6 Ways to Recover from Parental Burnout
If the phrase “parental burnout” fills you with a sense of recognition, anxiety or just plain dread, pull up a chair. It’s a real phenomenon that, while distinct from postpartum depression or professional stress, is gaining buzz due to the pressure many of us feel to do and be everything for our kids. So while "balance" may still sound like an elusive fantasy (kind of like "sleep" or "KonMari" or "clean hair"), there are steps moms can take to tip the scales back from a condition defined by “exhaustion, inefficacy, and emotional distancing [from our kids]” toward something a lot more family-friendly.
Get a job—any job
One famous study demonstrated that moms who work part-time—even for an hour a week—tended to be “less depressed, had better health, were more sensitive to their children and were better able to provide them with learning opportunities” than 24/7 stay-at-home moms.
Ask for help
Whether it’s from your husband, a team of caregivers or your school’s aftercare coordinator, assemble the village it takes to raise your child(ren). Then peace out—to the spa, to the woods, to Sephora. Riding the “me time" train to your happy place will make your home a happier one. The quality of your time with your kids truly matters more than the quantity; science says so.
Relinquish some control
Yes, your sister-in-law lets them watch back-to-back Minions movies, guzzle high-fructose corn syrup and then forgets to brush their teeth. But if she’s willing to do it once a week, thank her—and save some of your sanity.
Have fun as a family
OK, it sounds counterintuitive as hell, but the source of parental burnout may have less to do with your relationship with your kids and more to do with the work of raising them: Keeping them on schedule, transporting them to appointments and activities, overseeing their homework, and attending to their multiplying miscellaneous needs (OT, PT, tutors, etc.). Let some of it slide, some of the time. Let the dishes pile up, push their bedtimes, go out for pizza and smile proudly at strangers who gawk at their antics (Oh! Is that my daughter’s Hello Kitty Croc in the spaghetti? She's super flexible). A change of scenery isn’t just a salve for fussy babies; it can remind you that those babies are growing up to be your favorite people in the entire world.
To quote Sheryl Sandberg on the mythical mom who has it all, “Done is better than perfect.” After surviving a day in the trenches (aka any place with monkey bars), reflect on what went right (not the fact that your preschooler shouted "You are not my best friend!" to a perfectly nice Grandma). And don't just think positive; write it down. One psychologist notes this may actually bring about contagious happiness your kids can catch (Lord knows they catch everything else).
When in doubt, cry it out
We mean you—not the kids. Crying releases stress hormones and stimulates endorphins. Need help getting the tears flowing? Here’s a quote from Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Quindlen looking back across the decades, to a time when her three children were 6, 4 and 1. “I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”