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parental burnout
First Years Jul 4, 2021
7 Minutes

Ask the expert: parental burnout: how to help!

Recent research has highlighted the phenomenon of parental burnout’. This is defined as intense exhaustion related to parenting, loss of pleasure and efficacy in one’s parental role and contrast between previous and current parental self.’

In English: being so overwhelmed that you are much less equipped to enjoy life and parenting. Given the high intensity, individualist culture we live in and the added pressure of a pandemic on top of this – research shows it is something more and more of us are feeling. So, we talk to the psychotherapist, specialist in women’s mental health, author and CEO of The Recover Clinic Emmy Brunner for practical tips and tricks how to deal with this. 

For our conversation in full check out our podcast here. Or read on for some of the highlights. 

We have stopped trusting our own ability/instincts when it comes to parenting:

These days there is an expert on every niche aspect of life. It’s almost as if we should be consulting all of them if we want to parent ‘correctly’. I think this culture has really given parents’ confidence a bash. We’re in a situation where the intuitive ‘knowing’ what’s right for your children is undermined. 

We need to remind ourselves that these other people are just people with opinions…

Gathering information and listening to people’s perspectives it is good and for sure has a place. However, it is always remind ourselves that they are just other people with opinions. The trouble comes when we abandon any faith in our own judgement and intuition. 

Striving for ‘perfection’ – why?! 

Striving for perfection is a hallmark of our society. However, the question to ask is why? What is it we want to be modelling for our kids? Do we want to model absolutely perfect parenting (whatever that means) where we’re not making mistakes and getting things wrong? The trouble is that really isn’t a reflection of what life is like. I wonder what we are setting our kids up for by even aspiring to this…. 

Time to stop trying to be so ‘cloak and dagger’ about our emotional experiences with our kids: 

Sharing our struggles with children (with healthy boundaries) is better than pretending the troubles don’t exist. So, for example, if we’re having a bad day and we respond to something (which on reflection we wish we had handled differently) it’s ok to explain that you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed and that you hope next time to hence it differently. Doing this can actually be positive and even healthy. It’s certainly healthier than holding it in. 

We withhold so much of our internal experience and that can in fact be more damaging:

Its not the fact that we’re struggling or make mistakes that’s the issue – that makes us human!. Acting as if it is all ok when the energy around us is quite the reverse can be more problematic for kids. Kids are intuitive and they are likely to pick up that your words and energy do not match. That then devaluates their experience which can be confusing. What it does is to say to kids is that they can’t trust their feelings or intuition. Sharing your issues (once again in an appropriate matter) can be reassuring. When its out in the open it is often much better vs being hidden away. 

We are all expected to do more than ever and inevitably feel ‘guilt’ when we cannot do it all: 

So many of us spend our days running around and not taking a second to enjoy the ride. We fill our lives with so much ‘stuff’ and sense of chaos that is hard to gain control. It leaves us feeling stressed and frantic and becomes a self fulfilling prophecy leaving us overwhelmed. 

There is a big misconception about what it takes to be as productive as possible… 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to do a lot for yourself and for your family. However, how you approach it can cause many of the problems we’re seeing. Actually we’re at our best when we set really clear boundaries between home and work life and when we manage the expectations we have. Ask yourself, do you often feel like your head is somewhere else? That is typically a sign you need much more firm boundaries. Ironically by being more disciplined and even by giving less time to things like work can mean you are more productive when you do actually apply yourself during the allotted time. 

Ask yourself: what are your expectations of yourself? Are they realistic? 

We’re all living with a story that we tell ourselves about who we are. Formed from our experiences growing up. What is the story you’re telling yourself about who you are and what you expect? So many of us will have rules and expectations of ourselves that we wouldn’t dream of projecting onto anyone else. A lot of this is about that internal narrative. I talk a lot about this in my book: Find Your True Voice. 

Parenthood often amplifies our fears….

We are often seeking out and focusing on things that reinforce that internal narrative. So, for example if there is part of us that feels we’re not good enough parenthood amplifies these fears and adds ‘evidence’ to that unwell narrative. When we get things wrong, or are late for a pick up, it fuels that – giving ‘evidence’ to confirm our fears. As soon as we think about where this narrative really comes from it gives us a position to challenge it.

What is the story you’re telling yourself about who you are? Perhaps it’s time to change it… 

Observing and self awareness is the first step. Most people don’t even realise they’re doing it. As soon as you really understand this ‘story’ you can give yourself a more empowered position and make choices. You can then decide to switch that unwell narrative into a kinder, more realistic and more nurturing internal voice. 

There is a real myth that to be a good person, partner, parent etc our needs get pushed to the bottom: 

At a certain point you need to stop and ask: ‘how well is this working for me’? Do I find this fulfilling, am I relaxed or am I stressed, exhausted and burnt out? People are so reluctant to stop and take care of themselves, largely because they have this feeling that if they stop and relinquish control everything will fall apart. Actually the opposite is true. You invite a stillness in when you prioritise yourself. 

You are able to approach each situation with a different energy: 

This is then like a ripple on a pond that will impact every area of your life more positively. Tension in the house changes and then people feel more supported and there is then more space to be together and it begins to change. 

Even if you’re scared of doing it, have a go!

The ultimate irony is that by pushing our needs to the bottom in order to take care of others we’re less able to do any of it. Taking care of ourselves doesn’t have to be in huge time-consuming ways. It can just be small, manageable shifts in our lives. Its finding what works for you. 

Making your wellbeing a priority: 

Once again it doesn’t need to be big weekends away, it simply needs to be taking a few minutes for yourself to do something for yourself. Something you enjoy. Be that five minutes of meditation, taking 30 mins for a bath at the end of the day. Find what works for you. 

The pandemic magnified issues that were already there… 

Before we could avoid and distract and keep busy enough so those issues didn’t get our attention. We have been forced in a way to face some of these challenges. For some people it has offered a moment of reflection about what needed to change. However, it can be very overwhelming to change and its easy to get frozen. 

How we can realistically make a change: 

It can be very overwhelming to realise that a change is needed. Knowing how can be tough. However, starting from the small things can make it a lot more manageable. Thinking about what you can do today and in the moment is a great start. I am a big fan of future self journaling. It is a great way to task with what we want to change but in a gentle way. How? You pick something each month you want to change and you make it the focus for the month. Thinking each day what you want to shift. Start small. The small things stack up into a much bigger transformation. 

Tools/strategies to shift changes: 

Often people will say to me that they understand that changes need to be made but how do you realistically do it? Again, I believe practical small shifts = bigger emotional transformations. It is just knowing how. I’ve gone through a lot of this in detail in the book, but initially I’d start by looking at your daily commitments and try and cut back on those things that are not quite necessary to make things less heavy and overwhelming. Then start to focus on a little gratitude for yourself. Being grateful that you’re making it this far. Looking at what you have done and achieved vs what you have not. 

So much of being a good parent is showing up and just being there: 

It is not about always getting it ‘right’, just being there is often overlooked and shouldn’t be just brushed aside. Then it’s also about learning to partake in self care. Even a short daily meditation practise, or future self journaling. All these things can make us much more able to parent in a healthy manner.  

Guilt and shame can be very isolating: shame can keep us silenced… we need the antidote: 

Shame can’t survive silence. Sharing what we’re going through and vulnerability is a defence against shame. Often however shame about ourselves and our behaviours keeps us silent. However talking provides a natural antidote. Finding someone else or a group of people to talk to can make you feel a whole lot less lonely and can remind us that we are all going through the same thing! 

For much more from Emmy check out her site and new book: Find Your True Voice here!

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