For February, we’re focusing on parent burnout! I’m not sure why, actually. It’s about one year into the Pandemic, and honestly, I’m feeling fine. Having had my kids with me 24/7 for the last 350 days with few social outlets disrupted work and life routines, and remote schooling is a bowl of cherries! Peaches and cream! It’s even easy peasy, lemon squeezy. That’s us, a bunch of squeezed lemons!
I mean, just this morning at school time I told one kid to log in and was met with unbridled enthusiasm. “ALREADY?!” she wailed. Wailing is so magical in the morning, don’t you think? Their eyes welled up, they were so excited.
I fed both children a carefully considered homemade breakfast of whatever comes out of a cereal box or can be warmed up in the microwave because I love my children and nutrition is very important. I lovingly tossed it onto the table in front of them without a backward glance. My other child had a new virtual meeting this morning, one apparently requiring repeating things with an empty mouth. We are very good at following rules and expectations here so I signed them in with breakfast. We call this “practicing multitasking,” and not to brag, but my kids are advanced multitaskers. Don’t be too jealous when you see them chomping away at this pandemic and remote learning one semi-open mouthful of Rice Krispies at a time.
As you can see, remote learning is really going well. The older one has figured out how to keep the camera off just long enough to do anything but schoolwork and not get in trouble. Playdough toenails! Kitchen creations! Lying on the floor crying! So creative! The younger prefers a more direct approach of either shutting the Chromebook (with or without tossing it across the room) or battling it with foam Minecraft swords while shouting, “No school! No school!” Isn’t it neat to see how siblings can develop such distinct personalities and problem-solving skills? I love how the Pandemic brings that out. In fact, I love everything about this Pandemic, including delaying career goals and the ways that remote learning creates friction in our days and makes my kids hate school.
Wait—did I say it makes them hate school? They say that from time to time, since last March. They’re such jokesters. Such senses of humor. Humor is a high-level coping mechanism, by the way. Everyone keeps saying how this experience will make kids resilient. And it’s true—SO resilient. I mean, just a while ago my older came up the stairs spouting a litany of all my failures as a parent because I had spent so much time helping our sword-slinging class evader onto Zooms this morning. Man, this Pandemic experience really HAS made them resilient! So much resilience everywhere! Look at this young human, so in touch with their feelings and formulating such a strong voice to express them with. #SoBlessed
As you might be able to guess, I am able to get a lot of work done during the day. That’s because I somehow got a new job during the Pandemic: Closet Hider-Outer III. I’m supposed to make extra trips there during the day to take lots of deep breaths. Other job duties include cooking (again and again and again ad infinitum ad nauseum), picking up after people (again and again and again ad infinitum ad nauseum), and other duties as assigned. I’m really good at the first part—the cooking and cleaning are on my performance plan, which I keep filed over there.
What do you mean that’s a garbage can?
Burnout, schmurnout. Everything is running like clockwork over here. Smooshed lemons and all that. I even got this out in time to focus on parenting burnout in Feb—WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT IS MARCH? #@!*.
As you can see we are all feeling a bit like smooshed lemons and not so much like the lemonade, especially a year into the life change that was so dramatically placed upon us a year ago. In fact, mentally and physically, our bodies are remembering the moment this stress came laid to bare. We have been in such a fog and bleariness of the groundhog day effect of a pandemic that now when faced with decisions and choices like hybrid learning and changes to schedules we are left frozen…. wondering what to do next. What is the right decision, what is the decision I want, yet what is the decision I need to make for the family? Decision fatigue is REAL! ARRGG this time is difficult and seemingly unrelenting.
And yet, we have developed resilience for change, many believed that last March there were so many impossible NEW things we had to integrate into our lives, and yet… WE DID IT.
We did it because humans CAN be flexible, especially when forced -If our brains can just get out of the way for a moment. So here are some reminders that many of us who are experiencing parental burnout need right now. It is a real thing and it does take its toll on our health and well-being, especially that of our littles that see our stress and mirror it. See above for the gracious examples given!
