Let’s set the scene:
A young woman wearing boxer shorts and an oversized t-shirt sits on her couch watching television. A handful of popcorn goes cascading down her front as she misses her mouth entirely. She shrugs, flicks to the next episode of America’s Next Top Model, and slouches back into the squish of her sofa. An irritated look paints her face as she absentmindedly pets the grumpy cat siting next to her. Suddenly, the cat flies across the room in an explosion of screaming as the woman yells at the television “WHAT ARE YOU DOING MARJORIE?!?!?! GET YOURSELF TOGETHER, YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS!!!!” A feline death glare containing the rage of a thousand suns radiates from underneath the neighboring table. The woman pats the cat’s head, “I’m sorry kitty, it was important!”
This past weekend, that woman was most definitely me.
I can always tell I’m reaching the point of burn-out when my irritability is ramped up ten-fold. That, and when I spend an unusual amount of time watching (and yelling at) reality TV shows in my boxers. Self-care can be difficult as a doula, but we know that it’s even more difficult as a parent.
Becoming a parent means you are suddenly thrust into a position where taking care of yourself is no longer the priority. And honestly, a lot of the time it’s not even remotely on the radar. Your little ones become an extension of yourself, and caring for them quickly occupies the tiniest nooks and crannies of every day life. Of course we know that you love your kids! But for many parents, not having a minute to themselves throughout the day can feel incredibly draining, suffocating, isolating, and even alarming. Especially for parents whose self-care routines are integral to healing from mental illness or past trauma.
If you find yourself snapping at your kids more than usual, feeling guilty/inadequate, or in general feeling floaty/detatched, there’s a chance that you’re approaching or are already experiencing burnout. Recognizing burnout ahead of time can be incredibly helpful. Not only so that you can change course for a more sustainable day-to-day routine, but also to conserve energy, and ensure you’re feeling like the amazing parent that your kids already KNOW you are!
Here are a few things you can do to prevent burnout from happening even in the hectic whirlwind of parenthood:
1. Take 5. Even taking just 5 minutes a day for yourself can make an enormous difference. Whether you’re a new mama taking care of your newborn or a seasoned parent who’s been around the block a few times. Everyone meets their wit’s end sometimes. So take a breath, set a timer, and spend that 5 minutes doing whatever you gotta do to center yourself. Sit in a closet for some peace and quiet, listen to music, call someone who makes you smile, or even just lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling (this can be weirdly therapeutic). It’s okay to reset and collect your thoughts.
2. Prioritize. Pick the things that absolutely need to get done today and save the rest for later. Your house doesn’t need to sparkle 24/7, but the baby needs to eat and Jimmy does need clean underwear for school tomorrow. Put your energy where it is needed most.
3. Nix the comparisons. Comparing yourself to other parents is tempting, especially in today’s parenting culture. Everyone wants to be “The Best Parent Ever.” But the secret is, your kids already think you’re the best. Do what is feasible and makes sense for YOU as a parent. Ease up on the criticism and try seeing yourself through their eyes because they already think you’re pretty great! 🙂
4. Teach your kids to do things independently. This one can seem daunting because kids can be so stubborn sometimes. But especially as your children get older, pushing through that resistance can save a lot of time and energy in the long run. Not having to worry about the little things like chores and getting everyone dressed will allow you to save your energy for the things that the kids can’t help out with. Plus it instills them with a sense of confidence and accomplishment!
5. Change your expectations. You don’t have to be perfect to be a good parent. It’s okay to not finish everything on your to-do list, and an extra few minutes of tv-time will not melt their brains into mush. Loosen your grip on those expectations of yourself and tell your self-critic to take a hike unless they plan on paying rent! It’s hard enough to be a parent, so cut yourself some slack.
6. Intentionally set aside time for yourself. I know this one can seen downright impractical, or even impossible. But it is so necessary. Making sure your own needs are met will allow you to feel more calm, collected and present (aka what every parent needs in the face of a tantrum). Your kids need you to take care of yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup. So get out there, hand your kids over to your partner/ family member/ friend/ playdate/ babysitter for a couple hours, and go do something that makes your soul happy. No guilt whatsoever because a parent’s gotta do what a parent’s gotta do.
7. Ask for and accept help. Reaching out does not make you weak, and there is no shame in accepting help when it’s offered. The image of “Super Mom” is enticing, but I assure you that she’s just a myth! It takes a village to raise children because no one can possibly be everything for everyone. Communicate your needs with loved ones and ask for help/support when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Being a parent is a full-time job and there’s no reason to make it harder than it needs to be!
8. Spend time with friends. No one can lift your spirits or put you at ease like your friends. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’re losing yourself in the everyday life of parenthood, grabbing coffee or calling a good friend for a few minutes can help remind you of all that good stuff that’s already inside of you. Plus, venting and talking with other parent-friends can do wonders for lifting some of the weight off.
9. Be kind to yourself. Turning kindness and compassion inwards toward ourselves is a game-changer. By changing the way we talk to ourselves, we give ourselves room to feel, grow, and exist as people. Instead of berating yourself over the things you “should have” done, try a few of my favorite reminders: “I’ve done my best for today. I will keep trying tomorrow,” “It’s okay that I’m not perfect,” and “I will show myself the kindness and patience that I show others.” And if those don’t work, sometimes a good old fashioned “No one is bleeding or in immediate crisis so that’s good enough for now” will do the trick 😉
If you find yourself nearing the Yelling-At-Reality-TV-In-Your-Boxers point of burnout, take a minute to breathe. You are human and deserve rest too. Give one or two of these a try every once in a while to see if they resonate with you. Above all else, please remember that you are not alone in this.