At a consultation the other day, a tired mom admitted that she was so physically and mentally exhausted that she could not even bring herself to smile for Instagram pictures.
She is not the only one. The pandemic is turning out to be difficult for parents. And many of them are on the brink of parenting burnout.
It is a myth that parenting is so fulfilling and rewarding that it blurs all difficulties. And more and more, parents are admitting that they feel overwhelmed with the work involved and are physically and mentally exhausted.
But can we afford parenting burnout?
The answer is “no.”
Because to survive parenting burnout, most parents distance themselves emotionally from their children.
Emotional connection is essential for the cognitive, emotional, and social development of a child’s brain. Emotional distance, therefore, can have disastrous consequences for the growing brains of children.
What causes parenting burnout?
Most parents experience burnout because they aspire to the myth of parenting perfection perpetuated by their peers.
Yes. Peer pressure in parenting is real. Bullying by other parents is not uncommon, and an unacknowledged competition with other parents is undeniable.
How to prevent parenting burnout?
1. Rethink parenting
Your child is not impossible to please, boss. You do not have to do more to get a better appraisal.
Focus instead on being there more.
Is there a difference?
Yes, there is.
Parenting is increasingly becoming about doing more and more. This is unfortunate. Because constantly completing more and more tasks on schedule requires us to shut down our emotions and work like robots.
When we do this as parents, our children feel alone, lonely, and helpless—even we are with them. Helpless children misbehave to attract attention and feel powerful. And as parents, we feel cheated when this happens. We feel like we are investing all our energy in vain.
Pause. Do less. Be there more.
Laugh at a joke instead of dusting. Laze in bed instead of baking.
Remember, you are a human being, not a “human doing.”
2. Education is the secret to empathy
Most parents who consult with me are looking for an answer to the question, “Why?”
“Why does my baby cry all night?”
“Why does my toddler throw tantrums?”
“Why does my teenager not listen?”
Parents who are trying their best to be perfect parents are often frustrated because they cannot find satisfactory answers to the above questions.
Can these questions be answered?
Yes, they can.
All apparently inexplicable behaviour can be explained by someone who knows developmental physiology.
If you are struggling to find answers to your questions about your child’s behaviour, reach out to an expert for help. When you understand why your child is behaving in a certain way, you will gain two things: you will be able to empathise with your child instead of getting angry, and you will also stop blaming yourself for your child’s behaviour.
3. Minimize decision making
Parenting involves constant decision making. And more than anything else, this can leave you utterly exhausted on most days.
“What should I cook?”
“How should I engage my child?”
These are questions that seem trivial but can weigh you down on busy days.
Minimize decision making by planning the menu for the week ahead of time. In the same tune, keep a list of activities, both indoor and outdoor, ready to pick from. If you have an event coming up during the week, plan what your child will wear, and set it aside.
4. Understand discipline
Most parents equate discipline with control. And that is why they spend all day trying to control their children.
Of course, they fail at controlling their children. In addition, they feel exhausted and dejected because they tried so hard without success.
It is impossible to control a child. All you can do is create situations in which your child will be able to behave well. Enlist their cooperation by explaining things to them, and teach them skills that will help them regulate their behaviour to match the expectations of the world around them.
It helps tremendously to remember that discipline comes from the word disciple. Therefore discipline is about leading the way with exemplary behaviour, teaching your child skills, and giving them opportunities to practice those skills.
5. Nourish yourself
The love you feel for your child does not have to diminish your love for yourself.
Make sure you schedule time to love yourself.
Spend some time every day building an identity of your own that is not connected to your being a mom. It can be something small. It need not be something that earns you money. But it must be something you do every day.
Plan some “me time.” Do something you want to do during that time, even if it is for a few minutes. It could be lazing on the sofa with a cup of coffee, it could be going for a run, it could be taking a long lazy shower. Just do it.
Spend some time hanging out with nonjudgmental adult friends. A heart-to-heart chat and some laughs can relieve you of all your stress.
Parenting is hard work, and parenting burnout is real. Do not beat yourself up if you feel exhausted. Give yourself a break—both literally and metaphorically, so that you don’t get burnt out.