To Exhausted Parents: Give Yourself Some Grace!
I am exhausted.
The fatigue I’ve been feeling lately has only been getting worse, not better, as parts of the country slowly start to lift their stay-at-home restrictions. And I know a lot of my friends are also feeling like exhausted parents right now:
- Supervising virtual school has been a nightmare. No one – not teachers, not parents, and certainly not students – was prepared for this.
- If you parent a child with a learning difference, take the challenges of virtual learning and multiply them by 10 or more. Kids need structure, especially those who learn differently. Trying to rebuild school’s built-in structures at home, in isolation, is darn near impossible.
- For those with “essential worker” family members, the fear that they’ll bring home a deadly virus to the rest of you is always there.
- Or if you’re lucky enough to still be working remotely, you’re balancing your own work with monitoring that of your kids.
- For those without access to reliable broadband access at home, or school-provided tech on which to do virtual school, add in the complications of sharing whatever devices you can get your hands on. Not to mention spending your days in parking lots trying to access an internet hotspot.
- The worry and stress of paying rent/utilities, feeding your family, etc. that are part of many families’ lives (thanks to pandemic shutdowns) are enough to stress anyone out; on top of everything I’ve described above, it’s almost too much to bear.
- And as if that weren’t enough, black and brown parents continue to live with the stress of trying to raise children with the constant knowledge that they can’t necessarily trust those in power to protect them.
Can you relate to any of this?
And all of this is in addition to being cooped up at home, all day, every day.
For literally weeks now, I’ve been in survival mode, just trying to get from one day to the next, put out one fire after another.
And no matter how much I sleep – when I can sleep – I never seem to wake up refreshed.
It’s one thing to complain to my mama on the phone when she asks how I am. Or commiserate with friends far away, on the phone, late at night after our kids are asleep.
It’s another thing to try to figure out how to move beyond this “stuck” feeling – the feeling like you’re slowly drowning.
How to Get Unstuck and Give Yourself Some Grace:
It’s been really hard for me to write the past few months, which is why you haven’t seen me posting as much as usual.
Like many exhausted parents, I’ve felt so overwhelmed by this – all of this.
To put it a different way, I’ve felt as if I’m always running on empty. Or to borrow the bucket-filling metaphor my kids learned in preschool, there’s nothing left in my bucket.
And it’s easy to want to blame someone else – anyone else – for the mess we’re going through.
Because this whole situation is unfair to everyone, and it makes us angry. When we’re angry, we want to direct that anger at someone.This whole situation is unfair to everyone, and it makes us angry. When we're angry, we want to direct that anger at someone.Click To Tweet
We’ve all been doing it.
It’s one of the five stages of grief.
I’ve started to realize that there are several problems going on at once here. If you want to stick with the five stages of grief model, which often doesn’t proceed neatly from one stage to another, it seems a lot of parents I know – myself included – are stuck in several stages simultaneously:
- We’re in denial. Whether constantly thinking, “This can’t be happening! I’m going to wake up soon and find this was all a dream” (I think that at least once a day!), or denying that there’s any real need to stay at home, social distance, etc. “We’ll be OK if I go out, if I go out without a mask, if my kids play with all the other neighborhood kids,” and on and on.
- We’re angry, and want someone to blame. The president. The governor. The mayor. The police. The citizens and/or leaders of another nation halfway around the globe. Our neighbors who won’t social distance. Our local leaders who won’t reopen the economy already.
- We bargain with ourselves and the situation we’re in constantly. “I’ll just make one more trip to the store.” “It’s OK if I don’t wear my mask, just this once.” “Just one play date won’t hurt.” “Just one more glass of wine – it’s been a rough day.”
- Every day we feel sad, even depressed. The inability to sit down and concentrate. The near-impossibility of getting into anything, let alone finishing it. The constant exhaustion that never goes away. Being short-tempered with our kids/spouse/both.
If any of these sound familiar, you now have a word for those feelings:
Grieving for a life we cannot live at the moment, whether it’s that lost job, or lost freedom of movement, or even lost time away from our home and our 24/7 life with our family.
I love my husband and daughters dearly. But sharing my work-at-home existence with them for the past three months has been a huge adjustment, for all of us.
And until you can get from all those unpleasant feelings to the final stage – acceptance – and even one step further, finding meaning – you’re going to be stuck in this uncomfortable in-between place.
Self Care Tips for When You’re Stuck At Home
As a parent, it sounds and feels selfish at times, but I’ve realized I have to refill my own bucket – take care of myself a little more – if I’m going to be there for my family.
To help you with the steps below, I’ve put together a FREE worksheet you can download. ✅ CLICK HERE to get your copy!
As I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this, I’ve determined several things I need to do differently, and tried to start implementing them in my daily life a little more:
1) Step back from the news
With the recent weeks of peaceful protests against police violence, and sometimes not-so-peaceful outcomes, I’m finding myself glued to the news cycle again, just as I was in the early days of the pandemic.
If you’ve done the same after each unarmed killing of an African American, each school shooting, each terrorist attack, etc. in your adult life, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s hard to step away from the 24/7 news cycle we live in. But not only is this traumatizing for us, it’s also traumatizing for our children.
Eventually there comes a point where you have to step back and NOT pay attention anymore.
