Parenting is hard, unrelenting work.
Yes, yes it is often beautiful work but let’s be honest here, it can be freaking hard too.
But many things in life are hard. And they are often the very things that define who we are and what makes us get out of bed every day.
So what happens when you find it increasingly difficult to leave the bed?
Burning out as a parent is not a sign of failure. It is a sign that you care too much and, in particular, you care too much for others and need to give yourself some of the same TLC you dish out daily.
In that sense, there is no point beating yourself up about the fact that you got to this point. You are here now, that’s all that counts.
Here are some tips on how to find up again:
Make sure the basics are right
First things first, make sure the building blocks upon which you carry yourself through the day are solid.
If you are living off toast or skipping meals, then your body isn’t going to give you much to work with. If this is you, then try to eat better. You don’t need to go on a formal diet, just make a few switches where you know healthier options are available.
Opt for fresh over pre-packaged where possible. Choose brown carbs instead of white (brown rice, multigrain bread). Let fruit win out occasionally over chocolate (I know, I know but mangoes are in season and very tasty!).
If you suspect something else is going on, then pay a visit to your GP to make sure your iron levels are ok and that you’re not pregnant.
If you’re going to fall, then fall flat on your face
I don’t know how many times since becoming a mother that I have soldiered on despite all the warning signs that I needed to stop. I’ve done it so many times now that I know my red flags and, even then, I still am prone to do it! I am getting better though.
If you are cranky, short-tempered, easily emotional, exhausted all the time, unable to see the funny side of life, unable to sleep, unable to get enough sleep etc then be on alert. You could be heading towards burnout. Rather than fight it though, try accepting these feelings and symptoms by admitting that you’re not coping well at the moment. Crazy I know but it takes much less effort to accept than to throw energy in ever diminishing circles towards a losing battle.
Once on your face, don’t force yourself back up
The other aspect of burning out that I am still getting the hang of is allowing myself to stay face planted on the floor until I feel ready to regroup.
The natural reaction is to panic mildly and generate a flurry of action to get back up. This is possibly the worst thing to do. It’s like watching someone run a marathon, collapse over the finish line and expecting them to get up and run another marathon instantly. The expectation is too high because, well, there is no finish line in parenting.
You have to allow your body to collapse every so often and recoup in its own time. By all means, help this process along by having an afternoon off or getting some lovely person in your life to wake up with the children one weekend.
If you can logistically and financially swing it, have a night or weekend away. Just you. And maybe a hot bath and big fluffy bed.
Sometimes it’s OK to get off your bike and walk up that hill
I like to ride a bike. There is a track nearby with a hill that is too long and steep for me to finish and every time I try to pedal myself a bit further up, I always end up dismounting and walking the rest of the way.
I’m the athletic equivalent of a bumble bee, bumbling along in my yoga pants (ok, tracksuit pants…they aren’t yoga pants unless you have frequented a yoga studio at least once in them).
At first, this bothered me. I’m pretty competitive by nature and didn’t like being overtaken by other bicyclists with their Lycra pants and toned calves. But then I realised something – at least I’m having a go and still pushing myself in the right direction, albeit not on my bike.
Parenting is a lot like this. You can set yourself goals and aspirations but sometimes all it boils down to is getting through the day.
This week it would have been lovely if my son played with wooden trains instead of watching Peppa Pig on loop but he is recovering from a tonsillectomy and has been up all hours of the night. Getting him to rest and recuperate by any means possible while letting me do the same from the all-nighters is OK by me. The dream of meaningful play can wait for another week when we all have the energy for it.
Help can come in many forms. If you are lucky enough to have family nearby, rally their support to help you get back on your feet. Call on friends who offered to babysit.
Find a babysitter and book them into a regular schedule so you have planned breaks to look forward to (maybe even turn into dates with your partner). If you have trouble finding a babysitter, try asking your child’s favourite carer at childcare if they’d be interested in a bit of after hours work.
You could also consider help in the form of cutting down on housework for a while. If you’re in a financial position, maybe get a cleaner in once a fortnight. Or outsource your ironing or garden maintenance. If these aren’t options, then perhaps look at consolidating housework through having a cooking day once a fortnight and freezing dinners ready to go. If you have older children, give them some chores to do in exchange for pocket money.
Maybe even, gasp, temporarily lower your cleaning standards a bit. There’s always a way to cut corners on housework.
And of course, finally, if you are really struggling then please get help in the form of counselling. Talking to someone and airing your feelings is infinitely more efficient than wasting energy trying to suppress or deny their existence. It’s got nothing to do with pride, just what’s best for you and the family that you are supporting.
Call a hotline, Google Beyond Blue, ask your GP for a mental health plan and find a psychologist in your local area, talk to your priest/rabbi/spiritual leader. Whatever helps you.
Do you have any tips to add to this list?