depression.
What to do about it?
Here’s the good news. Treating parental burnout is pretty easy after all. The most important thing is to recognise and acknowledge that it is a condition that needs to be set right.
Parental burnout isn’t about what or who you are, it’s a condition that you and many other parents are suffering from. It can be treated and you most definitely can get better.
Here are 6 simple steps to help you deal with the problem.
1. Perfection doesn’t exist in parenting
One thing that parents need to understand is that there is neither a perfect parent, nor a perfect child. Stop being a perfectionist and killing yourself in the process.
Manage your expectations and set goals that are both realistic and suitable for your children. There is no panacea for parenting woes and forcing your family to follow what another family does is counter-productive.
In fact, forcing your children to fit your definition of perfection, or into seemingly ideal parenting philosophy that you read about somewhere, might cause more harm than you imagine.
If a parenting philosophy isn’t the right fit and you force it on your child, they might end up having serious developmental problems. Likewise, if you force your pre-teen or teenager children to be someone they are not, you are going to end up damaging your relationship with them.
You are paving the way for them to become rebellious. These battles can cause parental burnout.
2. Think positive, be optimistic
When you stop being a perfectionist, you start becoming more positive, or start focusing on the positive at the very least.
Focus on your parenting strengths and explore how you can use them to your advantage when dealing with your children. Don’t keep trying to correct what’s not good. Try stretching what you are good at for a change.
Similarly, regardless of how badly you want to raise the next Joseph Schooling, if your child can’t swim competitively, let it go. Maybe he’s a good performer, and even if performing isn’t what you want him to do, tap onto his strengths and groom them!
3. You can’t do it all
Parenting burnout can be prevented when you have adequate support. You are not a superhero and as much as you’d like to believe so, you can’t do it all.
Talk to people. Discuss. Bounce off ideas. Address your weaknesses and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
Delegate the chores. Get the kids to clean their own room and take on some of the chores. Divide the chores between the man and wife. Get a helper if it helps!
Get some support where you can. Family, friends, support groups, or even a therapist if there is a need. Support is among the most important things needed to get through parenting.
4. Set boundaries
Boundaries might not seem like much, but trust me when I say they make your life a whole lot easier and go a long way in preventing parental burnout.
To begin with, if you’re a working parent, set a cut off time for work. When spending time with your children, don’t feel a pressing need to answer work related messages or e-mails. Turn off What’s App notifications.
Stop trying to split yourself between work and your kids all the time. Allocate time for each and you will find that you function more efficiently.
Learn to say no as well. you don’t have to be the Yes Man, agreeing to every overtime session, or working every Saturday away when you really don’t have to. At some point, you have to decide on your priorities.
Likewise, learn to set boundaries for your children. When it’s the time of the day for them to wind down and get to bed, ensure that it happens. Make it clear to them that after a certain time, you won’t be attending to them unless it’s absolutely necessary.
And do make sure that you follow through with what you say.
5. Me before you
Yes, me time is important and you must be selfish at times. Don’t feel bad about it. Remember the oxygen mask theory of self care? When you’re on a plane, the safety warning tells you – put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others, even your kids.
You need to be a happy and healthy parent if you want to raise happy and healthy children!
So set time aside for that bubble bath, boys’ night out, Game of Thrones season or whatever it is that works for you. Set aside time for adult time, dates and sex. Do what you need for yourself and as a couple.
Your kids are important but they cannot take over every aspect of your life.
Think about it…
In the past, parenting was really quite simple. Parents provided kids with their basic needs, educated them and kept them safe and healthy.
But in this day and age, especially with social media as a platform of comparison, competition and judgment, parenting seems to be complex, with many layers to it.
Connectivity has given us access to view ourselves in relation to other families. But do not forget that what you see is only what people allow you to see of their lives. It isn’t necessarily what it seems to be.
The pressure to be the perfect parents is one of the biggest reasons for parental burnout.
So mums and dads, understand this, and make a conscious effort to keep yourselves in check. If you think that you are bordering on parental burnout, or are already suffering from it, make some changes and you will be on the road to recovery in no time. Don’t wait until it’s too late to act on it.
And if you doing ok, take steps to ensure that you don’t burn out.
Remember, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself well for you’re going to be doing this for the rest of your lives!
Source: Channel News Asia