There I was, sitting at a four-top, having brunch with my family at a restaurant my friend had recommended. It was Mother’s Day and all I could think about is how wrong I felt.
It wasn’t lost on me that I was spending Mother’s Day with my kids, that we were on a mini-getaway for the weekend, or that we spent the early part of the morning at the beach. And yet, I was in the worst mood.
My decline started on the way to the beach. As I was driving, my husband said something to me. And per usual, it wasn’t what he said, but how he said it. There was a bitter aftertaste that stuck to me like a shirt on your back on a humid day.
Even as I brought it to his attention in an attempt to clear up the tension, he was seemingly unaware of any bitterness. But I couldn’t shake it off.
As I entered the ocean, all I could do was put my feelings into a song. I thought, “Maybe this is a way to get it out of my system. Maybe this will make me laugh it off. Or maybe, the waves will wash away my angry feelings.” I even tried convincing myself to “Let it Go” by singing the song from Frozen.
You see, I was at a point where I didn’t want to be with my family anymore.
It wasn’t just my husband. It was everyone.
I was feeling emotionally tired of the eye rolls, the attitude, and the lack of appreciation from my pre-teen daughter. Any time we were around anyone she wanted to impress, she would be “embarrassed” by us. She stopped being helpful altogether. I guess, in a word, she was being age-appropriate.
But that wasn’t all. I was sick and tired of listening to my kids fight about stupid and inconsequential tidbits like who was going to press the elevator button, or how they’d yell at each other to get out of the other’s room, or push and scratch their sibling because of something the other said or did. It was constant and when you’re together 24/7 on a road trip, you can’t escape it.
I asked a friend of mine who has two kids of the same age, “When you go on vacation, do your girls constantly fight about who’s going to press the button in the elevator? Do they get upset because it’s not fair that their sister pressed it last time and now it’s their turn or that they want to press the button on the inside because they only got to press the outside button so far?”
You know what she said?
So I tucked that bit of information away. I realized not everyone’s kids do this. That was a revelation.
Then I went and stayed with another friend for Mother’s Day weekend. After seeing her kids make their bed in the morning, I was further irritated because in my house this was an impossibility. Every time I asked my daughter to make her bed, she’d say she didn’t like her bed made. My son would just say he forgot. Either way, no good habits were being formed. Another revelation that things could be different, but weren’t.
So there I was in the ocean trying desperately to let it all go. But it wouldn’t leave me.
After showering back at the house, we went to brunch and things did not improve.
You know how when you’re upset, all of a sudden it dawns on you how there are more things to be upset about? That was my experience. I realized how we never celebrated Mother’s Day. Not really. And it wasn’t about the celebration, but more so about the acknowledgement. That’s what this holiday is all about. It’s about acknowledging and appreciating our mom. I felt anything but appreciated.
It was at this point in the day where I was supposed to feel good that I’m sitting with my family at a restaurant, that I broke down.
Parental Burnout Symptoms
I am very familiar with workplace burnout. It is characterized by three main symptoms which include emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and depersonalization.
As I was experiencing this heavy heart because of what was going on in my family, I could sense what emotional exhaustion felt like. It’s that heaviness we feel in our chest when we’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. We’ve put up with the bullshit for long enough that we just don’t want to do it anymore. The pile of crap has grown so large that we’ve finally said, “Enough!” And it’s amazing how much we can take before we get to this point.
The same thing happens in the work environment. If you’ve ever burned out at work, you know how you keep taking on more tasks and responsibilities, perhaps to prove yourself and perhaps to please others or to feel a sense of accomplishment. But there comes a point where it catches up with you. You’re tired of the running around and you’re bitter for having too much on your plate.
I felt that bitterness set in with my family that Sunday at the restaurant. I knew it tasted like burnout. I wondered whether I’d been bitten by the burnout bug or whether it was a fleeting sensation.
What Puts You At Risk for Mommy Burnout
As moms, we have a lot on our plate. This is the norm. We’ll call this “Level 1” risk for parental burnout. But then there are extenuating circumstances that put us at even greater risk.
Level 2 might be if you have two factors to contend with. You’re a Level 2 if you have multiple children, if you’re a working mom trying to juggle work and home responsibilities, or if you’re a stay-at-home parent. Being with your children 24/7 without a break for years on end is a recipe for burnout, even if you’re completely enamored with your kids.
If you’re a single mom who works, you are at even greater risk for burnout because on top of the usual stressors, you have financial responsibilities to contend with, you are on your own, and you often don’t get a break. Similarly, if you experience anxiety and are working and parenting, you qualify for a Level 3 on the burnout pyramid.
You might also have a child with special needs. That alone would put you at a Level 2 but if you are also working, you’re now a Level 3. If you’re a single working mom with a special needs kid, you would qualify for a Level 4 risk for burnout.
The greater the challenge, the greater the stress, the more likely you are to burn out.
