“Mom! I want a snack!”
“Dad! I need help reaching my toy!”
“I think I just broke this!”
“Guys! LISTEN to me!”
Demands like these can happen throughout the day in any household. While the needs of children shift as they get older and become more independent, parents still always have to be “on” – in tune with where their children are, what they’re doing, and what they should be doing instead.
But when you always are on, it’s easy to burn out, and a burnt-out parent can’t perform the way they want to. What’s worse is that they are left with very little to give to others and even less to themselves; this burnout can often lead to depression. According to the National Center for Biotechnological Information, depression is “significantly associated with more hostile, negative parenting, and with more disengaged (withdrawn) parenting, both with a moderate effect size.” This intrinsic correlation between parenting and mental wellness can escalate without parents noticing.
Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be this way!
You can stay present and engaged with your children without sacrificing your own mental wellness. With some introspection, reflection, and intention, you can become a better caregiver, stronger partner, and healthier individual.
1. Acknowledge everything that you’re feeling
Because your children require so much attention, it’s tempting to push aside your own feelings and label them as selfish, secondary, and not important. It’s especially easy to feel guilty for wanting to be alone, even for 10 minutes to recharge. However, your feelings are just as valid as your children’s, and if you push those feelings down, you run the risk of resenting your children. Try applying a simple tip rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy: when a negative feeling arises (i.e., frustration due to a defiant child or annoyance at the cluttered toys), write it down on a piece of paper or on a note on your phone saying what it is (“I feel frustrated that my child still won’t listen to me”), then rip up the paper or delete the note. This will let you name the feeling, acknowledge it and move on rather than having it stifle you.
2. Take time to check in with your partner
They say the key to any successful relationship is communication. This especially applies to parenting. If you feel on the verge of burnout, you owe it to your partner to let them know how you are feeling. Burnt-out parents can lead to burnt-out romantic relationships as well. By communicating honestly, you may even find that your partner is depressed or anxious and has their own mental health struggles. Support each other as you both try to be the best parents you can be.
If you don’t have a partner, communicate this to a trusted friend or your own parent. Don’t carry your burdens alone!
3. Find things that bring you life, and do them
Part of checking in with your partner or someone in your support system means finding ways to care for yourself. Do you have hobbies or interests outside of parenting that you miss or would like to pursue? Or do you just want a quiet house to yourself so you can accomplish your never-ending to-do list without distractions? Whatever brings you joy and fulfillment, make it a priority to do those things.
4. Build a network with other parents
They say it takes a village to raise a child. What if that village actually could help parents support one another? There’s great power in being vulnerable with others. Researcher Brene Brown went viral for her TED Talk on vulnerability: “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.” By being honest with other parents, you can build friendships with those who are trying to figure it all out. Find other parents in your circle and lean on one another in a number of ways:
- Offer to babysit for each other to pursue hobbies or chores on your own.
- Plan play dates so your children can bond and the adults can have an actual conversation.
- Be honest and vulnerable about how you’re feeling, and support each other in your struggles.
Wherever you are in your parenting journey, remember to take care of yourself. You’ll be healthier and happier and, as a result, you’ll be a better parent to your children.