Being the round the clock caregiver for a baby or young children is literally exhausting in every way possible. It is vital that we also take care of ourselves, before we totally crash and burn.
Most of us are familiar with the term burnout, it gets used a lot in the professional world to describe the mental, physical and emotional toll from chronic stress. It also applies to the profession of motherhood.
After a year of lockdowns, quarantine, distance learning, closed attractions and toilet paper shortages - just about every mom on the planet has likely dealt with some level of burnout.
But even without a pandemic, night feeds, solo parenting, temper tantrums and homework woes can bring even the most resilient mom to her knees.
We all know it takes a village, and the most obvious way to prevent and cope with caregiver burnout is to get some extra hands on deck to help you out, but that isn’t always possible or sustainable.
Our current culture means we may live long distances from family, financial restraints may keep us from being able to afford childcare and circumstances brought on by the pandemic have likely taken any existing obstacles to the extreme.
So what’s a worn out mama to do? Being a stay at home mom, whose spouse travels for extended periods, with immediate family and friends in different cities, now a year deep in this pandemic - I have come up with a few strategies that help me and I hope they can help you too.
Here are my best tips for preventing and coping with caregiver burnout:
Carve out alone time: For me this has taken different shapes over the years, but like many moms will tell you, the time slot that seems to have the best effect on my overall wellbeing is in the morning before the kids wake up.
I know this can sound daunting if it is not your usual routine, but when you establish it you will quickly find a much better center when you have even just a few moments to yourself and don’t allow your child(ren) to be your alarm clock.
One exception is if you are still nursing at night, in which case this never was a possibility for me, but if that is the case you likely can catch some alone time during your child’s nap, even if it requires some screen time for any older, non-nappers.
Which brings me to my next tip,
Loosen the standards: Modern parents are well aware of the woes and worries about too much screen time, and this can be a slippery slope if you become too loose on boundaries, BUT in many ways it becomes a necessity to at least slightly relax your grip on the expectations you have around certain parts of the day.
It might mean ordering take out instead of making dinner, or playing in the backyard instead of going to the park. Maybe you read a few less books at bedtime or say no to playing Candy Land. When you are the one doing it all (or most of it), it’s totally acceptable to do less.
For me a huge one is screen time. I really hate my kids just zoning out like zombies in front of Paw Patrol or some other obnoxious well dressed advertisement, but I can at least admit that the boob tube has been one of my best helpers in making it through this pandemic.
I find facts to really help me when I find myself needing to lower the bar, so as far as screen time I know that while 1 hour a day is the recommendation - the concern from professionals is not so much the tv itself as it is what the kids are missing out on while watching.
And this is where the next tool comes in,
Have self compassion: Practicing self compassion is something all mothers must learn to do, especially in times of near or full on burnout.
We did not wish this pandemic upon ourselves, we did not close the kid’s museums and libraries. We did not close the schools or the parks or any of the other fun places us loving mamas like to take our little ones.
An extra hour of tv is not going to cause children long term harm if it means that it is giving mom the time and space she needs to have the energy to provide the opportunities of play and connection that they really need.
Happy moms = happy kids. If mom is on the verge of an anxiety attack or stuck in a downward spiral, that is going to have much more of a negative effect on those little people than some Disney+.
If screens are allowing you a much needed break - accept that that is the season you are in and be kind to yourself.
Here are some of the ways I like to be kind to myself, that help me when facing burnout:
Take a long shower or bath after putting the kids to sleep
Meditating in the mornings before the kids wake up
Taking the time to do my nails
Not allowing myself to skip my am + pm skincare routines
Going out for coffee instead of making it at home
Batch making school lunches / always having one in the fridge
Ordering groceries / doing pickup
Only doing the must dos
Sharing my struggle with a friend
Slowing down to get kids to help (picking up toys, cleaning up crafts, etc.)
One thing at a time rule (put stuff away before moving on to next activity)
A good hearty cry
Flossing (it’s such an easy thing to skip, and gives huge signals of self care to the mind)
Put everything in the dishwasher (including things I would normally hand wash)
Rest that isn’t “earned”
Singing / dancing while making dinner
Allowing each day to be a fresh start
Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance
Going to bed EARLY
I hope you can find something here that helps you know that you aren't alone, or a bad mom in feeling burnt out - it is normal, it is very common and it is something you can come out on the other side of stronger tha you were before.
Finding even the littlest of things that help you when your load feels like more tha you can carry will eventually become the pieces you need to build a cart - and you will be able to handle a load more than you could ever have imagined possible.
So much love mama,