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How to avoid parenting burnout

Frustrated mom holding child

Recent months have changed all our lives dramatically. For parents, we are balancing all the same roles in new ways and have added some new ones into our daily lives. Trying to balance our home lives while teaching our children, being productive at work and having limited social interactions adds significantly to our daily stress. To complicate matters, it is difficult to find time alone. We are surrounded by the people we love, but sometimes we all need time to be by ourselves.

Balancing our roles while at home and with our children and partners around more can feel like a new level of exhaustion. If you feel more tired and less productive, you are not alone. Being a mom during the workday, or teaching our children while disciplining them, requires us to use multiple skills at once. Communicating with others through video or phone feels artificial at times. This level of cognitive exhaustion is new for many of us and requires us to try new things to feel better.

While we are all coping differently with these stressors, it is important for us to find strategies to maintain our sanity and give our best selves to the ones we care about.

  1. Find time to be alone. This has been difficult for all of us. We are spending more time at home with fewer places to go and our children at home most of the time. That being said, being alone keeps us grounded. It will likely require a little creativity and compromise. Go grocery shopping alone, take walks, go for a drive, or exercise. If your kids have screen time, use that time to be alone. If you have a spouse/partner, set a schedule with one another to allow for time alone.
  2. Consider strategies to find peace and calm in the midst of uncertainty. If you have thought about trying meditation, now is a great time to try it. Mindfulness is a great way to help us focus our attention on purpose. Several mindfulness apps are offering free subscriptions at this time. If that’s not your style, connect to your spiritual community. Spend time outside listening your kids play or to the sounds of nature.
  3. Maintain a daily schedule, but don’t feel the need to follow it exactly. Set times to separate work and parenting, even if you it doesn’t always work that way. This helps your children know what to expect and allows you shift gears. Try to work in the same area of the house so your brain is prepared for work when you walk to that space. Teach your kids to help with chores so you can do them together. Go to bed and wake up at similar times each day.
  4. Connect socially in new ways. Several of us have figured out how to connect with friends through Zoom or other apps. Scheduling these times on a regular basis can ensure that we make time to connect with friends. Netflix watch parties, virtual game nights, and socially distanced walks or bike rides can help us feel connected to friends and family.
  5. Take time away from technology. We are all more connected now by electronics than we have been before. We rely on social media for social connection. We work on our computers and phones at the same time. Scheduling Zoom calls for work, our kids and connecting with friends can be chaotic. My phone is getting so much use it overheated last weekend! All this technology use makes it even more important to step away from electronics from time to time. Put the phone in the other room with the volume up so you don’t miss important calls. Play board games, read an actual book or write a real letter.
  6. Understand you cannot be great at everything every day. No one can be great at each of their roles every day. For me, I think about the most important roles I fill (mom, wife, psychologist), and try to ensure that I am not doing any of them poorly for too long. If I am lacking in one area for more than a couple of days, I shift my priorities. Determine what is most important to you and pay attention each day to how well you are fulfilling those roles. It’s not necessarily about daily balance, but a general focus on giving some attention to the things that mean the most.
  7. Focus on gratitude. In a time that we hear so much negative around us in the world, pay attention to the things for which you are grateful. Spend a few minutes each day thinking about the positives in your life. Start your morning writing these down, or end your day reflecting on your gratitude for that day.
  8. Don’t compare. None of us are experiencing COVID in the same way. Our responsibilities and those of our family are different. Our homes, pets, children, jobs, and other life tasks are all different, and our skill in managing them is a combination of so many things. Do not feel the need to keep up with other moms on your social media or work the same way as your colleagues. Figure out what works best for you and your family. It may take some trial and error, but it’s all about what you need to meet your needs so you can meet the needs of others.
  9. Learn how to give grace…to yourself, your children and others. Grace is a word used often by one of my colleagues, and I never really thought much about it until I met her. Kindness is an important value in our family, but grace kicks it up a notch. It’s not just about being kind, but about accepting others for what they can do in that moment. It is recognizing we all have struggles and strengths that make us imperfectly balanced at times, and we do not know others’ stories. The mom who is on her phone at the park may be trying to get some work done as her kids play. When our kids yell at each other, it may be their frustration at the current situation in the world rather than frustration with their sibling. And when we cannot be the perfect parent, partner, colleague, coach or friend….we must give ourselves the grace and recognize that it is OK to not be perfect at everything every day.

Focusing on our own wellbeing can feel selfish. However, when we do not care for our own needs, we become cranky, unproductive and frustrated.  Often, we think of self-care as massages, vacations and time out with friends. Some people recommend starting a new hobby, but let’s be honest…many of us do not have time for that right now.  The truth is these activities do not work for everyone, and they are difficult to accomplish currently. However, we can still find ways to care for our own needs. By doing so, we keep ourselves healthier and better prepared to care for those we love. Caring for our own well-being is more important now than ever.

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Child Psychology

Child Psychologist; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine