Parental burnout: ‘I’m just so tired of barely holding things together’
Exhausted parents open up to Amanda Cassidy
I’m thinking it’s a leftover dinner night. I’m thinking about the GAA form I’ve to fill in and the grandparents project my 11-year-old needs my help with. The youngest needs a haircut, the oven needs attention, I’ve four deadlines and my nails are a disgrace. I have missed three pilates classes, my daughter needs more help with reading, my son’s gum-shield has been lurking somewhere in the car, and come to think of it, the NCT is coming up.
The cubs badges need sewing on jumpers. (The kids second attempt failed), swimming lessons should be booked, I’ve an outstanding dental appointment and its bedclothes day.
In the past, the phenomenon of parental burnout was usually applied to parents of sick children when prolonged situations of emotional imbalance and stress exceeds the resources to cope with it.
But these days, being overwhelmed by our role as a parent is a more everyday occurance. We’re working more and we’re investing more into hands-on parenting.
That’s the eternal struggle of parenthood, isn’t it? Trying to manage it all, with much less time. The kids don’t care – they just want mummy snuggles and increasingly extended screen time. Meanwhile I feel as if I’m being sliced into such fine pieces that there isn’t much left at all.
“It was only when things slowed down that I realised how wound up I was all the time about everything”
Psychologist Kate Alders warns that mothers who put that much pressure on themselves end up snapping and then regretting their negative reactions. “If you are exhausted and haven’t done anything for yourself, you won’t respond in the best way to something that pushes you over the edge. Recharging yourself helps you handle those emotions.”
It makes sense that if you can’t handle your own emotions then how can you manage a child’s?
“I’ve never been a patient person” admits Louise, a mum of three from North Dublin. “But before remote working, almost everything made me angry – my husband not closing a door, my four-year-old refusing to eat her dinner, something silly on the TV…I was constantly ready to scream.”
Louise says that the pandemic gave her and her husband more flexibility with work which meant she had a better work/life balance when it came to her family.
“It was only when things slowed down that I realised how wound up I was all the time about everything.”
Susanna, a Donegal-born accountant in Dublin said it was the opposite for her. “Managing work from home with a family was a nightmare. All the lines were blurred. Suddenly I was a mother at the office and an accountant in the playground. Everything was overwhelming. I was exhausted yet couldn’t sleep because I’d so much to juggle.”
Emily, a stay-at-home mum says that saying no to things has helped with her pressures. “I’d try to chase every little thing – even the things my friends were doing. I found myself constantly feeling like I was trailing behind, or not doing enough for my kids. I just got so tired of barely holding things together all the time.
Something had to give. So I started to focus on my own values and to remember that other people’s circumstances are different so not to compare. It wasn’t easy but I tried to pare back and simplify things and remind myself the kids didn’t need violin lessons on top of the 15 other activities I was driving them to each week.”
Of course, all that’s easier said than done. Plus we live in a society where there is constant pressure to stay busy. For me, I’ve learnt to recognise when I’m close to my limits and I try to carve out time to do things that help me unwind – reading, writing, going out with my dogs. I try to remind myself that I’m only one person and that nothing has to be perfect. It just has to be enough. We all find ways to decompress, finding small ways to fit that in – that’s the secret to escaping mummy burnout.