At the end of June, normally your children would be just finishing school and you would have your summer planned- filled with summer camps to entertain them and a planned holiday that you could all look forward to. Even with all of those options, facing the long summer with your children was always a challenge -what to do with them, how to keep them busy, bedtime is pushed out,the days roll into each other.
Is it possible that after three months of homeschooling, working from home, juggling childcare and all the challenges of that lock down period that parents are feeling depleted- feeling they’ve little left in terms of energy and creativity for the period ahead.Instead of a holiday it might feel like an uphill slippery climb and just too much for some. Parents do get burnt out-Research in 2017 carried out in Louvain, Belgium found that as many as 12.9% of mothers and 11.6% of fathers were in a high burnout category and that 9% were experiencing burnout at the actual time of the research.
We think of professional burnout as something that occurs when stress is sustained over a long period of time in the workplace and where the person slowly becomes less efficient, less capable, exhausted, losing confidence in their ability- the effects of which gradually show up in sleep and mood changes.
And while we all acknowledge that sleep deprivation and tiredness are an absolute inevitability when parenting – this is exhaustion of a different order. This is not exhaustion that you can get over with a night’s sleep.
Some trivialise it and say,”isn’t it just part of life and having children” – “weren’t we all exhausted”. These kinds of comments can make parents suffering from burnout feel even more alone.
The truth is that the demands of parenting and the stresses that parents feel, self-imposed or otherwise are greater now than for the last generation.There was a time when feeding your child and keeping them secure,happy and safe at home, meant you were a good parent- now that is the baseline.
Parents feel enormous pressure to provide socialising opportunities for their children, sports development, extra curricular skills development. They are acutely aware of where their children should be in terms of developmental steps and markers. Unknowingly they are trying to keep in step with their peers and watch how their friends’ children are doing and every step is on view on social media. This makes parenting a more exhausting business.
Remembering that stress is accumulative- add in the pressures of lockdown, without childcare,working from home and the overriding uncertainty of the future- and of course the possibility that this may all be done by one parent or involve a child with a disability or challenging behaviours. There are a number of factors that make some parents are more prone to burn out than others and top of that list is perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a self imposed, destructive stress, often unconsciously driven.
If you expect that you, your life or ,your children need to be perfect, then you are reaching for the unattainable and the effort will be exhausting as you work so hard for something that can never be achieved.This will be felt as an ongoing relentless stress that you are placing upon yourself and that no amount of outside help can ease for you.If you find yourself struggling with perfectionism it can really help to ask yourself why perfection is important to you. Sometimes perfectionism is like a compulsion to keep perfect order, done so as to allay a chaotic world experienced in childhood.
Other times it may be that you are deeply averse to all criticism, because of some very harsh parenting or you believed that you had to behave this way, in order to be loved.
Secondly you need to be aware of your own stress levels. We are all different in how we carry our stress, but it is a key skill in life to be able to recognise it in ourselves. You need to know how you can relax yourself, soothe yourself, so to speak, and reframe the stress that is in front of you. When it comes to parenting you need to ask yourself what is stressing you at a particular point in time and why- then write it down. Ask yourself what this feeling of stress reminds you of, have you felt it before? The act of writing down externalizes the stress and forces you to place words upon a set of feelings that are dominating you in a non-specific way.
The detail of writing can help you to locate something that you can do something about. Maybe you’re trying to do the impossible – it’s ok to say I’m too tired, I cannot do that now.
As a young mother I was advised very early on that something must always give in your household if you want to be a good mother- you cannot clean, cook, entertain and do all of what you did before incorporating this new person or persons into your life- and if you’re not prepared to let something go then your body will tell you it is too much, that you feel overburdened and on a relentless spinning wheel- so let something go.
Ambivalent feelings-many parents have ambivalent feelings about their children for many reasons- alongside this can be enormous feelings of guilt for carrying any negative feelings or thoughts about your child in this idyllic parent world.
Some parents feel disappointment that parenthood is not what they thought it would be- their child may be difficult to manage. You need to let yourself feel these feelings and work them through, being honest with yourself- an outside person with a listening ear may help here.
So if spending the summer with your children is feeling like a mountain to you. Do talk to your GP if your sleep or mood is affected – medication may or may not be useful, depending on your specific situation.
In general though my overriding advice together with the above is to abandon perfectionism in all things. Take some pressure off yourself in providing high standards of entertainment for your children- remembering that some boredom is a prerequisite for creativity.
Finally this is a summer not just for your children but also for you and you must take action to ensure that there is rest and play for everyone and that includes you.
Relationships on the EdgeHow to survive a crisis- available on Amazon.com, ebook free with kindle app.