So, you’re a parent.
That probably means you haven’t had sleep, money, time, or energy for yourself in…. how old is your oldest? That many years. Plus about 9 months for the pregnancy.
That much dedication is draining.
It can zap our will to keep going.
Here is what it looks like to me:
Parents who are too emotionally drained start wondering where they lost themselves to the demands of their children. Then they feel terrible, because what kind of a selfish person would take good care of themselves when their kids’ every whim goes unmet?
So they buckle down and make themselves focus on the kids even more. The feelings of wishing for something better keeps coming back, followed by the mommy- or daddy-guilt. This cycle eventually builds into resentment towards the child for keeping you from your hopes and dreams AND for keeping you in a constant state of guilt for not being the perfect parent. But the parent keeps trying to be a good parent.
They flip flop between resentment, which causes them to be impatient and harsh towards their children, and the guilt, which causes them to coddle and pamper their children in an attempt to fix the resentment with false love. The kids are confused because of this flip flopping and don’t know what to expect from mom or dad. This can cause the children to act out, which frustrates the parent.
The parent continues in a vicious spiral downward until they stop and fix the initial problem.
(By the way, I’m not dramatizing this. I’ve seen it in action and it’s a scary thing. It can cause child abuse, suicide, and other scary side effects when this cycle has taken its tole for an extended period of time.)
And what is the problem?
We all need things. The basics include food, water, and shelter- you know, survival stuff. But there are other needs like feeling emotionally connected with people, feeling sexually fulfilled, feeling safe, feeling competent, feeling proud of yourself, etc.
And every parent needs a reminder to take care of those things for themselves. And a reminder that taking care of themselves is not selfish.
I believe that every parent has felt twinges of resentment towards their children at times.
After all, they do keep us from doing things we want, and that’s not fun.
So here’s what I do when I start to notice the beginnings of resentment in my parenting.
Like, you know, yelling or swearing or whatever other less-than-perfect discipline strategies I use when I respond without thinking.
That’s the first step for me- Don’t react.
If I do, I get myself and my kids deeper into a negative situation. Then, I have to deal with that before I can leave to take care of my own needs- which often means that I’m drained and resentful while trying to manage my way through a delicate parenting situation.
It just doesn’t work for me.
So the best situation is to wait to react. Then I don’t make things worse right when I really need a break the most.
Of course, this is so much easier said than done.
I usually realize that I have some unmet needs when I flip a lid for no good reason. Only then do I stop to ask myself, “What is really going on here?”
That’s when I realize how drained I am.
It’s not the best method, and I’m working on fixing it, but the silver lining is that I usually can stop myself from flipping a lid in the future once I’m aware of my own needs.
So one bad moment can prevent future bad moments.
Listen to Myself
A better solution is to be aware of my needs before I flip a lid.
I find that my body and mind give me clues to my own stability constantly- but they are easy to miss if I’m busy. These clues could be things like:
- A headache
- Forgetting to eat or drink
- Letting my kids get away with things that they usually wouldn’t get away with
- Being late for things
- Not putting effort into daily things- like getting dressed or putting on makeup
- Short temper with my kids and my husband
- Assuming that people around me have bad intentions in the things they do
Of course, not all of these things will apply to everyone, but these are some of the warning signs that tell me I’m forgetting to take care of myself.
If I can catch these things sooner, I can take action to fix the problem before I melt down.
When things get busy, it is hard to stop to evaluate yourself.
Self-evaluations can be difficult. You often don’t notice the effects of burnout in yourself until it’s done, even though there are warning signs. I often think to myself, “I can handle this. I can keep going.” But that’s the problem. I have to force myself to take a break before I am at the point where I can’t keep going.
It’s like swimming out into the ocean. You can swim as far as you like, as long as you have the energy to get back to shore. If you swim until you are exhausted, you will be unable to get back and you will drown.
So, don’t be afraid to give yourself the relief you need early on. This will help prevent burnout rather than recovering from it.
Assess my Children’s Situation
This is the part of the process where you have to balance your responsibilities as a parent and your individuality as a human being.
That’s really tricky.
I have two rules of thumb about how to proceeded from here.
First rule- Once I have identified a need in myself, I next need to assess the severity of the need.
The ideal is that I would catch it soon so that I have a few days to find a good time for myself. If I can do that, I can take the steps I need to fix it. These could include:
- Arranging a babysitter
- Giving my husband a heads up that he might need to take the kids for an evening
- Shopping for a treat
- Finding quiet time after the kids are in bed
- Arranging an outing
If I don’t catch it in time, I might only have hours or minutes to take care of myself before I have a freak out.
Second rule- Take care of the kids’ needs, not ALL their wants.
Now is no time to be a super mom.
Now is time to simplify.
Again, this is balancing between parenting responsibilities and my own well being.
I can’t neglect the kids and I can’t neglect myself. So I have to figure out the difference between what HAS to happen and what COULD happen. I do a lot of extra things during the day that can be cut out during times of crisis. These might include:
- Shopping (Usually there’s enough bits and pieces around the house to scrounge up a meal or having a few things in the freezer can save you on bad days.)
- Cleaning (It can wait til tomorrow.)
- Laundry (There’s always something to wear in the back of the closet.)
- Dishes (That’s what paper plates are for!!)
- Cooking (Cereal for dinner is just fine once and a while!)
Eliminating even one of these things might be enough to lighten the load.
There are things in my routine that I never will give up, even on hard days. You’ll have to make your own list of what is important to you and remember those essentials.
These are the only things I have to worry about during a crisis:
- Hygiene for everyone (kids and myself)
- School and homework
- Meals (I mean that the kids won’t go hungry- but I still stand by my comment about cereal for dinner.)
- Work (As in my work and my husband’s work- we still gotta have jobs to support our family!)
That’s it. Bare bones. These are the things we absolutely need to survive and retain our standing as responsible parents.
It’s strangely relieving to simplify.
Just switching my focus is sometimes enough to give me the break I need. Just remembering that I don’t HAVE to do it all can give me the strength to do the essentials.
I want to take a minute to talk about those times when I only have hours or minutes to take care of myself or I’ll lose it.
There’s no time to plan a getaway.
And this usually happens in the thick of things, so the kids are usually right there and they need me.
And there is the problem. They need me, but I have nothing to give.
Stick to the two rules- Assess the severity of your needs (we now know that this instance is very severe) and take care of the kids’ needs, not wants. That means your kids’ needs within the next 10 minutes, which are usually very simple. They just need to be safe for 10 minutes. They don’t have to have their lunch in the next 10 minutes, so feel free to postpone eating. They don’t have to finish their homework in the next 10 minutes, so feel free to take a break from it.
Start there. Try to stay calm. Where is safe for them while you have some quiet time? What activities will keep them occupied so that you can get 5 minutes of peace?
This is where the good ol’ tactic of putting a movie on comes in handy. My kids don’t watch a lot of TV, so it holds their attention very well.
If you have a fenced backyard, you might send them outside.
Or maybe it’s best for them to go to their room for a while.
Whatever it is, simplify your mindset of what needs to happen. If you are at that point where you only have minutes, the only need that matters is that they stay safe for a sec.
That really frees up your options to meet your own needs. You can be a responsible parent and take care of yourself at the same time. There is no need to beat yourself up over 10 minutes of quiet in your room.
Besides the fact that you feel more rejuvenated after, you also set a good example for your child. They learned that when they are frustrated or overwhelmed, they can calmly take care of the necessities and then handle their own feelings in a safe and responsible way.
Children who know how to do this will become successful adults and model citizens.
Don’t Get Distracted
Be aware that your needs change every day, so a bubble bath isn’t going to fix the problem each time.
But it could be exactly what you need on some days!
Consider what you are craving at the moment. Here’s some of my favorites that fill my needs:
- Eating a treat that I don’t usually get to enjoy
- A cozy bath
- A girl’s day with my best friends
- A date night with my husband
- Quiet time after the kids go to bed
- A walk outside
- Sitting around a campfire or being in nature
- Getting dressed up and looking good
- Having a clean house… or at least one clean room… even for 5 minutes
- Going out to eat
- Snuggling my husband
- A warm cup of hot chocolate
Again, sometimes my needs are different so no single activity will solve all my problems. My poor husband often wants to help, but he can’t read my mind to know what to do for me.
I am in charge of communicating what I feel and what I need from him- in specific detail and in kind words.
I have made the mistake of asking him to pick up a treat, only to find that I wasn’t in the mood for what he brought home. It’s my job to make sure he knows if there is something specific I want or don’t want.
Don’t make the mistake of putting yourself off.
Don’t swim until you’re exhausted- leave yourself energy to get back to shore. Don’t listen to that voice in your head that tells you that you’re fine right up until you’re not fine anymore.
You’re worth taking care of.
Besides, your well being directly affects your kids. See my post on Taking Care of Others When you Have Nothing Left to Give.
Don’t Forget your Significant Other
Although I am getting better at taking care of my own needs, I have to put extra effort into watching out for my husband.
He has his own ups and downs in the parenting life and it’s my job to be a support to him when he needs a break, just like he supports me when I do.
So I’ve got to listen to him.
Not just his words, but I also watch him for signs that he might be getting burnt out. Some of my husband’s signs are the same as mine, such as irritability, but some are different.
- Spending more time alone- like going outside or being on his phone
- Comments about having a tough day at work- especially for several days in a row
- Quiet, not talkative
- Not laughing
- Worries about money more than usual
- Wants to buy things
- Less interest in being healthy (poor diet and less exercise)
My husband’s warning signs are usually cured by some time away doing things he likes to do. Here are some things that usually fill my husband’s needs:
- Fishing, camping, or other outdoors activities
- Hanging out with the guys
- Watching a movie (but not a chick flick- something he is excited about)
- A good night’s sleep
- A Saturday or a day off of work
- A little lovin’ (Fun for me too!)
- Date nights
- Buying things like fishing gear
- Going out to eat
It took some time and a lot of effort to learn these quirks about my husband, but I’m so glad I know them now!
Our life has been so much more balanced since we started being more aware of our individual needs and our needs as a couple. We look out for each other and give each other breaks OFTEN. We keep each other going. Our marriage is stronger and our kids are happier because we are happier. We are better parents.
I don’t always notice my husband’s burnout and he doesn’t always notice mine. We still have miscommunications about it. We still have to be patient with each other.
But things are better. We feel more balanced. We feel less strained.
It was so worth the effort to learn these things about my husband. If you have a partner, I strongly recommend this method!
Catch it early and don’t let negative feelings fester.
Find out what you need as an individual and get those needs met. That will allow you to continue to have the strength to be a good parent over the long-term.