Help for the Overwhelmed, Exhausted, Burned Out Parent
Burnout. It’s something we all deal with from time to time. No matter how much we love something, or how good our intentions there are limits to our capacity to give. An important resource in your parenting tool box is knowing how to recover from parental burnout.
What is burnout? Simply put, burnout is chronic stress. It is a collision of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. Burnout occurs when you are doing so much for others that you neglect yourself.
Burnout is commonly associated with work. When someone gets “burnt out” they may be out of the office tending to their mental health. (I remember a professor in college being described in this way and leaving before the end of the semester.)
While work is where you spend a lot of your time, other things may cause burnout.
For example… going to the same places, seeing the same people, eating the same foods, even having the same arguments.
In How to Transition to Being a Stay-at-Home Mom, I talk about the emotional challenges of parenting. The emotional weight of parenting is a real concern.
There is no break from parenting. So what then? How does parenting fit in?
Parents! What do you do when you just can’t take it anymore?
What are the 5 Stages of Burnout?
Burnout is something more commonly spoken of in the work place rather than in the home. Parents, specifically mothers, are the one’s typically pushed to the edge and beyond in the home.
However, the professional descriptions of burnout as outlined on winona.edu, still apply to parents.
- Honeymoon – Marked by periods full of energy, productivity and optimism. Feelings of strength and capability and job satisfaction.
- Balancing Act – Instead of being positive all the time, a sense of reality sets in. You understand that you will have good days and bad days.
- Chronic Symptoms – Increased intensity of burnout symptoms (exhaustion, irritability, anger, etc.)
- Crisis – Overwhelming negativity prevails to crisis levels. Physical issues intensify and multiply, self-criticism takes hold along with escapism and detachment.
- Enmeshment – By this time, you are fully immersed in the negativity of your circumstances. Physical, emotional and mental well-being are at their lowest levels.
Do you see any correlations with parenting?
The initial excitement you feel, joy for your kids, desire to make sure everyone is cared for. You’ve got this!
Then, you slowly realize that it’s hard work and really feel the pressure of how much you are relied on. While it’s nice to be needed, it can be a lot.
Between sleepless nights (yours and the baby’s), endless laundry and piles of dishes, you are exhausted. And frustrated.
One thing feeds the next and the next and on and on… I think you can understand how easily professional burnout mirrors what parents may experience.
Parental Burnout Symptoms
An important thing to note is that parental burnout can affect all parents. You don’t have to be a stay-at-home parent to suffer from burnout. Working moms, single parents, married parents, if you’re not being supported, you are at risk.
If you don’t get a break, you are at risk.
The symptoms of parental burnout will likely hit you out of the blue. Parents have a way of coping. They are able to keep things going for long periods of time when in service of others. After all, it’s “normal” to be tired when you’re a parent.
But, there’s tired, then there’s tired.
It takes a long time before parents do a personal check-in on their own well-being. By that time, it’s usually too late. The damage has been done.
One moment, you’re doing well. The next, the bubble bursts. There is a limit to the mental and emotional load we can carry. Eventually, our spirit breaks and any action is hard to undertake.
How do you know when you’re burned out? It’s not always obvious. You may feel tired or overwhelmed, but you’ll also operate like that for a long time, just dealing with it. As parents do.
Then, out of the blue… BAM! You hit a wall and just can’t do one more thing. You have nothing left to give.
- Short Temper/ High Irritability
- Physical/ Verbal Outbursts
- Deep Physical & Emotional Exhaustion
- Increased Sensitivity (Crying)
- Trouble Concentrating
- Extreme Fatigue
- Detachment from Children
So many of these symptoms are a part of adulthood. Everyone gets tired. Who isn’t moody from time-to-time.
The problem arises when symptoms grow in number and intensity. When it stops being a bad day and become your every day.
Recovering from Parental Burnout
First things first… you can recover from a total freak out.
The first thing you need is a break! I know, that’s easier said than done, right? But, you must.
Parental burnout, untreated, can be serious. Not only is your mental and emotional well-being in jeopardy, the same is true of for your kids. Even the littlest ones know that something is not right.
Giving yourself the time to decompress will give you space to move forward. It will also give you a chance to think clearly.
Do something to cut out the noise if you can. Look into the benefits of sensory deprivation tanks.
If that doesn’t work, I suggest ax throwing! Work some fun into your life. Anything you can do to let go to regain stability and your sense of self.
Now is not the time for excuses. No reasoning your way around why you can’t prioritize your well-being.
Recovering from parental burnout is vital to the health of your family.
