Parental Burnout: Letter to parents out there, prioritise your wellbeing!
It took me months (MONTHS!) to finally getting to write this blog article. Why so long? Because I am a parent of 2 young darlings, leading a business and teaching at university, so ‘hectic’ is the word I’ve used the most often in the past few weeks. If you have too, you might want to take a few minutes to keep reading.
We are (sadly) all familiar with the concept of ‘burnout’ now, which occurs when you are so exhausted because of work and life in general, that your body stops. I actually wrote an article explaining burnout in detail, and our 3 steps approach to prevent burnout from happening in your life here.
One aspect I want to remind you of is that, very often, there are several causes leading to someone having a burnout: work, lifestyle, and personality. It is not all work as we know it, as in ‘getting paid for your time and skills’. As we all know (do we?), looking after children for the whole day is very often more intense than our usual workload, so we can easily understand how stay-at-home-parents can also experience burnout, and even more so after a pandemic and a series of lockdowns.
If you’re not quite sure, have a look at this short (and funny) video about the toughest job on earth:
I first came across the concept of ‘parental burnout’ in the French Podcast ‘La Matrescence’ by Clementine Sarlat, interviewing Isabelle Roskam, founder of burnoutparental.com/, a website full of resources to support parents (some resources are in English too).
It is a type of burnout that happens to parents who cannot keep going in their daily tasks with their family, as their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is at stake.
How to spot the signs?
According to the ‘inventor’ of the term burnout, Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement (1974), we can define burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” We can see some key elements here that would help us to spot the signs of parental burnout:
Loss of motivation, and
Discrepancy between expectations and results / involvement and rewards or recognition.
According to Helpguide.org in their article on burnout prevention, you may be on the road to burnout if
Every day is a bad day;
Caring about your home life and children seems like a waste of energy, and nothing you do or say makes a difference;
You’re exhausted all the time.
And particularly, according to Isabelle Roskam, in addition to these common signs of burnout, the main sign of parental burnout is a contrast between the parent you used to be or would like to be, and the parent you currently are. You might feel that you are:
Not enjoying what you used to enjoy before as a parent, such as playing football, doing activities together, or simply spending time together;
Emotionally taking your distances with your children, such as not listening as much as usual, not cuddling as much as usual, being less emotionally involved in your children’s lives.
What to do?
There is one tool that Isabelle Roskam recommends that I find particularly useful: the stressors / rewards scale.
When you experience parental burnout (and burnout in general actually), it often means that your stressors / rewards scale is imbalanced: Your stress factors are many, while you don’t get any rewards (lack of recognition, lack of me-time, …). Now we have 2 ways of tackling this issue to re-balance the scale: decrease the stressors and increase the rewards.
Here are our 5 tips on how to re-balance your stressors / rewards scale:
Decreasing the stressors might seem difficult, as not everything is always under our control. But actually, this is the first point to focus on: not everything is under your control, which means that what is not under our control is not worth our time, mental space and energy. Why not trying to let these go as we can’t do anything about it?
Another way to decrease the stressors is to put boundaries in place: what can you say ‘no’ to that might free up some of your time, mental space, and energy? An extra activity for your kid? A commitment to participate in the next school fair? … Feel free to say ’no’ and to prioritise your wellbeing too, it is so important!
Now to increase the rewards, our question to you is: what is your go-to wellbeing activity? Think about something that makes you smile, relax, or disconnect from your devices. Is it a dance class? Coffee with a friend? Calling your mum? Write it down on your to-do-list, and schedule it in your calendar. Your wellbeing is a priority!
If it is not possible for you to put a regular wellbeing activity in place now, what can you do for 5 or 10 minutes that would re-boost your energy? Here are some suggestions: coffee making and drinking, reading a book, yoga sun salutations, mini HIIT session, napping… You might want to start with finding your ‘power moment’: make yourself a cup of tea, set a timer and try to stop and do nothing for 5 minutes. Just enjoy this cup of tea. No screen, no catch up on emails, no emptying the dishwasher. Nothing. Just you and this cup of tea, for 5 minutes. It might feel challenging at first, but you’ll soon realise that this is a healthy (and necessary!) breathing space, where you can rest, let go, and think calmly about the next tasks ahead. ‘Power moments’ are essential, what do yours look like?
And finally, one thing I have learnt in the past few months that helps a lot (A LOT!) is to let go. As challenging as this might sound, letting go of non-important and / or non-urgent stuff is the key to lead a more peaceful life at home and at work. How do we let go? By looking at this mess, and leaving everything as it is, on the floor:
Believe it or not, things end up getting back into their place, even though it took a while (A WHILE!), and I even got to do my yoga session. In the other room.
I hope this article gave you some insights into parental burnout and some tips on how to prioritise your wellbeing in the midst of an intense season going back to school and to work. Please if anything, remember one thing:
If you experience parental burnout or burnout in general, you won't be able to keep doing all these things, not even one, please pace yourself, and look after yourself first!
If we can be of any further help, please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org)