Keeping the house clean and tidy, preparing the food (preferably healthy), taking the children to school making sure that they do not miss the extracurricular activities, keeping up with their homework, playing with them, going shopping, taking them to the pediatrician, washing dirty clothes… How to do to not become exhausted mothers?
The daily task list of many exhausted mothers and fathers can be very long and tiring. However, the society does not usually recognize that hard effort. Many people, especially those who are not parents, think that it is much more exhausting going to work than stay at home taking care of the children.
The situation gets worse when those thinking like that are close relatives, who do not understand why the father or the mother is exhausted. In fact, there is nothing less empathic than the question: “Why are you tired? You do not work, you just stay at home taking care of the children.”
Researchers at the Catholic University of Louvain have interviewed almost 2,000 parents, mainly mothers, and have concluded that household chores and childcare can also become extremely tiring, sometimes much more than working far from home.
These psychologists discovered that 13% of the mothers experienced a high level of exhaustion, to which is added a deep feeling of incapacity to deal with all the daily tasks. In fact, 1 every 10 mothers recognized that domestic chores and caring for their children seriously compromised their physical and emotional health.
The Burnout Syndrome in mothers and fathers: How does it manifest?
In recent years, more and more psychologists are pointing out that the burnout syndrome not only affects those who perform stressful and demanding jobs but can also affect parents. In fact, the first reference to burnout syndrome in mothers dates from 1989, in United States, where this phenomenon was already more evident.
The burnout syndrome is a response of the organism when it has been subjected to intense stress for a certain period of time. It occurs when we demand too much to ourselves reaching the point where our energy and/or the psychological resources are exhausted.
The most common symptoms of burnout syndrome in mothers and fathers are:
– Chronic tiredness. The burnout syndrome manifests itself through extreme tiredness. The exhausted father or mother will feel that he has no strength at all, from the moment he gets out of bed. Even if he sleeps, the dream is not repairing. The smallest task demands a colossal effort and often develops a sense of apathy that leads him to live on automatic pilot.
– Emotional distance. Exhausted mothers are often emotionally disconnected from the situation that is generating stress. It is a psychological defense mechanism to protect themselves due to the extreme parental fatigue they suffer. These parents are limited to providing basic care to their children, they care about bathing them, feeding them and taking them to school, but they are not able to get emotionally involved and respond sensitively to the emotional needs of their children.
– Irritability. Exhausted mothers often react with irritability, so it is common for couple fights to start for inconsequential reasons or that they apply excessive punishments to children as there is a loss of perspective. The problem is that self-control is a limited capacity that ends up being depleted, so that at a certain point, the floodgates open and the father or mother finds it very difficult to control their reactions. Emotions are close to the surface, so it is also common that appear crying attacks for no apparent reason or for the slightest task to become a source of stress and worry.
– Problems of memory and concentration. Attention and memory are the cognitive functions that are most affected in the burnout syndrome. The mind of exhausted mothers simply “disconnects”, when it reaches the point where it becomes saturated. As a result, they have trouble paying attention to even the most mundane tasks or keeping the thread of a conversation. In some cases they may suffer “mental fog“, an extremely frustrating state in which they have trouble thinking clearly. Obviously, if the exhausted mother is not able to pay attention, she will begin to have memory problems, which first manifest as small forgetfulness but may worsen, such as forgetting the appointment with the pediatrician or even picking up the child at school.
– Sensation of disability. One of the most terrible symptoms of burnout syndrome in mothers and fathers is the sense of disability that assails them. The physical and emotional exhaustion is so extreme that the parents begin to think that they are not able to care for their children properly. They doubt their abilities and aptitudes as parents, which can lead to a depressive state.
The causes of parental fatigue
“The perfect mother does not scream, does not despair, does not lose her psychological balance and, above all, does not exist”, I once read. However, today’s parents demand too much to themselves. In fact, studies indicate that parental fatigue is usually more common in those who have anxiously waited the moment of having a child and controllers who surrender excessively to caring for them, developing an overprotective and apprehensive attitude.
Of course, also social beliefs have an influence. Psychologists have put in the spotlight the “positive upbringing” that has become popular in recent decades. According to this model, parents should be warm, understanding and sensitive, valuing children as independent persons who have their own rights.
The problem is that this model cannot be applied all the time. Parents are people who have their bad days, frustrations, problems and also lose patience, sometime. The difficulty in following the positive parenting model leads to a frustrated idealism that makes them feel bad, generating the feeling that they are not able to properly raise their children.
The appearance of parental fatigue is also influenced by the fact that parental authority has been weakened in recent years, which has led to the gradual loss of respect from children, causing that the exercise of paternity or maternity is even more difficult, if possible.
And to all this is added the need to empower children, preparing them for their future life, so that parents must ensure that they attend the appropriate extracurricular activities and develop their capabilities to the maximum. Today’s parents feel responsible for the success of their children tomorrow, so they strive to do everything possible, and even the impossible, to carpet their way to success.
This accumulation of social expectations adds great pressure, so it is not strange that today the burnout syndrome has been established in mothers and fathers.
How to deal with burnout syndrome in mothers and fathers?
- Do not pretend to be a perfect mother or father
Demanding too much from yourself, pretending to fulfill all the social expectations on what implies to be a “good father” or a “good mother” only serves to add an excessive tension to the upbringing. Remember that your children do not need you to be perfect, they just need you to be there to support them. There is no educating model so correct that guarantees the success of children, so the best thing you can do is love them and accept them.
- Do not pretend your child to be perfect
Children need to be happy, not the best. If you reduce your expectations about your children, you will remove a burden from you and, meanwhile, you will take it away from them. If you always try to mold your child against their desires or character, the battles will be constant, which will increase your emotional waste. A truly positive upbringing is one in which everyone feels good and enjoys each other’s company.
- Focus on the positive
To avoid the burnout syndrome, it is essential that you learn to focus on the positive, on the things you do well, on the rewards that your relationship with your child brings you and on the successes you have both achieved. It is not about covering the sun with a finger or developing an excessive optimism, but understanding that a more positive thinking will help you feel better.
- Spend time with yourself, alone
Stop blaming yourself. Remember that for taking care of those you love, you must first take care of yourself. The time alone with yourself is essential to recharge the batteries. Do not feel guilty if you need to unplug every so often and be sure to plan your daily agenda so that you have a space for yourself. That psychological oxygen will protect you from parental fatigue.
- Enrich your backpack of parental tools
There are small psychological tools that can mark a before and after in your daily life as a mother or father. For example, practicing mindfulness meditation or mastering relaxation techniques will allow you to take on the day to day with a more relaxed attitude. It is also convenient that you learn to prioritize tasks according to their importance, so they do not overwhelm you too much. Assume that there are things you cannot do, and that’s not a problem.
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