Parental Burnout. For many of us just hearing these words immediately evokes emotions of overwhelming exhaustion and anxiety. We may feel alone, out of control, and unsure of how to manage all our responsibilities. We may experience irritability, disrupted sleep, headaches, lack of energy and motivation, and changes in eating habits. There may also be feelings of guilt, shame, and worry as we fear failing our children. In extreme cases, we may develop a sense of helplessness and hopelessness about life altogether. Be assured, if you are experiencing these symptoms, you are not alone.
I am a wife and a mom to three incredible kids, each with their own unique personalities and needs. Outside of my 11-year-old son who has been diagnosed with OCD, I have a 9-year-old son with unlimited amounts of energy and a teenage daughter who is balancing academic pressures and friendship drama. My typical day involves homeschooling my boys, my daughter’s school and extracurricular activities, working part-time, and graduate school assignments. Not to mention, housework, appointments, and other daily life tasks. Self-care? Even that can seem like just another thing to add to the to do list. There have been many times I felt I was drowning and unable to keep myself afloat–let alone my kids.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have our limits. Although some stress in our life is beneficial, there is a point where it can negatively impact us and those in our circle. Stress accumulates and can take a toll on us, especially when we have a child who is dealing with OCD and/or another mental health disorder that requires much of our attention and emotional energy. We may find it challenging to remain compassionate and patient with them when burnout is a reality. This is particularly true when the stress is coupled with little or no support or without the proper tools to help us cope. This was my experience, but thankfully I found some helpful advice along the way that may benefit you as well. Here are some tips and tools to help you feel confident and capable in preventing and/or dealing with parental burnout:
1. Become Self-Aware
Look for the warning signs. Access how you are feeling throughout the day. Have you been more irritable than normal? Do small changes to your schedule or interruptions in your day cause you frustration? Are you being short with your spouse or children? Pay attention to your body. Do you feel tense or anxious most of the time? Are you having difficulty sleeping at night? Are you feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted? These are often signs that we have exceeded our limit of stress and may be headed toward burnout.
2. Find Support
If you find you are experiencing burnout or are noticing the warning signs, ask for help. If you have a spouse, get them involved if possible. Perhaps another family member or friend is aware of your situation can offer encouragement or help with tasks that are contributing to your burnout. NOCD specialists are trained to come alongside not only your child who is dealing with OCD, but you as a parent as well. They can provide you with resources and support groups so that you know you are not alone and equip you to be successful at preventing burnout and compassion fatigue.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
Often burnout occurs because we expect more out of ourselves than we can accomplish or would ever expect others to accomplish. Learning to give ourselves grace and kindness with our expectations will strengthen us and free us up to give compassionate care to our child with OCD and other children. Our kids are aware of the energy we give off, so it’s important that we care for ourselves and model self-compassion.
4. Evaluate Priorities
Take inventory of what is on your plate. Ask yourself the following questions: What is causing unnecessary stress? What tasks can be put on hold? What can be eliminated from the schedule, maybe even temporary, so that life is less overwhelming and demanding? Do my children know they are a priority? How can I prioritize their needs while keeping up with work and other activities? It may be helpful to make a list to go over with your spouse, a close friend, and/or a therapist. The goal is to have manageable stress where you and your family can grow together and thrive.