Late nights, early mornings, dirty dishes, school runs, demanding bosses, homework, long commutes, packed lunches, and let’s not forget the fact that we have now all entered a national 4-week lockdown… Sometimes, no matter how well-intentioned we are, or how much planning we set in place, a unique set of stressors can arise leading to overwhelm aka burnout.
I myself along with other mothers I know have experienced burnout, and when it hits, it is not a pleasant feeling. In this post, I will be discussing parental burnout and share 8 ideas on ways to manage it, particularly as we have just re-entered the back to school season and have suddenly entered yet another national lockdown.
What is burnout?
I am no medical professional, so to help explain what burnout is, I have pulled a definition from the World Health Organisation, which describes it as:
The result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy (1)
Although the above definition of burnout specifically refers to work related experiences, I think we can all agree that demands such as parenting can add pressure to a working mum’s career, and have an effect on burnout, hence why I think it’s important to talk about.
Solutions on managing burnout
Creating a work life balance
First and foremost, decide on what work-life balance means to you, then begin to negotiate with your boss AND yourself (or just yourself) on how you can continue to support the business whilst also fulfilling your needs as well. This can be you setting a habit of starting or finishing work by a set time, asking for a flexible working arrangement (more on this later) or refusing to look at any emails on your days off. Bear in mind it doesn’t have to be a big adjustment; I used to be that mum that would rush out the door to pick up my daughter from nursery and spend the entire commute stressing over every little train delay, as the pressure of getting to the nursery late and having to pay a fine would eat me up so much. Adjusting my working pattern so that I start and leave work 15 minutes earlier, has made my commute a lot less ruffled and even leaves me with a bit of time to discuss my daughter’s day with her teachers. By drawing clear boundaries you can focus on and enjoy the different sides of your life, knowing that you have been fair, clear and reasonable to yourself and others around you.
Time off work
Book annual leave as soon as you can. I know for some, that even thinking about time off can make you feel guilty. But by booking time off work, you automatically open up an opportunity to look forward to stepping away from work related stress. In general it is important to take a break from work when you can, even (and I mean this with great humility) if it has to be unpaid. You are no good to your family, yourself or your career if you do not take a break from work, so it’s something worth considering.
If you don’t already know, personality profiling surveys can help point out areas about your personality such as your communication styles, your strengths and weaknesses, how you see the world, and how people perceive you professionally and personally. As humans we are all complex in our own ways, so having an idea on how you come across or how to communicate with others can help you understand and manage some of the challenges you may face internally as well externally. Give the Crystal Knows challenge a try, you might be surprised at the accuracy of your results, better yet you can even recommend it to all your colleagues and get to know each other better.
Treat yourself to something nice every now and then. Whilst your career and motherhood can be enriching, it can also deplete you if you do not take care of yourself. Again this doesn’t have to be something big, it can be a relaxing bath soak, lunch out with the girls, or even a new purchase for yourself. Treating yourself is a good way to ensure you feel cared for which in turn can make you feel motivated, encouraged, and uplifted.
If there is something you are struggling with, speak up at work (and I can’t stress this enough!). Initiate a chat with a line manager or a member of staff that can help you find a solution. If you are facing issues with your work pattern, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working, so perhaps discuss potentially working from home a few days a week, working just weekdays or weekends, or even starting and finishing earlier or later. Trust me, recruitment and training is lengthy and expensive, and a lot employers would rather keep you happy than go through the process all over again.
Lean on your friends
Talk to family/friends. Socialising has a beautiful way of alleviating stress and, and our loved ones can play a key role in helping us to feel supported. They can help give advice, perspective, encouragement and even resources.
Ahhh good old fashion sleep
Get some sleep. Our reasoning abilities are thwarted when you are tired. If it means putting the kids to bed at 7 pm so you can have a nice kip, go for it.
None of their business
And finally, don’t worry about what other people think. So what if you gave your kids a takeaway dinner or your laundry hasn’t been done for a week. These things are trivial in comparison to your wellbeing and you shouldn’t let other people’s ideas or judgements shape your unique lifestyle. As the saying goes… those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind. Just focus on what you can do, and you’ll find yourself doing a lot more in the long run.
Whether it be due to high expectations, unhealthy competition, financial stress, or a lack of support, burnout is something that needs to be managed so that it does not become draining.
From personal experience and through speaking with many of my mum friends, many of us are motivated to conform to a super-happy-super-successful-mum ideal which doesn’t even exist. It sounds silly, and honestly speaking, I do not know why the pressure exists, but it’s there. Another issue I found was with speaking up and seeking help. I know that as busy parents we sometimes don’t notice or are unaware of the help that is available to us, and other times we may just be reluctant to ask for help. But I can assure you that talking to someone who cares can open up solutions.
Motherhood can come with a great sense of duty, and whilst it is good to push yourself, we must recognise when we are going too far. As people and as mums, we only have a limited set of resources, which is ultimately no match for life’s infinite demands.