If you’re experiencing parental burnout, you are not alone. According to a recent study, 66 percent of working parents reported feeling like they too have nothing left to give.
Managing Stress to Avoid Parental Burnout
Before we talk about what to do to manage your stress, let’s take a look at what not to do.
When you have a lot going on in your world, you may be tempted to multi-task. But I can tell you from experience that this only leads you to wasting time and to feeling drained.
Recently, I went grocery shopping, as I normally would on a Saturday morning. It’s my way of getting ready for the week ahead. On the drive over to the store, I called my mom. The trouble was, we weren’t done chatting by the time I had reached the store. In went the AirPods and I was able to push the cart and keep talking to her while I shopped.
This may seem like a great way to leverage technology to get more done in the same amount of time. But what really happened was that I came home with half the groceries I needed for the week, which necessitated an extra trip to the store. Instead of saving time, multitasking cost me at least an extra hour to get my shopping done.
Clearly, you need to focus on one thing at a time. But what about when you have to contend with your kids’ needs and your needs? You’re likely to put their needs first. It’s a no brainer. But what happens if you keep neglecting yourself?
Many of my clients put their needs on the back burner, not just at work, but at home. They struggle to take time for themselves. They feel guilty spending time on self-care activities so they either don’t attempt them or don’t stick with them.
We’ve heard it all before. “There is no time for self-care.” But consider this: When parents are burned out, they often take their frustrations out on their kids. The same study cited that parents were insulting, criticizing, spanking, and screaming at their children because they weren’t managing their stress well.
Parental burnout is associated with depression, anxiety, and increased alcohol consumption. Taking time for yourself to relax and unwind is not only important for your mental health, it’ll make you a better parent.
Something magical happens when your mindset shifts. You no longer fall prey to the story that you shouldn’t take time for yourself or that you don’t have enough time for self-care. You recognize that this is not a nice-to-have. You need this to keep your sanity. It is part of your burnout prevention plan and it’s a must-have. In fact, taking care of you is taking care of your kids.
I recently saw a survey of what moms wanted most for Mother’s Day. You might think it would be something fancy like a trip to the spa or a yoga retreat. What mothers wanted more than anything was to be able to take a nap.
Moms are sleep deprived. They are exhausted. They know what’s best for them, but they are too busy taking care of everyone else that they sacrifice their needs for the betterment of their family.
Getting Some Much Needed Support
When it comes to parental burnout, the experts typically suggest taking breaks, practicing mindfulness, and asking for help. Certainly, these are important but sometimes they are easier said than done, especially when it comes to getting support.
So what can you do if you don’t have other family members to support you in your parenting?
My entire journey as a parent so far has been away from family members. My husband and I had very little support in raising our children. What we did when the kids were young was rely on friends with similar-aged kids. We’d babysit for each other so that we’d have a chance to have a proper date night. We’d go on outings together so that we weren’t alone with the kids all the time. When my friend gave birth, I showed up with fresh young coconuts because she craved coconut water. And when I was pregnant and my blood sugar suddenly dropped so low that I wasn’t able to walk, my friend sent her husband at 11 o’clock at night to pick me up and take me to the emergency room, so that my husband could stay home with our daughter.
Shift the Responsibilities Around
One of the things that’s helped me do less recently was the idea that I can have my kids make their own lunches. I credit Sue Donnellan, a parenting strategist whom I interviewed for my podcast, Decode Your Burnout. I heard her mention this for her much younger kids and thought to myself, “Why not?” I am happy to report that my kids are officially making their sandwiches and packing their lunches for school now on the regular.
You can use this mentality in most of your daily tasks that take your time and energy around the house. Ask yourself, “What else can I take off my plate?” Let your kids clean the toilet, sweep the floor, wash your car, set the table, or wash the dishes.
Maybe you’re stressing out because you’re focused on getting your kid into the best colleges. But little Joey is still in elementary school, so if he doesn’t get straight As, doesn’t make the A Team, or doesn’t finish his homework, don’t stress. Let your kids figure things out on their own. Put some of the responsibility on them and let them absorb life lessons as they unfold. Don’t try so hard to protect them and shelter them from reality. They need to understand the consequences of their actions.
You might be like me and get upset because your kids don’t like your ideas for family time. In my family, when we sit down to watch a video, my kids typically want to watch the continuation of a series they’ve started. I explained to them that when it’s just the two of them, they can watch their series. But when we sit down as a family, we watch something we can all enjoy. Sometimes my daughter will leave the room, convinced she doesn’t want to partake in the activity. But more often than not, as soon as we start the movie, she can’t help herself and plops down on the couch. FOMO kicks in! The takeaway is that when you let go of control, they spring back by choice.
Another point of irritation recently has been after school activities. At some point, I decided that since I’m doing all the driving, I will only sign my kids up for no more than two activities per week per child and I try to keep them geographically close to the house.
I see my friends who sign their kids up for soccer and have to go to games every weekend, often driving hours to games all over the State. I really applaud these parents. But I’ve decided that kind of time and energy commitment is not for me. Luckily, my kids aren’t heartbroken about it.