10 Steps to Recover from Parental Burnout
- Get a Regular Babysitter
- Schedule him/ her in advance (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly)
- Ask for Help
- Family/ Friends/ Professional (Therapy)
- Delegate Tasks
- Share in the Caring of the Home/ Kids
- Outsource Housekeeping (Housekeeper, Lawn Service, Meal Delivery)
- Change of Environment
- Get Out of the House
- Try Something New
- Start a New Hobby
- Talk About It
- Spouse/ Partner/ Friend/ Support Group
- Create & Stick to a Self-Care Routine
- Spend Time with Friends
- Don’t Add Anything New to Your Plate
- Do Something for Yourself
As much as you think people can see that you’re suffering, the truth is, people are not that observant. And, honestly, they are more concerned with themselves.
You might feel like you’re almost screaming to be seen, but if you don’t actually say something, you could be left wanting.
Nobody wants you to have a meltdown. Understand that people may not know how to help, so make it easy and ask for what you need.
It’s ok to speak up! I encourage it and applaud you for it.
You don’t have to feel bad or like you’re not strong enough. It takes strength to ask for help.
How to Avoid Burnout in the Future
I said it above, but it bears repeating. Take regular breaks. You need time to decompress. What that looks like for you may be different than what it does for me.
Parental burnout differs from professional burnout. You can’t change jobs or walk away from your family. In employment, that’s what vacations are for. There’s no HR at home. You can’t call in sick or take a personal day.
You must be your own advocate.
Try identifying the activities that cause you the most burnout. Is there a way you can get some help? Or can you offload it all together?
Maintain interests outside your family. Nurturing the part of your spirit that makes you – you will help you manage the rest of your day.
In the meantime —
Find a place, close to home that you can dash to and stash yourself for a quick little breather. This isn’t meant to fulfill the entirety of your break, but offers you a little reprieve until you have more time. Be sure to store your burnout kit in your hidey hole for easy access.
- Garden Shed
- Man Cave
- Kids Treehouse
- Primary Bedroom Closet
Related Article: Summer Survival Tips for Parents
I used to joke about having a “go bag” before I became a mom. In those days, it was a pre-packed bag that I could easily grab to leave any uncomfortable situation in a moments notice.
I didn’t do it then, but I can see the benefits now.
Parents need their own “go bags.” What you put in it will differ for everybody. It should be customized to the needs of your well-being. Here are a few suggestions:
- Phone/ Tablet
- Noise cancelling headphones
- Bubble Bath
- Running Shoes
- Gym Clothes
- Knitting Needles/ Crochet Hooks/ Yarn
- Paint Pallet/ Canvas
- Sketch Book/ Pencils
- Favorite Hoodie
- Cozy Blanket
- Book/ E-Reader
- Handheld Game
- Deck of Cards
- Manicure Set (Tools & Nail Polish)
- Face Mask
The goal here is to pack items that are easy to carry for the moments you get to sneak away for a few minutes to recharge.
How to Help Someone Recover from Burnout
We are all part of a global community.
To borrow a phrase commonly used for threat awareness, “if you see something, say something.” It’s not always obvious that someone is in need, but if you notice something, speak up.
The best thing you can do is offer to help. Help carry the burden to parents can get a break.
- Offer Help
- Babysit, Clean, Run Errands, Fold Laundry, etc.
- Reserve Criticism
- Avoid Piling On
- Take Mom/ Dad Out
Remember, mom and day may not be mentally or emotionally able to ask for help.
If that’s the case, just jump in there! Buy a gift basket of favorite treats, go over and mow the lawn or run the vacuum.
Listen to what they’ve been complaining about and find an in. There are simple things you can do to help if you look around.
Public Service Announcement:
Parents. You do not have to feel guilty for needing a break.
You deserve it.
It does not make you a bad parent. Your kids are not suffering.
In fact, enjoying personal time should be a regular part of your self-care, self-love practice.
It will make you a happier, more well-balanced person and a better parent.
Takeaways for How to Recover from Parental Burnout
Now that you know how to recover from parental burnout, do you think you’ll know how to avoid it in the future?
The idea of parental burnout hit home for many parents during quarantine. All of the typical means of coping were cut off.
Not only were you with your children/ family all the time, you also provided entertainment and education.
Asking for help doesn’t take away from your super hero status. As I said in Gratitude Journal for Single Moms, even super heroes have side kicks. That’s a fact!
There are useful organizational ideas in Time Management for Single Moms, but in the end, it’s ok to let chores slide.
If you’re the only one able to do the dishes, guess what? The dishes will wait. I promise it will be ok. So the laundry doesn’t get folded. So what? It’ll keep too.
If pumping the breaks on having everything just so is what it takes to give you some time for yourself, then so be it.
You. Are. Worth. It.
How do you recover from parental burnout? Do you ask for help? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.