I often read all the parental burnout Google results on the first page, and often find none of them helpful. A few pages in, typically it gets better, and sometimes I find information that helps me. I don’t usually share it, because I don’t love writing about parenting (I don’t want to end up as the Dave Ramsey of Parenting), but in the interest of sorting out my own mind, and sharing something helpful I’ll try today.
Robyn Koslowitz wrote about the research that parental burnout has serious consequences. Before I was a parent I had no sympathy for parents, they chose to have kids, they had kids, so why complain? Perhaps because you have almost no idea what it will really be like before doing it, so it is very difficult to know if it is a good or a bad idea. Like marriage, you start out assuming it’s a good idea and sometimes afterwards it no longer seems that way, no one really tells a beaten wife, “well, it was your choice to get married so why are you complaining now?” but I tell myself when I feel beaten down by parenting, “well, it was your choice to have kids.” That is an ANT by the way, an automatic negative thought which has been shown to be detrimental to brain health, in a round about way they cause inflammation and thus the mental has a path towards becoming physically damaging. Dive deeper with Daniel Amen’s TED Talk Change Your Brain Change Your Life.
I did chose to have kids, I was 30, I was married, so I didn’t expect to struggle like a one legged, drug addict, teen mom would. Then when I started to burn out, it wasn’t okay with me. Sure my husband shamed me, my family expected me to do better, but the worse critic was myself.
So I needed Robyn Koslowitz’s article “The Burnout We Can’t Talk About: Parent Burnout” to give me permission to allow myself to admit that I was burnt out. I think it was obvious to most people around me, but especially right now during the pandemic, everyone is tired of bailing out everyone else emotionally, and it’s really a take care of your own mental health world right now, more than before.
Which is horrible for parents who do so much, and for kids who then rely more on the parents, who are then burnt out even more.
People who know me may already be tired of hearing me say the pandemic was the worst thing for parenting and I wish my kids were born far before or after, but I’ll say it again, for all the parents who are smiling through gritted teeth, trying to support seniors afraid of dying while almost wishing it was them dying instead so they wouldn’t have to do one more day of hearing increased whining and going through the “I don’t know when X will open again, sorry it’s closed” conversation one more time… The pandemic wasn’t movies with popcorn and chalk sidewalk drawings, it was getting bitten and kicked by big kids who were going crazy behind closed doors, and trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, and going into survival mode, sometimes regrouping, feeling better about life, then being unable to control the kids having panic attacks and regressions in just about every area of life.
Things were horrible, but denial was my go to coping mechanism, so it took a long time to even wonder if I was burnt out.
I was wondering what is the difference between being a mom, who semi or completely hates being a mom (depending on the day) and a burnt out mom?
The difference is wanting to escape. Fantasizing about leaving, which both my mother and my husband’s father actually did do. So it isn’t something I would want myself to want, it’s something I look down on. Yet I found myself unable to stop fantasizing about living a life in a quiet place, a place without the laundry, dishes, messes, emotional problems, medical and educational logistical decisions and other demands of children. I didn’t enjoy it, but I was compelled to keep fantasizing. Like cookie monster eating a cookie that was supposed to be an educational prop, I told myself to stop, but didn’t.
At first I dreamed of leaving the special needs child and taking the baby, then I dreamed of leaving them both, in an imaginary world where they would be cared for by someone great. I imagined a new start somewhere else, with no family, no husband, no kids, no room mate, no lover, no pet, just silence. Delicious silence, and sleep. More sleep that 8 hours, maybe 8.5 hours, or even 9 hours! It feels good just typing that. The good life, 9 hours of sleep if I wanted it, it’s been about six years since I’ve had that.
Burnout was coined by Freudenberger in 1974 and parental burnout has been studied independently, but the concept is more taboo.
In America the gender norm used to be, men work, women take care of babies, cook and clean. I think it is now, men work and help with kids, women work shittier jobs for less (on average, not everyone) and take care of babies, help turn on the kid’s tablets, buy take out, and clean. So the idea of parents, especially women, not loving the drudgery of child care, is kind of offensive to the gender norms, and if women don’t love taking care of babies what even defines a women then? So to avoid that can of existential worms, women kind of have to enjoy taking care of babies, and to make it fair men can have to enjoy it too, but woman can’t not enjoy it, or shame!
It wouldn’t make sense for parents to have kids if they hated taking care of kids would it? It wouldn’t make sense for men to get married if they enjoyed free choice of sexual partners either, would it? It wouldn’t make sense to sit kids down for school since they learn better while moving, would it? It wouldn’t make sense to elect presidents that already have dementia, would it?
The parenting relationship is crucial to children’s psychological development. Attachment, or the lack thereof, can be damaging. That’s why it’s so threatening to even consider the possibility that parents can burn out. But if we can’t think about it, we can’t do anything to address it.– Robyn Koslowitz
Burn out is an ugly thing for kids, but it’s really ugly for the parents as well, but since it’s bad for both parties I guess it’s more important to find a way out than to find fault with society or the parents or the kids.