Here are 20 reminders to focus on this March to work to avoid the Parental Burnout of 2020 that has bled into 2021.
1. Perfectly imperfect is the goal.
No matter what you have been doing to survive the last year, know that perfect is an impossible goal and one many parents gave up on a long time ago. Have expectations and work to lower them when needed. When you get it wrong, reconnect and repair then move forward, don’t let it stick with you. Strive for the “good enough” days while focusing on making moments of silliness with your kids.
2. Stay Connected
Find the people that matter. The ones that you can vent, cry and laugh with especially after losing it. Being able to reach out- text, call, visit(socially distanced of course). Believe me when I say they need you too. We all need the validation that we are in unusual times that have tilted our world for the foreseeable future. We need to role model that staying connected has value and keeps ourselves healthy to our littles.
3. Nurture your grownup relationships.
Or your friendships -- your adult relationships! Parents, your children need to see you thrive in your adult relationships (and/or your marriage!) It is not uncommon for one to neglect their marriage/relationship when dealing with excessive amounts of stress and change. I think we all could agree that the last year has brought on more than we can chew at times and it can be easy to neglect the ones that care about us the most. We don’t want our kids thinking growing up means losing friends!
5. “Special time” is required.
Staying connected with those that have been on our last nerve seems masochistic however, when you can find 5-10 min a day to DO what they enjoy- you are filling their love tanks, repairing the relationship, and developing resiliency. This means learning Minecraft, getting on the floor and wrestling, and listening to your teen’s favorite album are ALL things that take little energy beyond BEING WITH them and showing they belong to you and are worthy of being seen.
6. Oxygen mask yourself first.
You can’t give that which you don’t have. If you have nothing left in the tank you can’t fake it till you make it, you will just crash. I know it seems IMPOSSIBLE to take time, like when you say? Anywhere like in the car, on the front porch, in the bathroom, during nap time, you may even have to schedule it. Remember even laying with and cuddling your babe taking some deep breaths is having some calm moments that can help give yourself a needed breather.
7. Predictability matters
While routines matter and are important your sanity may need more flexibility and forgiveness. Stick to times and activities staying in ORDER not so much being rigid about it. So what if dinner is 30min late or just ends up being cereal… that is OK! Focus on the fun and connections you are making while flowing with your routine, and lowering your expectations. Keep a visual schedule on the wall, have the kids track what is next, have them be part of the routine. Kids you feel connected BEHAVE well.
8. Be silly & play
When stress is high we need all the dopamine hits we can take that boosts our mood. So finding the moments of breaking out in song (when the kids are arguing), have a dance party before dinner (show your kids your moves!), or do your best animal impressions and wiggle/stomp/gallop your way to the next activity. It all matters because nothing is better than resetting the mood with play- our natural mood regulator. You are never too old to play.
9. Stay in your Window
We speak to knowing your “window of tolerance” in our Playful Wisdom Foundations Course. When you know how to regulate yourself or CALM down you gain so much more confidence in your ability to manage stress. Whether overstimulated or lethargic and unable to get off the couch, learning what regulates you and brings you back into your “Window” is invaluable to managing stress these days.
10. See what they see.
You often know when your temper is rising and forget to pay attention to the aforementioned window of tolerance until it’s too late. Ask your kids "How do you know mom is mad, sad, happy?" They will tell you what they see are your “tells” informing them of your physical and mental state. The crappy part is there is a high likelihood your kids will be “mirroring” your state so your first registration may be seeing their behavior in your own. Nothing more frustrating and heart-wrenching than seeing your little "be just like you” in their big emotions. Yet, it is how their brain works- they mirror us in order to learn how to be human. Check yourself.
