Dear Caring Parent,

“I’m exhausted!” I hear parents saying this very often. Parental exhaustion is real. It’s not ok. It’s not, ‘oh well, I’m a parent so of course’.  

I’ve hesitated to write about this topic now, because with COVID19 and all it’s additional responsibilities and worries for parents, so of course parents are exhausted! In the end, clearly I’ve decided to go ahead and write as it has kept coming up as a necessary topic for parents to truly acknowledge. 

When we joke about our parental exhaustion, holding it as a badge of honor, it does help motor us on. However, whether pandemic or not, exhaustion proceeds to get worse most of the time unless we call it out and do something different. Why?

Call-Out Parent Exhaustion

Because exhaustion is not mere tiredness. Tiredness is certainly inherent in parenting. Intermittent sleep deprivation, schedule coordination, conflict management, and managing unexpected scenarios, is tiring. The list of what’s tiring about parenting is pages long! But tiredness comes and goes.  

Exhaustion on the other hand, leaves us feeling beleaguered, unenthusiastic about the day, irritable with our kids, feeling trapped and bone weary. It’s about being maxed out. Unfortunately it is expected in parenting life. We rationalize it. I’m sure you’ve seen the memes  “If you’re completely exhausted and don’t know how you’re going to give this much of yourself day after day, you are probably a good parent.” This has been said by any number of people in different ways. 

In fact, our parent exhaustion is a heads up to pay attention differently to our involvements and our motivations (internal or external). Exhaustion is right next to burn out. It’s not a good feeling state – it is harmful to ourselves and our relationships with our children.

Nodding your head ‘yes’?  Do you recognize it but are uncertain about preventing it because you’re maybe stuck in the rule that parenting is exhausting if you’re doing a good job? 

My Experience with Parent Exhaustion

I’m remembering my own feeling of parent exhaustion at one point. My daughter was having a hard time with her mental health. There was some chaos in our life due to my workload. I wasn’t feeling like me, not even dressing on days off in a way that was me! One day I was pulling the groceries out of the car trunk and paused to notice that I felt totally disheartened and hadn’t a clue what to do. Looking back, I even said to myself, “I’m exhausted”.  

Yet, I felt I had to soldier on. I said to myself, ‘this is parenting after all, protecting your child, making a life for them. It’s not easy. Just carry on and it will all come into place’. 

Don’t do what I did – nothing!  I felt I had to soldier on. Not recognizing what I was experiencing, I wound up making some lousy decisions that eventually folded in on me. I didn’t have a process to fall back on for this kind of feeling. Nor did I have anyone saying into my ear, ‘parent exhaustion is real. Beware. It only gets worse if you don’t step into it and problem solve’.  

Notice Your Parental Exhaustion

I’ve since learned a lot, eventually taking stock and moving through this exhaustion. Because of that, I can now confidently say, it’s helpful for parents to have a way to step through parental exhaustion! Having a way to step through this kind of challenge is why I wrote The Dance of Parenting, giving parents a blueprint to move through parenting challenges like exhaustion with L.O.V.V.E.

But first – recognize your exhaustion!  It can be physical, mental, spiritual, and/or emotional. Listen to yourself. Are you feeling or thinking any of these things as you go through your days? 

  • Words like ‘too busy’, ‘beatdown’, ‘burnt out’, ‘overwhelmed all the time’?
  • Always wanting to sleep or just sit on the couch? (I’m not talking about the day here and there – we all need that!).
  • Frequently thinking something like “I wish I didn’t have to  —”,
  • Worrying all the time about the future.
  • Feeling like you are slogging along.
  • Unhopeful about your child’s future.
  • There are no options for challenges.
  • My needs frequently aren’t being met.
  • A deep seated fatigue in your body. It’s like the energy within pulls your body down instead of moving upward and lifting you. 

Start Your Way Through Exhaustion

It’s helpful to find your signs of exhaustion and then delineate whether you are physically, mentally, spiritual or emotionally exhausted. Here’s an exercise to help figure it out. Grab some paper and do this over 3-5 days. Either free form write or draw some columns.

In the morning, midday and evening, stop. Jot down:

  1. what are you thinking about and the nature of those thoughts (positive, negative, constructive, destructive, helpful or not),
  2. where there is tension in your body,
  3. your feeling tone – inspired, satisfied, hopeful or discouraged, irritable, that there’s no hope, alone. . . 
  4. a review of what you’ve written. Look back on it. Circle any ‘shoulds’, either self imposed or other imposed. Look for and jot down patterns to thoughts, physically felt tension, or low energy feelings in your body as you look at your writings. For instance, it may look like ‘3 should messages, thigh tension, my legs are jittery but my shoulders are tight, I feel discouraged a lot and a bit scared about what to do, I feel like I am always fixing everything’.

Move OUT of Parental Exhaustion

Parental exhaustion does not have to weigh down our parenting life. Once understanding your particular exhaustion, continue by doing some problem solving to change something in your life’s requirements. 

As you move through the next step below, keep in mind the wise words of Dr. David M. Allen, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee, “you can do anything, but not everything.” 

Ask yourself: 

  1. How can I delegate, involve my children and partner or parenting team?  
  2. To what can I truly say ‘no’? (Listen for those should and shouldn’t statements!)
  3. What am I saying ‘yes’ to?
  4. Is there resistance to this change in myself or another? What can I do to overcome that barrier? 

If you’d rather just talk this through with someone, check out my Listening Sessions. In two hours or less, together we could come up with a plan for you to move from being an exhausted parent to experiencing more satisfaction, energy and even thrive. 

You can do this! Paste an affirmation somewhere reminding yourself how you want to experience parenting. I’ll leave you with this one –

I am ready to change things so that I feel livelier and accompanied on my parenting journey.

There’s more laughter at home and more mutual expression of love because I resolved to pay attention to my exhaustion. 

Take care now, Natasha