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Parenting Burn Out – What it is, and how to heal from it

I thought that ‘self care’ was a bit of a buzz word. I thought it was a good idea, but really, who has time for that? My own version of self care was a hot bath once a week after my babies were asleep – if one of them didn’t interrupt me over the monitor in the middle of it then it was a success, box ticked, 20 minutes of relaxing done, but oh, the kitchen really isn’t as clean as it ought to be tonight, and I’d better put another load of washing on as the basket is overflowing again..

Image Credit Gianni Zanato
Image Credit Gianni Zanato

I’d never heard of parenting burn out until this week. I was browsing Facebook, and saw the term on a ‘Gentle Parenting’ page that I subscribe to. It told me that ‘Gentle Parents’ are less at risk of parenting burnout. This post isn’t about Gentle Parenting – it’s about the burnout. I thought I’d do some research into it. I know you can burnout from a job, but parenting? Parenting isn’t a job is it.. it’s not something that you go home from, it’s a way of life.

So, what is burnout?

It’s lack of self esteem – feeling that you’re not good enough. At your job, or, in this case, as a parent. The feeling that others are better than you, and whatever you can do just isn’t enough.

A feeling that there is no end in sight, things aren’t going to get easier. They’re only going to carry on as they are, or get harder.

It can cause feelings of depression and anxiety.

What causes burnout?

Control Battles. I remember control battles from the workplace, they were definitely a very stressful aspect of the job. And now, I have control battles at home. A sentence I utter almost every day is, ‘Why does there always have to be a fight?’ Be that a fight between my children, or a fight between me and my children. Please stay still so I can change your nappy. Please eat the meal that I’ve cooked for you. Please don’t throw your toys. Please don’t throw your food. Please put your shoes on. Yes you do need to wear a coat, is 3 degrees.

Lack of support and appreciation. In the workplace, it’s so important to get feedback. If you’re doing a good job, a positive word from your manager or colleagues can really make a difference. Very young children don’t say thank you. Not without a control battle to get them to say it first. And your thanks for the meal that you’ve cooked from scratch? ‘I don’t like it. I want ice cream.’

High expectations. The expectation that everything needs to be perfect. That your house needs to be in order, that your children need fulfilling, educational activities to fill their days. And the guilt that you’re not providing that.

Lack of time away. This is where the self care comes in. That ‘buzz word’ that I didn’t think anyone had the time for. You can’t do your job properly, be it your career or parenting, if you’re pouring from an empty jug.

All of these factors can lead to an identity crisis, feeling of despair, as though nothing you’re doing is working. As though every day you’re going into battle. And of course the guilt, from feeling like this in the first place. And it can be very isolating.

What are the signs of burnout?

Exhaustion. From the lack of sleep, from doing the same jobs every day around the house just to have to do them all again the next evening. There is always something to do. There is alway so much to do.

Lack of enjoyment. Not finding the joy and connection in things the way you used to, not finding the pleasure and beauty in the everyday. Maybe even starting to feel disconnected from your children.

Image Credit Ivan Jevtic
Image Credit Ivan Jevtic

How to heal from burnout

After discovering all this, my next question was of course, what can be done about it?

And this is where I hit a small stumbling block. The suggestions I found were great, useful. But in my situation, untenable.

Ask for help – Ask family, friends or neighbours to help you out. To stay with your children for a while while you take some time out. To perhaps run some errands for you. This is a great idea, but I have two problems with it. Firstly, for the majority of the time there is nobody to ask. I am a single mother, and when the boys are with their father, I go to work. When they are at childcare, I work. And if I don’t work, if I do use that time to do something for myself, I feel guilty to the point of panic.

Go for coffee with a friend – I keep reading this advice. You’ll feel better if you can take the time to go for coffee for a friend. I’m sure it’s true, in fact I know it’s true because at the end of last year I did take a few hours when my children were with their father and met a friend for lunch, I tried so hard not to feel guilty about it, and I came home feeling completely refreshed. But generally, it’s just not possible. When I took my children to stay with my parents over New Year, I’d half arranged to meet two different friends for a quick coffee. I had to cancel both, because I couldn’t leave my whirlwind children with my family, (think broken lamps, christmas trees toppling over, toilet paper being pulled out all over the floor, tantrums, and so on) and I couldn’t possibly take them to a coffee shop.

Tell yourself that you’ll never have this moment with your children again. They’re growing fast, and one day they won’t need you any more. Personally I really struggled with this advice. I know my children are growing fast, and I know that one day this will be over. And that makes me feel even worse.


So, what am I going to do about it?

I took an e-course this month from Gabrille Treanor called ‘The Warm Embrace’, where you receive one email a day for a week to ease you into 2018 with love, patience and compassion. Now I haven’t had the opportunity to read most of the emails, but from the ones I did, one thing stood out to me. And that was the advice, on Day 7, to practice self compassion.

Gabrielle says,

Practising self-compassion isn’t about conjuring up good feelings and pushing away bad ones or being self-indulgent. It’s about being kind and compassionate to yourself when you’re in pain, just as you would to a friend who’s struggling.

With self-compassion we accept that we’re feeling upset or hurt or anxious or in pain. And we give ourselves love and comfort. We’re our own best friend, if you like.


Be your own best friend

And that, is where I’m going to start.

I’m going to fill my house with spring flowers, that I’ve bought for myself. (Oh I can’t wait for Spring!)

I’m going to nourish myself with good, healthy food. (Mainly a rich tomato and lentil soup which I can’t get enough of.. I’ll share the recipe soon!)

I’m going to attempt to look after myself the way I would look after a good friend. And that will include telling myself not to feel guilty. Telling myself to give myself a break. Sleeping when I need to. Eating chocolate when I need to.

Self care isn’t a buzz word. It’s crucial.

Parenting Burnout

Thank you to the following websites which helped inspire this post..

Mudpie Fridays