Fight Family Burnout
Work and home-life are now blurred. Make sure you take time and recharge for you and your kids.
Millions of families have found themselves together all day in houses and apartments with nowhere to go. Parents are continuing to be family cooks, teachers, and referees, and it isn’t easy to find a balance between work-life and home-life when they are both under the same roof. Children are missing the all-important outlet of school – interacting with friends, having a recess or extracurricular activities like music, dance, or sports. As a result, many parents are experiencing “family burnout.”
What Is Family Burnout?
Dr. Lisa W. Coyne, Ph.D. of McLean, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate, says to watch for signs of depression, lowered mood, addictive behaviors, sleep disruption, or conflict with your partner. Feelings of giving up on your parental responsibilities or even neglecting or abandoning your children may be a sign of burnout.
The acute awareness that parents’ lives are much different now than just a short time ago is a large contributor to the problem. Parents look at their lives and roles before COVID-19 and now after, and there is a lot of frustration and stress.
Single parents, parents who don’t have emotional support, and parents who have a high expectation of themselves are at a higher risk of burnout. Also, individuals with children who have special needs or have physical, emotional, or developmental issues may find themselves more overwhelmed and frustrated than usual as the quarantine goes on.
As we continue to move through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, all parents need to be mindful of the risks and signs of family burnout. Here are eight ways to combat family burnout.
1. Raise Your Hand and Ask for Help
It’s important to recognize there’s a difference between having a slightly shorter fuse and feeling like you’re actually on the edge of combusting. When burnout symptoms are moderate to severe, consider getting professional consultation from an SSM Health provider. Many providers have telehealth appointments available – over the phone and web services like zoom.
It’s right to honor your own needs and recognize you may require additional help. The most important thing is that you take care of yourself. After all, your family needs you to be healthy and whole.
2. Step Back and Slow Down
As you communicate with your partner and your children and engage in a possibly tense situation, take stock of your thoughts. Take a moment and ask yourself what you need to do at that moment. Ask yourself: How do I want to view this moment looking back? How do I want my children to remember this?
Taking this important moment and asking questions about the situation allows you to step away from a potentially damaging situation or reframe your thoughts and actions. You may find the best action is inaction. Sometimes walking away is the best response.
3. Help Your Kids Help You
If you’re a parent, recognizing burnout in yourself is important, and recognizing burnout in your children is equally important. Dr. Pavan Madan, M.D. of California-based Community Psychiatry, states that children often show burnout in symptoms like anxiety, being irritable, poor academic performance, or isolating themselves from their peers and not expressing any interest in playing. He also noted that teenagers might be more likely to experience burnout because of their academic load than younger children.
4. Give Yourself a Break
- Model Behavior: Kids learn from what we do, not what we say
- Label Emotions: Give names to the different emotions your children are feeling
- Emotion Shifts: Make your children aware of your emotion shifts; for example, let them know that you were mad, but now you are happy
- Get Creative: With the kids home all day, find creative ways to keep them busy by engaging them in projects, chores, and educational activities
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. You don’t have to let go of expectations of yourself or your children, but you can shift them. Find out what works best for you and them. You’re trying your best and you have to give yourself credit for all of the new hats your wearing.
5. Create a Village
No one should navigate the challenges of a pandemic, much less parenting alone. Make sure you have a village for you and your child. As the African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Have weekly video chats with family or virtual playdates. Make sure you have emotional support from family as well or seek out a virtual emotional support group. Reaching out for help and engaging with others will reduce your risk of losing your temper and feeling overwhelmed.
6. Take Five
Parenting is a full-time job and parenting in a pandemic adds overtime. Make sure you take breaks. You need downtime, time to hear yourself think and to be alone with yourself. Try using statements like “Mommy needs 10 minutes. I need you to [insert activity here]. After 10 minutes, we can do an activity together.” Emphasize that if you are interrupted, the time starts over, and the fun activity will be pushed back.
7. Stay Healthy
Focus on healthy eating and get physical exercise. This will give you much-needed energy. You can find different ways to work physical exercise into your day at smaller intervals.
8. Mindfulness and Acceptance
You cannot effectively manage stress by pushing it away or keeping it bottled up inside yourself. It will continue to pop up, and if you bottle it up, at some point the pressure will be too great. That’s when you erupt, lose your cool, and lose control. So, remember that it is always ok to feel whatever you are feeling, including feeling angry. Learn to accept your feelings and address your stress as you engage in everyday tasks. Slow down your mind. Label your emotions. Practice mindfulness exercises like three good things, practicing savoring, or meditation to cope with stress and anxiety.
Parents are all under a fair amount of stress, and many of us feel anxious about what will happen as the season's change and the prospect of virtual school being extended. Remember that you are not alone on the walk through the pandemic or parenting. Take time for yourself, communicate with your partner, create a village that supports you, and most importantly breathe. Recognize the signs of family burnout in you, your partner, or your children and lean on these tips to help you through the unpredictable times of this pandemic.
Sources: Healthline, McLean – a Harvard Medical School Affiliate