Dr Martine Prunty
Burnt Out Parents
Updated: Sep 29, 2021
This may be a timely column for your family as I sit back and reflect on what might be going on for the majority of families with young children. I currently have 2 boys in primary school and one boy in day care. One of them is in the middle of filming for a short documentary which requires a lot of ferrying about (and missing school), another has picked up what seems like a thousand extra-curricular activities this year, which if we cut back on, would inevitably lead to an increase in iPad time; and I have recently taken on being the age coordinator for the entire U8s for my son’s soccer club – a completely misinformed decision based on my altruistic need to help people. On top of that are the regular goings on of any family; work, home chores, sickness, self-care, socialising – oh wait. Self-care? Socialising? Who has time for that? Sound familiar? Enter the Burnt Out Parent.
Burn out is defined as a state of emotional exhaustion. It often presents as intense fatigue, no matter how much sleep you are getting, irritability, sadness and a general disenchantment with life. Of course, given that the majority of us have happy and healthy children, we then add guilt into the mix because we “shouldn’t” feel like this since we technically live such privileged lives. The struggle is real.
So what, if anything, can we do to alleviate the burn out to lessen its impact?
· Notice your early warning signs: are you unnecessarily tired? Are you having trouble concentrating? Getting cranky with everyone and wanting to be alone? These are all signs of overwhelm.
· Utilise whatever support network you have: family, friends, mothers group, community groups. Ignore the notion that you should be able to handle it all, or that it will be ok after the next couple of months. It might be, but it probably won’t if you keep going at the rate you have been. Tasks that end are usually replaced with new ones. It can also be very normalising to know that other people are experiencing the same thing, so get together and be open.
· Exercise: research consistently shows the benefits to mental health of exercise. It also directly addresses that feeling of sluggishness that goes with being a burnt out parent.
· Manage your expectations! Have some compassion for yourself and make changes to your schedule where possible so that you can do less. Try to get over any FOMO (Fear of Missing Out for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym) and prioritise self-care. You need to be in as best state that you can in order to be the most effective parent you want to be. Perfectionism has never been a long-lasting or successful pursuit. For anyone. I recently heard that FOMO has been replaced with JOMO (the Joy of Missing Out).
· Linger on the good stuff. What went well this week? Try not to get caught up by your mind’s habit of focusing on the stuff that didn’t go so well. It’s what minds do. Thanks Mind. Moving on.
Remember this stuff is important. Burnout, if left for a long stretch of time, can lead to depression and anxiety. Try to maintain hope and know (and remind yourself often) that stressful times come and go.