Parental Burnout Is Real And Doesn't Always Look Like Crumpling In A Corner

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I knew I needed to take a day to slow down after I started tripping a lot while walking, which was something that was new for me. But I didn’t slow down … and then I fell and split my chin open.

My kids also started pointing out just how bad my short-term memory had gotten. I’d not only walk into a room and forget why I was there — something that started happening to me when I became a parent — but I also felt massive overwhelm at the thought of doing tiny daily projects, like depositing a check or running the vacuum cleaner.

A friend of mine told me I sounded like I was suffering from burnout and I dismissed her. After all, how could I be burned out? It’s not as if I work 60-hour weeks or I’m training for a marathon on top of all my other duties. People do that stuff all the time and they are still functioning. I could totally keep pushing. In fact, maybe I just needed to push harder?

My thoughts about keeping my schedule full and not taking a breather changed when I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor a few weeks ago staring at a pile of laundry my daughter said she’d fold. The mere site of it was so overwhelming, I began crying so hard I almost vomited on the bathroom floor. It was my breaking point.

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I knew it wasn’t rational — we are talking about clean clothes someone else said they’d take care of — but I couldn’t even see that silver lining. Perhaps my friend was right. Maybe I was experiencing burnout.

The next day I got sick and spread the germs to my entire family. I had no choice but to slow down my life and clear my calendar because my body gave me no other choice. I didn’t exercise, and I took time off work. I let the messes build. I slept for ten hours that night and did the same the next. I can’t even remember the last time I had a full night’s rest before that.

The thing I learned after taking it easy for a week and a half was that hitting a wall doesn’t always look like falling on your tile floor sobbing over something as simple as laundry. There are many warning signs like having a short fuse, being forgetful, or a loss of appetite. We just choose to ignore them because we think, I’ll just get through today and try to slow down next week, when really, we need to slow down (even if it’s just for a few moments at a time) at the first signs so we don’t end up in the emergency room having to get body parts stitched up.

Oh, I know it’s easier said than done — I’m the biggest martyr who ever walked the face of the earth. I say yes to my kids and other obligations all the damn time. Then I’m resentful, I complain, my back hurts, and I lose sleep because I’m trying to get it all done.

No more. I just can’t.

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There’s no reason to push so damn hard that we suffer mental and physical consequences. Our health and our family are the ones who suffer if we don’t. It’s easier to be there for our family, our jobs, our friends, if we are also somewhat in tune with what our bodies (and minds) need from us to keep going.

So, the next time you feel like you just need to keep pushing even though you literally can’t see straight, or have lost interest in activities you used to view as fun, consider this: Dr. Anna Hiatt Nicholaides, a licensed clinical psychologist, says, “Being or becoming burned out isn’t a clinical or technical term, but it’s a well-used and useful way to describe the way we feel when we’ve had enough of something.”

While some feel there has been a shift and mothers aren’t expected to do it all anymore, we can’t deny we are socialized to believe we need to do it all and be with our kids as much as possible as some kind of measurement of the kind of parent we are. Those thought patterns are hard to break. The mental load of motherhood is as heavy as it ever was.

In fact, research shows nearly 13% of parents suffer from “high burnout.” Yeah, it’s a thing. So, stop trying to keep your engine running when it’s begging for a tune up.

I don’t give a flying fuck about how others view me; I’m my own worst critic. When I see a mess around my house or one of my kids needs something from me, the voice in my head that says, “Oh please, you can handle it — it’s a small thing,” pops up every time.

“Child rearing is the single most difficult task of humankind,” Dr. Nicholaides says. “In this day and age, when we are isolated with our kids for the whole day, we are expected to be their nurses, cooks, cruise ship directors, librarians, emotional support, teachers, and sometimes (okay, often) their disciplinarian.”

So remember, wanting a break and not waiting until you feel like you cannot take one more second of your children isn’t the way to do life, and it certainly doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. It means you are aware of what you need to do in order to be a good parent and human being. It shouldn’t take having the flu to get some rest.

According to Dr. Nicholaides, burnout can manifest into many different ways, such as feeling anxious or depressed. “You might take less enjoyment in activities you used to love, feel like you’re in a fog, experience listlessness, or even be more down than usual. You might be edgy or jumpy, or just have a feeling like something bad is going to happen at any moment.”

I can relate to all of these feelings — and I’m sure you can too. Many times instead of taking a breather, we keep pushing through it because we believe we will be fine.

Well, how often do you feel “fine” when you push past your breaking point? I’m guessing the answer is never.

Dr. Nicholaides recommends things like therapy, taking time to invest in relationships outside of your kids like dates with partners and friends, sleep, and any kind of regular exercise you can fit into your life.

Instead of taking a break and looking at it like you are “slacking” or not keeping up (so guilty), realize you are taking necessary steps to keep yourself from falling deeper into an anxiety-ridden life where no one wants to be around you and the littlest shift or unplanned event sends you spiraling.

There are times we just aren’t aware of how bad we need to say “no.” Or how often we need to step away from our regularly scheduled program instead of waiting until it’s too late. Recognizing the signs when they first pop up has helped me get to know what my limits are. Yeah, I am not superwoman. Nor do I aspire to be any longer.

The pay-off is this: I sleep more soundly, I’m a better mother, and I have not felt that crippling sense of overwhelm. I was literally falling down from being so exhausted, and I have the chin scar to prove it.

I don’t care if people see me as lazy or bitchy for saying “no,” my house is in a state of distress, or my kids hate me because I won’t do something. I refuse to go back to the way I used to operate, and my mental health is thanking me for it.

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