A friend jokingly asked my wife “So, what’s it like being completely needed?” We laughed, because being completely needed makes you feel both very important, and very exhausted. Yes, a baby is totally dependent on its parents for everything, and especially dependent on Mum (us men have “useless nipples” 😉 ).
Parents feel the responsibility of caring for their totally dependent babies strongly, and readily make sacrifices for their children. Sacrifice and suffering are part of love. So, we push ourselves. “Sure, we’re tired, but baby needs us,” we tell ourselves. Or, “Oh, I can eat later, the baby needs me now.” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
All this sacrificing for our kids starts to wear us down, and eventually you reach point where they have nothing more to give… and still try to give even more. When you get there, you’ve reached parental burnout. I’m sure every parent has been there, including my wife and I.
I’ve seen multiple suggestions on how to avoid and/or deal with parental burnout. They’re filled with great practical advise. However, they all seem to miss the simplest, and most fundamental starting point…
Always Remember that You’re No Use to Anyone When You’re Dead or Burnt Out.
Remembering this one fact can stop you from feeling guilty about allocating time to care for yourself. It’ll help you keep your priorities straight.
It seems noble to sacrifice yourself completely for your kids. However, remember that you’re no help to them when you’re dead or burnt out. Your kids need you today, tomorrow, and years from now. So, it’s in your children’s best interests that you care for yourself, so that you’ll still be there for them in the long term.
At this point I’m sure a heap of excuses are bubbling up in your head. “But, you don’t understand, in my family…” Slow down, and read on with an open mind. Everyone has their challenges. How you face them makes all the difference.
Focus on What Matters Most
We’ve already established that you need to have time to look after yourself (for everyone’s benefit), and I’m sure looking after the kids is high priority too. You have the same number of hours in a day as before your children were born. So, it’s time to figure out what matters most, what is “nice” but not essential, and what you can forget about for now.
Eating and exercising well, clearly need to be high priority. Hobbies, on the other hand, are not, although I’d encourage you to still set aside some time for things you love doing.
Simplify and Streamline
Meals in our household have changed since the birth of our child. They’re simpler, and take less time to prepare. My wife often prepares multiple meals at once. Likewise, we don’t get to completely clean the house as often as we’d like, although the areas where our baby plays are kept clean, as is the kitchen.
You can often save time simply by going places when others aren’t. By that I mean: avoid rush-hour if you can. I’m sure you’ve lost plenty of time being stuck in traffic, or in queues. So, aim to avoid the rush and the queues.
We recently managed to reduce our grocery shopping time a lot. The COVID-19 pandemic social distancing restrictions made queues for grocery shopping go all the way to the back of the building. It took several attempts, but we finally found a time during the week when the line was short to non-existent. Avoiding the crowds has saved us many hours.
Got family & friends who would like to help? Accept gratefully. Having my mother-in-law in the house right after birth really helped us a lot. She helped with cooking, and looking after her granddaughter at times, so that we could have a break.
Take Time Out for Yourself and Your Spouse
All of the suggestions above have saved you time. Now, set aside time for yourself, and your wife or husband. No matter how busy things get, make time. Time for yourself helps keep you sane, and keeps your spousal relationship healthy. What you use this time for depends entirely on what you enjoy.
Also, bear in mind that you don’t necessarily need to find someone else to look after the kids/baby. My wife and I eat, pray and go for walks together, with our baby. All of this is time together for us. Other times, we take turns to look after the baby.
Be Grateful for the Little Things
At the end of every day, my wife and I find at least three things that we’re grateful for today. It’s a practise that trains your mind to see all the blessings you have. Being grateful makes life more enjoyable, and helps you get through the tough times too.
Realize Your Children Aren’t Deliberately Trying to Upset You
It’s easy to start assuming all sorts of motives for why your children don’t behave the way you want. Never assume the worst. Not only will you almost certainly be wrong, you’ll also be making yourself feel miserable and stressed out.
Instead, know that your kids are doing the best they can, and try not to take it personally when they upset you.
Enjoy Every Stage of Development for What it Is
Your child won’t be fully dependent on you forever. The day will come when you’re baby is ready to leave the nest, and you’ll miss him or her. So, enjoy each stage for what it is. Let them know when they do something you appreciate, and be loving and forgiving.
I could write many more practical things to prevent parental burnout, but then you’d feel overwhelmed. The key is to remember and remind yourself that you’re no use to your kids dead or burnt-out. That, and have a positive grateful, and forgiving attitude. You’ll figure out the how over time.
Cover photo credit: Image by Pexels.