Parenthesis: Are you sleep-deprived, exhausted? It may be parental burnout!
Remember, if you are happy, your child will be happy too. Learn to carve out “me” time and focus on the positive aspects of parenting.
Parenting is not an easy task. Each stage of parenting brings its own set of sleepless nights, physical exhaustion, worries and stress in varying degrees. As parents of a small baby, suffering from sleepless nights and physical exhaustion, you hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You cling to the belief that life will get easier once your child starts to sleep through the night. And in some ways, it does. But, in other ways, it gets tougher. Your child who now sleeps through the night, doesn’t sit still for a minute. He is constantly on the move, looking to push boundaries, putting all sorts of things in his mouth, endangering himself by hitting his head and falling down as he sets out to explore his little world. As your child grows, the nature of the stress and worries change but it never goes away.
Today, most parents, both fathers and mothers, suffer from sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion. Our hectic daily routines leave us with little time to recuperate or renew our energies. Our weekends also fill up with social commitments, urgent errands and chaperoning our children to extra-curricular activities. If the sleep deprivation and exhaustion only affected us, it wouldn’t matter as much. The sad truth is that it directly affects our children.
The other day, I found myself screaming at my older son for something completely insignificant which I knew would be irrelevant a week from then. When we are perennially exhausted, we are perpetually on edge. Dealing with constant fights, whining, having to ask them to do something a million times, them not listening to us and having to consistently pick up after them can fray the temper of the most patient parent.
We become short tempered and snappy, lashing out at our partners or children. Or we disengage from the family. We switch off and get absorbed in meaningless TV shows or endlessly scroll through social media updates, because we don’t have the mental bandwidth to meaningfully engage with our loved ones.
We need to realise that parenting isn’t a 100-metre sprint; it’s a marathon that lasts more than 18 years. As parents, we feel satisfied when we do things for our children. We take pride in their joys and successes. We want the best things in life for them and work hard for the same.
In the process, as we set out to be the perfect parents, raising the perfect child, while balancing our intense work and social schedules, and maintaining an immaculate home, we run the risk of burning out. When the levels of satisfaction decrease and our effectiveness as a parent reduces, we feel frustrated, helpless and depressed. We reach the end of our tether. We lose perspective and daily routine tasks can seem insurmountable. Parental burnout is a real thing and can happen to any one of us.
So, what can we do about it? The first step is to understand that there is no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect child. All you can do is your best in the given circumstances. Be kinder to yourself. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself for an imaginary “Best parent in the world” award.
Stop competing with the neighbours.
If their child is going to a million classes after school, that’s their decision to make. If they firmly believe that their child is going to be the next Tendulkar or Vishwanath Anand and are doing everything in their power to make it happen, that’s alright as well. You need to focus on what’s right for your child and family. Go with your gut instincts. Be honest about your priorities and let go of the things that don’t matter.
Recognise and focus on the positive aspects.
Each of us has strengths that we bring to the table. Take pride in the things that you are doing well and make small improvements in areas that need them. Give it time. Don’t expect results overnight.
Ask for help.
Support can be found in many forms, a friend, your spouse, family or even the internet. If you are struggling to cope in a particular area, ask for advice. Sometimes, all it takes is a different perspective to help you cope with a situation.
If you need physical help, enlist your friends and family. If you are having a tough day, communicate the same to your children. Sometimes, we do so much for them that we forget that we can ask them to do things for us as well. It teaches them empathy, responsibility and how to be part of a family.
Prioritise ‘me’ time.
It’s important to ensure that we take time out each day for ourselves. Half an hour a day can make all the difference. Figure out what helps you relax or de-stress and make it part of your daily routine.
Hold on to your individual identity.
What makes ‘you’ you? Most parents, especially mothers tend to lose sight of themselves when they have a child. Life and conversations revolve around your child’s interests and needs. We put ourselves on the back-burner. Every so often, make it a point to connect with friends without children, where you can converse on non-parenting topics. Carve out time to pursue your interests and hobbies. Invest in your marriage and spend time as a couple. Whether it’s a date night or a vacation, it’s important to prioritise your marriage. Don’t hesitate to leave your child with willing and able grandparents for a day or two. Most often, it’s our fears and not those of our child’s that stop us from doing so.
Focus on quality over quantity.
As a working parent, it can be hard when you are burning the candle at both ends. If you only have a little time to spend with your child on weekdays, make it count. Unplug and be present in the moment. Play games. Make her laugh. If you are truly present in the moment, she won’t mind the times that you aren’t there.
Set up systems and processes to help you manage your work load. Setting up weekly menus, car pools and parent WhatsApp groups will help you stay on top of things and not feel like you are forever playing catch-up. Be prepared with simple things like a secret stack of stationery for that last minute project that needs to be handed in tomorrow.
The safety announcement in airlines constantly remind us to put on our oxygen mask before helping others. The same applies to parenting. Look after yourself so you can look after your loved ones. When my son was a baby, I quickly learnt that if I ate before my child, I had more patience feeding him as my needs were met.
We tell ourselves that all we want is for our children to be healthy and happy. The most important thing to remember is that if you are happy, your child will be happy too. A happy parent spreads joy and radiates happiness to the rest of the family. Children are very susceptible to mood and body language. They thrive in a warm, loving and happy environment. As long as you are providing that, it’s half the battle won.
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