Are you stressed out? Do you feel hopeless? Do you feel like you’re a bad parent? Feel like your kid is impossible and unhelpable?
You could be suffering parental burnout.
OK, that sounds like a TV commercial advertising an amazing new quick fix for a disease.
Oh, if only it was that easy.
“Parenting is really hard, and that’s OK, ” says Neil D. Brown, a Santa Cruz, Calif., psychotherpist who wrote the book “Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle.” He’s been studying how parents get burned out and what they can do to get out of that cycle of control battles and burnout.
Burnout can happen when your kids are any age, newborn to high schooler, he says.
How do you know if you’re burned out? It’s feeling all of those things above, plus you might also feel anxiety, low energy, lowered immune system and all the symptoms of depression, Brown says.
If you are feeling some of that or all of that, what then?
Brown gives us these three things to do:
- Get out of the parenting pattern you are in. Often, it’s a control battle. Kids know how to push your buttons and they are doing it well.
At some point, the behavior that they are doing becomes acceptable and parents become too tired to fight it.
“You have to get out of that battle and move forward,” he says.
Brown suggests that instead of doing “consequences” for their bad behavior, have expectations of good behavior. Instead of threatening to take a phone away if kids don’t do their homework, the phone becomes a privilege they can earn when they do their homework. You’re not fighting. You’re just matter of fact about what is expected.
- Get support. Parents, he says, “have to have some sense that they are being successful, that things are getting better, that things are working.”
You really need someone who will affirm that you are doing a good job or at least trying really hard. You need that person that will give you honest feedback. “It’s really nice if it comes from a co-parent,” Brown says, but it could also come from a neighbor, a fellow parent at school or a friend.
- Practice self-care. Brown likens parenting burnout to battered woman syndrome. The cycle messes up your sense of reality. Everyone can tell you that you need to be the parent and have the phone be a privilege, not an entitlement, and you might know that you need to do that, but you just can’t.
Or it’s like someone who is depressed. They know they need to eat well and exercise and get out of bed, but they just don’t know how.
Parenting burnout lowers your self-esteem. You put everyone else’s needs before yours because you don’t feel worth it. “But I don’t count. But my needs don’t matter.”
You have to find places to practice that self-care. Go out with friends. Start having “me” time at the gym. Your life cannot be all about your child. You cannot define who you are based on your child.
Doing these things is hard and takes time and diligence. “Everyone comes in looking for a quick fix,” Brown says.
The first thing is really to get parents to understand that they are burnt out, that it’s a real thing. “They think ‘I suck’ or ‘I’m bad at this’ or ‘I don’t have a good kid.’
“Your kid is great and so are you,” he says. “You’re in the mud together.”
Time to get out from being stuck in the mud, get the support and take care of yourself, so you can be the better parent.
Remember, just like in the plane, always put your oxygen mask on first.