The world misunderstands challenging children, and it’s up to us to explain them to everyone. Simple tasks, like getting our kids on the school-bus, to brush their teeth, or to eat dinner become massive jobs requiring Herculean effort. Homework time with kids isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Try doing homework with a child who erases every letter that isn’t shaped perfectly, or who can’t stick to a task for more than three minutes straight. Then multiply a few siblings, who just have the neurotypical struggles and life demands. Add in some soccer practice, maybe a boss asking for some at-home work and throw in a toothache for good measure. For some people, this would be a nightmare. For others, it’s just called “Tuesday.”– Robyn Koslowitz
Robyn’s article really resonated with me, because I have a special needs child, and I would never have understood how much it’s annoying when they rewrites their letters and can’t get through a three minute task at age five. It’s not cute in real life, it’s not a wonderful opportunity to learn about my child and myself and cultivate patience, but rather a drain on my will power that I get through, and then have less energy than I would if I didn’t have to deal with it.
In essence, burnout prevents parents from being present emotionally with children, its ugly, but it’s true.
I think in the past there wasn’t an expectation a factory working parent would come home and then teach meditation to their kids, and “just be there” to hear about how hard it is that they don’t have an iphone and “everyone else” does… but there sure is that expectation now, that parents are there to feed the emotional needs of the kids. Before becoming a parent I thought kids would just kind of handle that sh*t themselves, like my sister and I did, but if I tell that to just about anyone, they will think I’m a monster. I have a burden of needing to co-regulate sometimes (though I do let the kids soothe themselves often), being expected to soothe an unsoothable child, being their advocate, noticing the different temperaments of my shy and diva kids, trying to help both to learn stress coping mechanisms that suit them… modern society expects parents to be psychologists with pretty much no training, and in my case, no desire to be a psychologist.
In real life, I am constantly cleaning mold, doing laundry, just started potty training my younger, weaning my younger of milk at night, doing dishes, meeting with the doctor of my older, giving treatments to the older one, and today I noticed my older child is depressed, and needs MORE comfort, attention, intervention… and I in all honesty HATE that right now.
When your children cry out for help, and you hate it, that’s a sign of burnout.
So, I noticed I was burnt out eventually, and all the articles suggest self care, which often on paper is basically more stress to do more stuff like exercise, when you are already over burdened.
Life is already too hard, so what you are suggesting to fix it is do a lot more hard stuff then?
I talked to my dad about being burnt out, as he was a single father of two, I thought he might have ideas, but I felt really disappointed when he recommended exercise. I had been exercising while I was burnt out, it’s good for a number of reasons, but it wasn’t fixing the burn out, also my father didn’t exercise when we were kids so he wasn’t speaking from experience but rather from the collective trends of today.
Robyn Koslowitz covered that in her article Self-Care or Self-Sabotage? When Self-Care… Isn’t, that article was helpful, inspiring me to keep searching for what I need to fill my tank rather then doing things I hate that work for others.
I think what it comes down to for now, is starting family therapy. My husband refused to go on Zoom, or at all until things are all the way back to normal (it will be over a year for our family), but my daughter is depressed TODAY.
I wanted to all be on the same page, if I saw improvement with my daughter’s mental health I wasn’t going to push for therapy that my husband is against doing or paying for… but although the anxiety has improved, the depression is worse, so I’ll fight for getting a real therapist to be my daughter’s therapist (instead of me trying to be a therapist, since I hate that stuff on a good day and can’t even try on a bad day).
Marilyn Wedge wrote an article that gave me hope, 4 Misconceptions About Family Therapy, spoiler alert, it says family therapy is a whole different thing than normal therapy, that it usually does help, and in 7 sessions. Perhaps she is biased since she makes money selling that stuff? But I trust her.
So, even though it will be a pain to get it set up, and do it, I will start seeking professional help again. I’ve tried in the past, and had so many rejections for our insurance, on paper my insurance has “so many providers standing by to help,” on paper “there are so many options for people who need mental health care,” but in real life money changes hands and therefore it’s very bureaucratic how, when, and who, has what options, and when.
So basically I’m burnt out trying to council my child, maybe because I never should have had to? Or maybe because I am not a good person since I don’t love child care and I am a woman? But bottom line I can’t solve my child’s mental health issues by singing Daniel Tiger songs at the right time, I’m going to get help from someone who probably can help, and my husband will pay for it more than he emotionally supports me to set it up.
He was stressed at work because a necessary team member transferred out, and they lost one person they needed to complete all the work of the shop. Management will either have trouble getting someone for awhile, or intentionally milk the situation to over work the remaining employees, who just won’t be able to get the same amount of their work done while covering the other workers thus not really saving much for the company in the long run.
In a way, I am both the management and the workers, I’m being cheap to get the help I really need, and also working myself to hard, and missing activities that did benefit the kids and me, while trying and failing to do the work the psychologist could be doing much better and faster than I could.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
– Abraham Lincoln
So, shot an email to my child’s neurologist hoping for a recommendation and here’s to finding a solution that way or in another way. It’s a tentative process for me because of the logistics of mental health care not being as streamlined as advertised and the loss bias of not wanting to invest time and money with absolutely no guarantee therapy will really help at all, but if my kids couldn’t speak, we would go to speech therapy, if they couldn’t walk, we would go to physical therapy, so if they cant’ cope I guess family therapy it is. What actually held me back the last time was a six month wait caused by the pandemic, that was December, so we would still be waiting even if I had already “got in line” as a new patient… Real life, slower progress than preferred.