It is normal for all parents to feel burnt out from time to time, but to be constantly running on empty is a problem. So, how do we recharge?
Keeping Your Cup Full; Avoiding Parental Burnout
Whether you’re a mum or a dad, I’m sure you will agree that parenting can be draining! As much as we adore our children and as rewarding those oh-so-special moments can be, parenting can often feel all-consuming. From the newborn days when even a shower feels like novelty, to toddlerhood where the day is spent exhausting the energy of a walking, talking nuclear power plant. And now with the summer holidays in full swing, no doubt many parents are beginning to feel the fatigue of busying children who otherwise had 6 hours straight of activities planned out for them, 5 days a week! It really can feel like all you’re doing is parenting sometimes.
Almost 2 years after becoming a parent, my biggest realisation has been this; you cannot fill from an empty cup. No matter how guilty we feel for taking some time for ourselves, we will be better parents for our children afterwards.
The other big realisation I’ve had is just how fortunate we are to be in a generation where the need for a break is actually recognised- I know this definitely was not the case for many of our parents and grandparents. There was no such thing as a break, you just cracked on and sometimes simply cracked under all the pressure. I hope with time and education, we can normalise self-care as parents, guilt-free.
Signs of an empty cup
Some of the signs of parental burnout include desiring distance from our children, irritability, feeling drained all the time- either physically, mentally or both, anxiety, increased family conflicts and a short temper. For many parents, burnout can go on for so long that all these feelings are normalised and just deemed to be a normal part of being a parent. It is normal for all parents to feel this way from time to time, but to be constantly running on empty is a problem.
So, how do we refill our cups? How do we avoid or even remedy parental burnout? I’m far from an expert but these are just a few tips I’ve picked up over the last couple of years.
Simple but consistent routines for yourself (yes, YOU!)
While a full-on spa day or a week long getaway would be amazing, let’s be honest- it just isn’t realistic for most of us. What I have found to be really effective is having simple but consistent activities that keep us feeling like ourselves. It might be a daily walk, a skincare routine, or weekly 5-a-side match. Anything that makes us feel good without breaking the bank or taking up an unreasonable amount of time will do the job. The spa days and holidays are a big bonus, nonetheless! We often underestimate how much calm and normality these seemingly mundane activities can bring to a chaotic and exhausting day.
Have a frank conversation with your other half or support network
Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, but when you’re under the pressures of parenting, it becomes even more crucial. Between sleep deprivation, errands, school runs, financial pressures and all the other challenges children bring, it’s important to both communicate your own needs, and also know how your other half is feeling. It can be very easy to become resentful when our spouse or support network don’t show up when we need them- a little dialogue can quickly quell that resentment. It can be surprising to learn that our spouse may be feeling just as anxious or stressed as us, and we start seeing each other through a much more merciful lens. Remember- nobody is a mind-reader! We can only expect support if we communicate what we are struggling with. As cliche as it sounds- teamwork, teamwork, teamwork!
Accept the reality of your situation
Whoever said you can have it all, lied. We have a limited store of energy and time. As much as we’d love to do all the things we did pre-parenthood and be the parent we want to be, it’s simply impossible. Acknowledge that some activities just won’t be realistic for a while and that many of your decisions will revolve around your child/children. If you’re a new parent, this might mean planning things around nap times and bedtimes. For more seasoned parents, your children may have their own activities, playdates, clubs and classes that need to be worked around. Acceptance is liberating- it’s far easier working around realistic boundaries than trying to achieve the unachievable, and be left feeling defeated and confused when it doesn’t work out. Almost 2 years into this journey, I’ve found that learning to say ‘no’ or ‘we won’t be available this weekend’ has honestly reduced my own stress levels dramatically. The pressure to turn up and commit to everything that’s on offer can be overwhelming.
Get some couple time in there!
(If you’re a new parent- I promise this does eventually become possible!) Many of us can end up feeling like just mum or just dad and not so much a desired husband or wife. Don’t wait for spare time to magically appear (trust me, it won’t)- carve that time out deliberately and keep it sacred. Turn down other activities if you have to, but make sure you get regular alone time with your other half, even if it’s short. You’ll be surprised how connected you can feel just from an hour of non-child-related chitchat. If you have capacity for a date night or a a few hours out together, even better! But remember- every little helps. It’s also important to check in with one another and help each other realise when a break is needed.
Revisit and renew your intentions
Islam has placed utmost importance on intention or Niyyah– the aspect of an action which brings weight and value to it. As parents, it can be easy to fall into autopilot and forget why we wanted to become parents in the first place. Some of us wanted to dedicate our children to Islam. Some of us wanted to build God-centric families, but with the chaos of the day-to-day, it’s no surprise we all lose sight of these promises and pledges from time to time. Speak to Allah- share your difficulties with Him and renew your oaths. And remember- Allah knows our most secret intentions and acknowledges every effort we make as parents, even if the outcomes are not what we want or expect. He sees every struggle and will respond to us if we call upon Him¹.
I hope the above tips have been helpful, whether you’re a mum or a dad. Parenthood is a journey of self-knowledge and with time, I pray we can learn to recognise the signs of needing to recharge within ourselves, and do so guilt-free insha’Allah. No doubt, our children will benefit just as much as we will!