While it’s really the only major holiday most people get, the end-of-year holiday can still be an enormous challenge. Initially, we relish the extra time spent with our children, but after a while, things can take a turn for the worse. With Christmas, family and seemingly endless Christmas duties fading into the distance, the days begin to blend into a monotonous haze of keeping the children entertained. At this juncture, it isn’t unusual for parents to find themselves merely surviving the last few unstructured days of vacation, yearning for the comforting routine of the school term. With so much to do, the looming threat of burnout is ever-present.
But what exactly is parental burnout? Often, when we think of burnout, our minds conjure images of overworked healthcare professionals, underappreciated corporate employees, and overburdened helping professionals. However, burnout isn’t exclusive to those in the workforce; it also extends to the relentless, round-the-clock duties of parenting. Parental burnout manifests as an amalgamation of overwhelming exhaustion, emotional detachment, and a pervasive feeling of inadequacy as a parent, stemming from persistent parental stress. It manifests in various unpleasant ways, such as a persistent foul mood, a sensation of being perpetually “touched out,” impaired cognitive function, and more.
Regrettably, when left unaddressed, parental burnout can lead to sleep disorders, chronic physical health issues, increased alcohol consumption, thoughts of self-harm, marital discord, and even child neglect or abuse.
If you find yourself entertaining thoughts of self-harm or harm to others, it is extremely important that you seek help from therapists, and medical professionals, even if only at your local clinic.
What causes parental burnout?
We are frequently bombarded with the notion that mothers and fathers possess superhuman abilities, capable of effortlessly juggling countless responsibilities while cradling a baby (or two). However, no one is a superhero, we are human beings. If we attempt to embody the superhero archetype, burnout can swiftly become a stark reality.
The risk of burnout for any parent escalates if we:
- Lack support from our co-parent, family, or friends.
- Maintain a job alongside parenting duties.
- Have a child with special needs or medical complications.
- Face financial hardships.
- Harbour a history of self-doubt, depression, anxiety, or perfectionism.
- Struggle to seek assistance when needed.
Most of us encounter one or more of these challenges at some point. Nevertheless, when multiple risk factors converge and our coping mechanisms prove insufficient, we find ourselves on the brink of exhaustion.
The end-of-year holiday, it seems, is the ideal breeding ground for burnout. Caretaking responsibilities persist without respite. Perhaps, in addition, you are attempting to balance a full-time job with your children’s summer activities. Moreover, the absence of a structured school routine can send children into a state of chaos. And let’s not forget the sweltering heat outside.
How to cope with parental burnout
There is some uplifting news: burnout is temporary, and there are steps you can take to mitigate it.
Here are seven strategies to cope with end-of-summer burnout:
- Embrace self-compassion: Extend the same kindness to yourself as you would to a friend experiencing burnout. It’s so important that we watch what we are saying to ourselves and squash any negative internal monologues. You know you are doing your best, treat yourself gently.
- Adjust your expectations: Ease the pressure of creating extraordinary summer memories for your children. They are having a wonderful time even if you do take an hour or two off.
- Reinstate a routine: Transition back to a school-like routine a few days before it begins.
- Set and uphold boundaries: While flexibility is vital, maintaining certain rules and boundaries helps maintain harmony.
- Increase leisure time: Prioritize short breaks during the day for your well-being. Don’t be afraid to take a long bath, or sit quietly outside with a cup of tea.
- Leverage external support: Utilize the assistance of family, friends, or babysitters to grant yourself some respite.
- Prioritize sleep: Ensure you get adequate, restful sleep, even amid the Christmas excitement.
Remember, you are nearly through the challenges of Christmas. You are not flawed for finding these times challenging or feeling weary of your children. The end-of-year holidays are a particularly demanding time for parents, and you are not alone in this struggle.