I know that seems harsh. But as I’ve learned the hard way, it’s the only way to stop re-traumatizing yourself (and your children, if they’re also consuming the images on TV) every. single. day.
2) Let yourself feel the bad feelings
Remember the Disney-Pixar movie Inside Out?
The main character, Riley, couldn’t move forward until she’d worked through her sadness. Only when she was able to experience sadness did she move forward again, and regain the ability to be happy.
A part of me thinks how fortunate I am in these uncertain times, how I have no right to complain. We still have food, we still have a roof over our heads, we are all healthy.
But I’ve started to realize that working through the denial, anger, and sadness is part of being able to a) accept this strange new reality, and b) move forward to finding meaning in it.
My kids are in the same boat. They know that none of this is “fair” to anyone. But they’re afraid to let themselves feel those negative feelings, because they’re afraid they’ll drown in them.
While I don’t want them to get stuck there – which is part of what we’re all afraid of when we try to ignore those negative feelings – I also know it will help them be able to a) let go and b ) move forward.
3. Figure out how your bucket got empty
It’s helpful to start with the basics here: Are you getting enough sleep, healthy foods, and exercise?
RELATED POST: What To Do When Life Throws You For A Loop
This is NOT an exercise in beating yourself up for coming up short. Remember, we need to focus on giving ourselves some grace.
I’ve been doing pretty well in the healthy eating department, trying to keep the junk food cravings/consumption at bay. And even though I seem to need a lot more than usual, I’m also working on getting enough sleep.
But since summer-like temps have arrived, I’m definitely not getting as much exercise anymore. That’s one thing I can fix.
But here’s the biggest reason I feel like I’m running on empty:
Between the end of the virtual school year, staying on top of the usual day-to-day household and family management tasks, and cramming several other postponed-two-months commitments and activities in, I feel as if I’m doing overtime taking care of everyone else’s needs these days.
Helping the girls get through the end of the school year virtually, in particular, has been challenging. Especially for our kiddo who learns differently, and needs constant monitoring and help with schoolwork-at-home to stay on task.
4. Figure out what you need to refill your bucket
I realize this can be a controversial idea, so let me clarify:
- I don’t mean artificially filling our own buckets by dipping into (taking away from) someone else’s.
- I also realize that bucket-filling as a concept generally refers to doing nice things for others.
The problem for many parents (especially mamas) is that we’re so good at caring for others, we forget to take care of ourselves.
And when we’re completely run-down, we are no good at caring for others – and THAT is when we end up dipping into their buckets instead of filling them, by unintentionally being selfish or saying hurtful things out of sheer exhaustion.
That’s why figuring out what self-care ideas can refill our own buckets is crucial.
And the ✅ free printable worksheet that goes with this post can help you do just that.
Some ideas to get you started:
- For those of us who are creative, this may mean creating.
- If you’re not sleeping well at night because you aren’t getting your regular workouts, figure out a way to squeeze those workouts back in – even if it’s just a short daily walk or run.
- For those of us who are extroverts (like my mama), this may mean reaching out to friends for a socially-distanced coffee date outdoors.
In my case, I definitely needed to find a way to put some “alone time” back on the schedule.
I crave time alone and space alone, so I can write – that much I know. While the writing is important, it’s also about reclaiming some time by myself, with my own thoughts, without having my brain divided ten different ways between kids’ online commitments,
RELATED POST: (Virtual) Family Schedule Organization Tips & Hacks
I’m used to having the house to myself for a good chunk of the day, while I do my work and everyone else is at school/work. Being around other people 24/7, much as I love them, was really dragging me down. Especially when you combine it with constantly doing things for others, at the expense of anything that would fill my own bucket.
Even something as simple as not being able to play my usual background soundtrack on the radio was really wearing on me, I started to realize.
5. Do what’s necessary to get what you need
Which is often easier said than done – but doesn’t need to be impossible.
Here are some techniques I used to create more time for me to fill my own bucket:
- I talked to my husband about how burned out and exhausted I was feeling. I started, first, by checking in on how HE was doing. Because about a month ago, he was the one who was burned out and running on empty, when he finished his online teaching for the spring.
- I discussed with him how we might split supervising our kids’ schoolwork into shifts better, so that (now that his active teaching is done for several months) I am no longer the “default parent on duty” keeping our child who struggles on task.
- I set up several systems to turn over more control and responsibility to the rest of the family for managing the girls’ online appointments.
- I experimented with getting up/going to bed at different times than the rest of my family, using earplugs and fans, and going to different parts of the house than where I usually write, so I could get some time and space by myself.
- I also began scheduling this time/space to myself, and telling my family of my plans. Planning to spend the morning sleeping in (or the afternoon writing in the basement), works better if Dear Husband and the girls know that I want to sleep in (or do some writing uninterrupted).
You’ve got this!
This past weekend, after I took Saturday to write (which included drafting this post), I found myself in the kitchen on Sunday afternoon, baking cookies and cooking a more complicated meal for my family than I’ve made in months. As Kimmie passed through, she said, “You’re spoiling us!” It was obvious to her – and to me – that I felt like a different person after a day of much needed self care.
As exhausted parents, refilling our own buckets through a little self-care will help restore the energy we need to take care of others. I can’t wait to hear about how you give yourself some grace and refill your own bucket!
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