Being a parent is hard work, even when you love your kids deeply. In some ways, parenting has gotten easier as my kids have grown older. The days and sleepless nights filled with dirty diapers, tantrums, and shopping-trips-gone-wild are long-gone. I have more energy to enjoy being their mom. In other ways, parenting has gotten harder as they’ve grown older. The exhaustion from constantly being “on” when they were little has been replaced by exhaustion from constantly negotiating family rules and trying to figure out when it’s time to be involved in their business and when it’s time to stay on the sidelines. There have been times over the years when the exhaustion has left me feeling frustrated, ineffective and burnt out as a parent. In those moments, I’ve had to remind myself it’s ok to take a step back and take care of my own needs so that I can step back in and be a positive parent.
Dear Child Parent Institute,
I enjoy being a mother...most of the time. I work full-time and have three kids under age 10. They’re great kids but need a lot from me. My husband is also wonderful, but when he’s not working, he just wants to watch TV. Most of the time, I just keep going because I have to. But sometimes I get stressed and lose my temper, and then I feel like a terrible parent, which makes me more stressed and angry and then no one wants to be around me. What can I do to break this cycle?
I think you just described the daily life of many parents! Being a parent can be extremely rewarding, and it can be extremely demanding, exhausting, and stressful. Many parents experience “parental burnout,” especially when they feel a lack of control, overloaded, underappreciated, or isolated. Here are some tips to try:
Develop a self-care routine. This might seem impossible or impractical, but taking care of your needs will make it easier to be calm, patient, and present. Think about activities that make you feel content, relaxed, relieved, or energized – perhaps it’s exercising, listening to music, sitting in silence, cooking, or socializing with friends. Try building in time to do at least one of those things every day, even if it’s for five minutes at a time. Focus on making it part of your daily routine so that it becomes a habit, like getting dressed or brushing your teeth.
Ask your partner for support. Talk to your husband about the stress you’re experiencing. Give him some examples of ways he could support you – helping with chores, watching the kids while you take time for yourself, or helping with morning or nighttime routines – then ask if he’s willing to support you in this way. Let him know that getting this type of support is important for your physical and emotional health and will help you be fully present and available for the whole family.
Teach your children to do things independently. It might feel like extra work to teach children how to get dressed, feed themselves, help with chores, or cooperate with each other, but the reward will be worth it when these and other daily tasks require less of your time. Teaching children these skills early in life will also build their confidence and ability to learn new skills and behaviors throughout their lives.
Have realistic expectations and be kind to yourself. Recognize when you’re feeling overloaded and resist the temptation to say yes to everything. Remember there’s no such thing as a perfect parent or partner, and it’s exhausting to try to be everything for everyone. When you’re feeling stressed, take some deep breaths and say, “I’ve got this,” or “I will get through this.” If you lose your temper, give yourself permission to take a “time out” away from the stressful situation. Take a few deep breaths and tell yourself, “I’m doing the best I can. I will try again.”
Final Thoughts: Parental burnout is a real thing. This is why taking care of yourself is one of the core principles of positive parenting. If it feels foreign to put your needs first, start with something small and do it consistently so that taking care of yourself becomes as natural as breathing air.
This article is created by Nicole Young, the mother of two children, ages 14 and 17, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally through the Child Parent Institute. Our classes are listed at www.calparents.org/classes.
Child Parent Institute