No one tells you this, but parenthood, when done right, is no walk in the park. The position is permanent, full time, unpaid, and gives no vacation or sick days; it requires a multifaceted skill set including care-taking, cooking, cleaning, educating, mentoring, protecting, entertaining, nurturing, disciplining, and overseeing the emotional and physical development of other human beings! Phew! Tall order?? Absolutely! It will undoubtedly be the most challenging job of your life. There is no operating manual or a school of parenting; we all just try to do the best we can.
Even with a partner, raising a family can be full on, but when your circumstances are such that you have to go it alone, the job becomes exponentially more challenging. Over the course of raising your child(ren) alone, there may be times that you become overwhelmed. Parental burnout is real, and experiencing it does not make you less of a person or an inadequate parent; it makes you human.
In a recent article published in the Times, Moira Mikolajczak, a professor of psychology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, defined parental burnout as ‘an exhaustion syndrome, characterised by feeling physically and mentally overwhelmed by their role as a parent’. Being locked down for months has drastically exacerbated the situation.
Natalie Cornish’s article Everything You Need To Know About Parental Burnout , explores the condition and the warning signs that you may be experiencing it. These include feeling overwhelmed and/or exhausted, emotionally detached from the kids, lost joy in parenting and shame about how you feel.
So how do you cope when the going gets tough?
- Don’t beat yourself up or waste energy swimming in feelings of guilt. PsychCentral article Guilt: The Crippling Emotion provides strategies for understanding and coping with guilt, and explains that while it is a natural emotion, dwelling in that space serves no purpose and changes nothing.
- Don’t invalidate but rather acknowledge your feelings. A BBC Teach article 5 Reasons why Recognising your Emotions is Important, states that “Recognising your emotions and learning to manage them is one of the most important skills you can have.” If you are unable to realise that you are in trouble, the consequences for you and your children could be very serious.
- Get support. While we all try to be strong, independent and reluctant to impose on others, those close to and those who care about us will lend a helping hand, but we have to reach out and ask for help. There is no shame in burnout; we have all been there. So, if you find yourself at your wit’s end, call a friend, your parents, your ex or a neighbour and ask them if they can watch the kids for an afternoon or a weekend to give you a much-needed chance to exhale and regroup. If you feel as though you do not have a network that is able to support you, reach out to The Children’s Authority‘s Support to Children and Families Unit. This unit is geared towards assisting families with financial, social, emotional or parenting challenges, which may lead to the breakdown of the family.
- Create ways in which to take a time out. As mothers, we take it all on; we want to fix and solve every problem and be there for every want and need of our children, but realistically, it is not sustainable. If you can’t get a break from the kids, then create avenues for you to take a time out while still in the home environment. The Nurture and Thrive Blog explores the benefits of creating quiet time for your children. This could take the form of them watching a movie, building a puzzle or reading a book, while you take time out to meditate, listen to music, put your feet up, or simply enjoy some time alone with a cup of coffee. Encouraging quiet time also teaches your children to be independent, more self-sufficient and thereby less demanding on you.
When you are happy, you will be a better mother, and your children will notice the difference. Nobody wants a cranky mother, and being burnt out and frustrated will transcend everything you do.
It is true that your kids did not ask to be here and that having brought them into this world, you have a duty and responsibility to nurture and take care of them, but sometimes that means self-care first.