Parent Burnout: What it is and How to Cope with It

by Mary Alice Grady MS, APRN, CNM

During the past six months, the pandemic has presented a wide variety of challenges for families, parents, and children. 

As a parent you may be:

  • Overwhelmed with working from home while also homeschooling your children. 
  • Concerned about the safety of your children as you send them off to school in an ever-changing school environment.
  • Working long hours as a frontline worker with fears of bringing Covid-19 home to your family.  
  • Worried about your elderly parents who depend on your support and whose health is at greater risk during the pandemic. 
  • Struggling with teens as you try to help them navigate peer interaction while also encouraging social distancing.
  • Dealing with economic uncertainty and racial tension, and unsure about how to broach these topics with your kids.

The challenges and uncertainty since the start of the pandemic has led many parents and families to experience burnout.  Burnout is a response to dealing with chronic stress over a long period of time.  Signs of parent burnout are similar to signs of burnout in other areas of our life.

Symptoms of “Parent Burnout” may include:

  • Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities,
  • Feeling like the parent you are today is different from the parent you used to be.
  • Feeling fed up with the tasks of parenting.
  • Emotional distancing from your children when you feel as though you have nothing left to give.

Some risk factors for developing parent burnout may include:

  • Trying to be the perfect parent and holding yourself to unreasonable standards.
  • Increased anxiety and difficulty managing stress.
  • Raising children with physical and mental health conditions and other special needs.
  • Parents who are working from home.
  • Parents with no co-parent and limited support.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or risk factors, or want to prevent yourself from getting there, try these tips to help you manage daily life and avoid burnout during the stress and uncertainty of the Covid-19 school year.

Parenting during a Pandemic is Hard

Take a few minutes each day and allow yourself to acknowledge how difficult parenting is during a pandemic. Know that you are not alone in this. Parenting is hard all of the time, but the added stressors of the pandemic have made it unbearable for many parents.

Be Kind to Yourself

Remember that we are all perfectly imperfect parents and that all parents make mistakes. In fact, even though social media may try to convince us otherwise, no parent is perfect. Try to let go of your expectations of perfection and remember that no parent can do everything right all of the time. It’s okay to give yourself a break.  Be kind and gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself for those moments when you may have lost your temper or were too busy or overwhelmed to take the time you wanted with your child.  Imagine what you might say to another parent who is struggling with all of the parenting demands of the pandemic.  Say the words you would say to another parent to yourself when you notice you are being hard on yourself, maybe repeating them a few times. You may even want to put your hand on your heart as a small physical gesture of self-compassion.

Connection

You are not alone in how you are feeling during these difficult times. There is strength in numbers. Reach out to family and friends virtually or with small in-person socially distanced gatherings.  Share your concerns and challenges with others. Isolation can increase the risk for parenting burnout side effects.

Take Breaks During the Day

Self-care is an important aspect of our emotional health. On busy days when you don’t have time for a long walk, a yoga routine, a meditation, or another activity that brings you joy, try to be intentional about taking a break for a few minutes a few times a day to savor an enjoyable moment. Whether it’s sipping a warm cup of coffee in the morning, enjoying a pleasant moment with your child, cuddling with your favorite pet, or stepping outside to enjoy the weather on a beautiful day, just take a  few minutes to use all five of your senses to notice everything about the present moment.   Take some of these small mindful breaks with your children throughout the day as well.  During online school day breaks, spend a few minutes outside enjoying the nature surrounding you or encourage them to be mindful as they are eating their morning snack.  These small mindful breaks will help you and your family to return to the present before moving forward with the rest of your day.

Practice Mindful Awareness and Acceptance

Anxiety is an appropriate response to the uncertainty we are experiencing during the pandemic.  Give yourself permission to acknowledge and accept any sadness, stress, anxiety, or other difficult emotions you may be feeling.  Then, notice and be curious about the thoughts and body sensations that accompany these difficult feelings. The more we ignore and minimize feelings the more they grow.  Just like trying to push a beach ball underwater, the more we try to push feelings down the more they pop back up.

When you are experiencing difficult feelings try the following brief exercise. Connect with your breath and use all five of your senses to notice things in the room you are in. Be curious and try to bring your mind and body to the present by using five senses mindful noticing.  You can also try this exercise with your children when they are experiencing difficult feelings.

Our children learn how to express and carry their emotions by watching how we carry our own emotions. Label emotions that you are feeling and then help your child label their feelings. Share what you do when you are experiencing difficult feelings in an age appropriate way and help them learn what to do when difficult feelings show up.    

Make space in the day for children to share their challenges and concerns. Just be there to listen.  During the pandemic, we are all experiencing sadness, loss, and even grief over the loss of many parts of our lives and daily routines.  By listening to our children, allowing them to share about the losses they have experienced and what is stressful in their day, we are letting them know we get it.  As parents, we can’t “fix things” and make the pandemic go away, but by listening, we as parents can empathize and validate their feelings and experience.  We can also share our confidence in their ability to get through this difficult time.

Do What Matters Most

Think about what you really value and what’s most important for you and your family.  Ask yourself, “What do I want my family to remember about this time?” or “What do I want to remember about this time?”  Choose an intention for you and/or for your family.  This intention will help you prioritize what’s most important for your family to do each day.  Prioritize tasks and actions which support your intention and align with your values.  Let go of other daily tasks and to dos which may no longer seem as important as they once did.  And remember, we can’t do everything! Everything seems to be shifting in our world, so it makes sense to also shift parenting expectations during this time.  Our lives have changed since the start of the pandemic which may present an opportunity to do things differently in a way that prevents burnout and moves us towards what really matters in our life.

Mary Alice will be teaching an online Mindful Parenting course starting October 13th.

The Mindful Parenting 6-Week Course is accepting registrations.

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