11. Give yourself Grace
We must learn to give ourselves the grace and allowances that we so freely give to others. If we understand that others are going to make mistakes and have moments of humanity, we have to face the truth that we are too… and that is perfectly ok. Showing yourself grace can look like simply being aware of your emotions in your present moment, or practicing positive self-talk and affirmations. Maybe just patting yourself on the back -because you got this!
12. Learn to RESPOND
What are you saying to yourself these days? Likely they aren’t the kindest… while we might not be able to manage our body stress instantaneously, we can be active in managing our thoughts. Our feelings of despair, failure, resentment, and just plain anger- feelings aren’t facts. When we can learn to respond versus react we are more successful in keeping balance in your relationships all around.
14. Move it before you lose it
Movement can be ANYTHING! Being in front of screens has not helped our bodies any. We know that moving our bodies (even if you don’t want to call it exercise) is necessary for a healthy mood. So do a dance party, lunges with the groceries, walk with the family after dinner, bike ride with the kids, or maybe some rough and tumble play with the kids- all which are considered exercise and movement. Our children NEED to see us put our bodies first and see how it manages our stress levels too.
16. Nurture with nourishment
Sometimes nurturing ourselves is remembering to feed our bodies correctly. It has become easy to just throw things together in our fogged and stressed out states. However, good nutrition brings multiple benefits to our well being. We feel better when we eat good. We are social with each other over meals. It is a life skill to learn to cook healthy meals so make it a family activity.
17. Get enough ZZZZZZZZ!
Sleep is necessary for our bodies to heal and repair themselves, so everyone in the family needs good sleep hygiene. Getting enough sleep is good for everyone's mood, body, and soul! Routines are important when it comes to sleep and if it is the ONE routine you do in the home, let it be this one.
18. Power off
Although digital media and connection have been helpful these last few months it also is causing us STRESS and Anxiety. Doom scrolling, mindless suffering and social comparison only lead to negative feelings, depression and anxiety. Set boundaries with yourself and kids about how much media is consumed daily. Use App and WIFI limiters as reminders to do something different. Disengaging allows you time to reconnect with your kids, partners and friends the old fashioned way playing games, doing art, or just getting outside for a walk.
19. Keep your kids connected
Siblings are getting on each other's nerves after a year inside together. Part of connections is them having time together and time apart, and time with you! Encourage activities they all enjoy, foster shared interest and let them play Minecraft a little longer one day as long as they are working well together. Alone time is a healthy skill to foster in kids as it allows them time to recharge, rest, decompress and be ready to come out and connect again! Having kids spend time with friends playing outside letting them use their imaginations is wonderful during this time. Siblings building a fort inside or out is precious and a memory they won’t forget. Foster sibling relationships.
20. Play Outside
Nature HEALS. You can not get enough outside time! Being outside has been proven to decrease stress and naturally send the calming neurotransmitters to your brain. Being outside refreshes us, grounds us, and encourages us to move our bodies and be creative with ease. Playing is easier done outside, it's more spontaneous and supports the well-being of the WHOLE family.
So no matter what your situation is, this last year has been HARD.
Learning to LEAN-IN and be CURIOUS takes work and your mental, emotional, & soul health deserves it. Of course it is work that no one really wants to do right now, because we are EXHAUSTED. However this is the time where we get to make choices, to be curious-less reactive and rigid. We can’t choose everything that our children experience, but we do get to choose how we respond and how our children see us respond to this ongoing seemingly forever crisis. It’s not easy and the struggle is real - trust us - we are play/child mental health specialists, and we are struggling too! We strive to practice gratitude in these moments. Give it a try too.
Find your tribe, support one another, and keep practicing the goals above. And when you mess up, because you will, have some compassion for yourself and keep moving forward and try again. It is the repair and acknowledgement of our mistakes that allow our kids to learn it's OK to be authentically themselves.
To be HUMAN and to know failure. To be curiosity, to learn, and to grow with alongside us.
Katrina Swenson & Cary M Hamilton