Parental Burnout In a Pandemic:: Know the Signs and Learn to Cope

Parental Burnout In a Pandemic:: Know the Signs and Learn to Cope

If you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and depleted, you are not alone. Most of us have been pouring from empty cups for months now, and are living with parental burnout. We’ve been facing what feels like one impossible decision after another, under extreme circumstances with limited support and reduced access to the people and resources that might otherwise help us reset and recharge. And while there is now a vaccine, that news seems to come with its own set of stressors not the least of which is that it’s not readily available even for those of us who might want to get it.

Lately it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be on a train barreling down the tracks ahead of the one we’re on and we just don’t seem to be able to catch it. I don’t know about you, but I need to pull my train over for a pit stop. My train has run out of steam. 

The quality of my parenting in the past month has taken a noticeable dive. My kids {6 & 4} have eaten more “meals” comprised of apple sauce pouches and chips than I’d like to admit. Our screen time has almost no limits and what they’re watching on those screens knows no bounds. They’re limited to the “kid” profiles but are enjoying an endless buffet of trash my pre-pandemic self would have never let them watch. Any progress I made earlier this year with my goal to yell less seems to have been wiped out in the past few months. A return to in person school has come with the familiar return of the frantic rush to get out the door no matter how much time we try to plan. I still do not entirely understand why the phrase “put on your shoes” uttered for the 45th time in a row has the power to send me over the edge.

Parental Burnout In a Pandemic:: Know the Signs and Learn to Cope

Signs of Parental Burnout

According to the World Health Organization signs of burnout include::

  • “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion”
  • “Increased mental distance from one’s job”
  • “Feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job”
  • “A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment”

It’s hard to imagine there are any parents in the world not feeling some degree of parental burnout as we continue pressing on in this pandemic. A 2019 research study published in Clinical Psychological Science found a correlation between parental burnout and increased fantasies about leaving or escaping, parental neglect and aggressive parenting behaviors like spanking and slapping. The consequences of unmanaged parental burnout can be detrimental to us and our kids. Since it’s unclear when we will reach the light at the end of the tunnel, we need to find some better ways of coping and tolerating what we’re feeling.

Coping with Burnout in Motherhood

Self compassion

I am not a monster. I am human. I have limits and I’ve clearly hit them. I must take care of myself in order to take care of others. Good moms need breaks too. I can love my kids and resent the energy it takes to parent them sometimes.

Acceptance

Things feel hard right now because they are. Things will not always be this hard. I can do hard things {thanks Glennon!}. 

Adjust expectations

The ICD 10 published by the WHO defines burnout as “a vital state of exhaustion.” This is not the time to be a hero in the parenting category. Good enough parenting is the bar. I care about my kids coming out of this feeling protected, safe and loved. I hope my husband and I come out of this mostly still liking each other. I want to come out of this feeling like we did the best we could with what we knew and what we had. There’s no award for “perfect pandemic parent.” 

Self care

While spa days and girls’ weekends might be off the table right now, doing things that bring me joy are not. I will say yes to more things that bring me joy. I will say no to things that don’t. I will bake cookies {and eat them}. I’ll move my body in ways that feel good to me. I will rest when I need to. I’ll let the dishes sit a little longer than I’d like and snuggle on the couch with my kids if that’s what my heart needs. I’ll say no to pretend play just about every time they ask because I. just. can’t. 

Ask for and accept help

I will ask my husband for support and help when I need it. I will tell my friends how I’m really doing when they ask. I will see a therapist when I need to. I will take medicine to help me cope with my anxiety. And I will not feel ashamed or guilty about any of it.

Almost all of my reliable coping skills feel inaccessible and I don’t have the capacity to develop new ones right now. We all need help sometimes. I don’t need to make this harder on myself than it needs to be. And you don’t need to either. This is not forever, but this is how it is right now.


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