Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Shame, doubt, and helplessness. You've got burnout! Parents carry a heavy load at the best of times. It's essential to take care of yourself to avoid going down in flames.
by Christina DiMartino
Parenting children is hard enough when things are going smoothly, but when work, money, relationships, illness and other issues bring about added pressures, coping is difficult. Although going through periods of stress at times is normal, trying to shuffle all of life's hurdles while keeping your kids' lives in balance is enough to make anyone unwind occasionally.
Mark Gorkin, a licensed independent clinical social worker and author of Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughter in the Face of Stress, Burnout, and Depression, says that burnout is the gradual process by which a person, in response to prolonged stress and physical, mental and emotional strain, detaches from work and other meaningful relationships. The result is lowered productivity, cynicism and confusion. You end up with a feeling of being drained with having nothing more to give.
"If no matter what you say or what you do, results, rewards, recognition and relief are not forthcoming, the groundwork is being laid for apathy, callousness and despair," says Gorkin.
Gorkin says there are four stages of burnout:
1. Physical, mental and emotional exhaustion
At the end of the day, you collapse on the sofa and you're comatose for the rest of the evening. You have plenty of responsibility and you're juggling an unmanageable schedule that is taking a toll.
2. Shame and doubt
You don't feel confident about the future, and you're feeling pretty lousy in the present. You wonder if people around you detect that something is wrong. Your inside voice is relentlessly shouting that you're an imposter.
3. Cynicism and callousness
You become sufficiently abrasive or obnoxious and people start avoiding you. This hard exterior can eventually become a burdensome, self-defeating strategy.
4. Failure, helplessness and crisis
Your coping structure seems to be coming unglued. A slight or an emotional bump can set off an overly sensitive and personal reaction.
Reducing parent stress
As a volunteer phone counselor with Childline, the innovative telephone/online/texting counseling service for children and teens run by the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Michelle Carchrae heard many stories of parents under stress.
"Parents carry a heavy load, often working a full or part time job on top of all the duties of parenthood," she says. "When soccer practice piles up against music class and the baby is teething again, it's easy for parents to become burned out from rushing from one thing to the other. The result is you're short on patience and have a higher risk of becoming sick, so it's important for you to take care of yourself in order to avoid burnout."
Carchrae reports that eating right, relaxing, and changing priorities will help to reduce parent burnout. Here are her favorite tips:
You can read Carchrae's tips in more detail here.
Economic woes add to stress
Father Steven Boes, national executive director of Boys Town, an organization specializing in training, consulting, and researching parenting practices, says the current economic crisis puts an added strain on families.
"It may be time for a 'parenting stimulus package' to keep your home a nurturing place for your children," he says. "We know raising children is not easy even in times of prosperity. In tough economic times, many families are struggling and being put over the edge of despair."
Everyone needs help occasionally. Boes advises, "Parents, no matter how tough it is, never give up on your children. However, if you are so tired and stressed you are about to give up, it is time to ask for help."
Christina DiMartino has been a freelance and assignment writer since 1985. She is a researcher, interviewer, writer, editor, and manuscript collaborator with a repertoire of clients from around the world.