We may not spend weekends watching soccer games, but we have our own rituals. Every night as we sit around the dinner table, we go around and mention one thing we are grateful for that happened that day. I started this ritual because I wanted to prime my kids to appreciate what they have. I get to model this behavior and it also keeps me feeling a great sense of gratitude for what’s going well in my life. Truth be told, there’s so much good happening each and every day and for that I’m grateful.
What to Do If You’re Burned Out
It’s so easy to beat yourself up if you’ve reached a point of burnout. Let’s not fall into that trap. Remember, those that have the most to learn become the best teachers, so use this as a learning opportunity. As Sue Donnellan said, “Parenting is the hardest thing we’ve never been trained for.”
Parenting is layered and nuanced. It is psychologically and physically demanding. If you find yourself either yelling, punishing, and using too many timeouts but getting nowhere or investing all of your energy into your parenting and feeling depleted, something has to change.
Part of the issue might be how you think about your responsibilities as a parent. The Montessori way of parenting illustrates that you can hand over much more responsibility to your child. When you believe they are capable of fending for themselves, when you hold certain expectations of them and hold them accountable, they can step in and take a lot of the daily tasks off your hands.
You cannot control how your kids will react, but the thing you have the most control over is yourself. So whether it’s about changing your beliefs about what your kids are capable of doing or changing how you show up as a parent, you have more control than you realize and this can help massively minimize your stress and prevent burnout.
As I sat with my family members at that Mother’s Day brunch,I realized that it was my responsibility to share with them how I felt. I didn’t want to be passive aggressive about it. I didn’t want them to have to read my mind and figure out why I was upset. I was going to lay it all out there. That, I told myself, was going to be my Mother’s Day gift to myself.
As I experienced this short-lived crisis, it dawned on me that this is what parental burnout feels like when those feelings are chronic.
Just as we were leaving the beach, I saw this mom with her two young children on the way to the sand. Her youngest was screaming at the top of his lungs. She was the only adult there. It was her responsibility to carry all their belonging and manage two children. She brought them there because she wanted to have quality time with her kids. What she got was stress. On Mother’s Day, no less.
In that moment, I realized how we all struggle with different issues related to parenthood. I’d been where she was. My kids are now old enough to walk and talk. With each stage, we have new and different challenges.
How to Handle Your Kids If They Constantly Push the Envelope
When you were growing up, were you very different from your parents? Was it hard to get along with them or did you end up grounded one too many times?
One of the challenges we face as parents is raising a child who marches to the beat of their own drum. Instead of trying to control or micromanage them, we need to find a way to speak their language. This can help us create connection rather than set up a scenario where there is constant conflict and the child is forced to be a people-pleaser and show up inauthentically or lie to us to make us believe they are behaving.
What Sue shares is that the process of parenting is about a full circle process that starts with working on your relationship with yourself. In so doing, you learn to let go of the ego, the guilt, and the need to control. You learn to show yourself respect. She uses this mantra to remind herself of how to approach her parenting: “I’m only in charge of me. I’m not in charge of you.”
Once you follow these principles with yourself, you can interweave them into your parenting. When you show up in this new way, you create a stronger connection with your child. You then teach them to not have an ego, to not guilt other people into what they want, to not be controlling but instead to invest in themselves as individuals with a unique purpose. As a result, they open up more and show you respect as well.
If your experience of parenting is anything like that of the 1285 parents in the recent parenting survey, you are likely in need of a break. You may no longer enjoy being around your kids and may be taking your frustrations out on them, something that you feel ashamed over.
Rather than beat yourself up, recognize that you’re just in a state of burnout. You need something to change. You can’t keep going like this. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a sign that you need to shift things around so you get more breaks, more sleep, more peace of mind.
Reach out for support from friends, family members, or your community. And there’s always coaching to not only provide support, but to help you manage your negative thinking, release toxic emotions like resentment, guilt, and shame, and help you create a new paradigm for parenting that is sustainable.
You matter and your kids matter. Do it for you. Do it for them.
I know that had I continued to feel the way I fet at that Mother’s Day brunch day after day, I would be burned out on my family. But I woke up the next morning and felt great. I spent time with my husband in the morning and with my kids after school and the bitterness was gone.
My takeaways from this experience were that I need to let the people around me know how I’m feeling. They need to understand how we affect each other so they can take responsibility for their part. And I also need to consider what my needs are and take responsibility for getting them met. If I want my kids to make their bed, I need to instill this rule at home. If I want my daughter to show her parents more respect, I have to communicate to her what that looks like and what the expectations are.
Although I cannot change other people, I can work on accepting that my husband will be moody from time to time and that my pre-teen will sooner or later roll her eyes at me. I just remember to take a walk when needed to recalibrate.
If you’re burning out, download the Burnout Checklist to see which stage you are in and what you need to focus on to recover.