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How To Deal With Parental Burnout Going Into Summer During COVID-19

Caroline Maguire, M.Ed.
Author and child care expert By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed.
Author and child care expert
Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., is an author of Why Will No One Play with Me?: The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive and child care expert who primarily works with ADHD children and families.
family hanging out on green sofa with ipads and tabelts

Image by Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines / Stocksy

As you are about to offer your input during your important work video meeting, you see your dog drag precious toilet paper out of the bathroom to play with while you live in fear that your children will come running—and screaming—into the room. You work from 11:15 to 11:30 uninterrupted until you hear a fight break out between your children that you must referee. Your youngest child is having tele-speech therapy and constantly closes the computer and exits the video program while flopping in his chair declaring "This is boring!" to the beleaguered speech therapist. When you finally get back to your work, the doorbell rings with your groceries and, hopefully, more precious toilet paper. 

For the last few months, you have somehow continued to wear different hats: Full-time parent, full-time teacher, and perhaps full-time employee, too. And now summer is looming: While some parts of the world will still have camps and out-of-the-home activities, others will be called upon to continue at-home child care. As many parents continue to home school until "summer break," the thought of now being your child's camp counselor is daunting.

Parents are physically and emotionally exhausted and now feel ineffective in multiple realms of their lives. While the world is opening up in many areas, the existing home-schooling and child-care woes are leaving parents in need of revitalization.  

5 strategies to manage burnout and stress:

  1. Problem-solve. Prioritize your top goals; otherwise, every item on your to-do list will seem equally important. Additionally: Make a list of the major stressors and situations that drain your energy so you can be mindful of what is bombarding you. As you spin through daily life, it can be hard to pause and problem-solve. Brainstorm solutions on how to manage your priorities beforehand. 
  2. Consider taking a social media break. Nurturing and restoring your energy may mean making some shifts in the way you are working, parenting, schooling, and operating in general. Social media rarely offers an effective solution to daily challenges. Many of us are at a breaking point; let scrolling be one of the things you let go.
  3. Ask for help and delegate. Grandparents, aunts, friends, co-workers, and neighbors may be happy to help you lift some of the burden. (Even something as simple as setting up a Zoom call with your adult relatives in which they can do an activity or play a game will give you time back in the day.) Delegating to children to help with chores and meal prep can relieve drain while also building critical life skills. The more you model self-care and seek help when you need it, the more it will allow your child to see that part of learning and growing is seeking help. Children need to see their parents asking for help when needed. 
  4. Radically compartmentalize your life. Home schooling and working from home leaves parents feeling burned out since work, parenting, and personal time is intermingled. Consider coordinating with your partner and children to review and revamp the current schedule in order to "chunk" more time for work, home schooling. and parenting. 
  5. Make a plan to cope with the runaway stress train. Your brain is ancient, and when it perceives a threat or high levels of stress, your body and brain go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This situation feels so intense as your brain goes into survival mode and an ancient neurological alarm is set off to warn you to react. This reaction can occur due to past trauma or future anticipation, but regardless, it's this fear that causes a defensive cascade in the brain. And this brain-based reaction floods your body with chemicals, raises your heart rate and blood pressure. Develop everyday strategies to prevent that alarm from going off. Keep your thinking brain in charge to avoid this runaway reaction cycle. The more you intervene with a strategy when your reaction starts, the better you can interrupt the fight, flight, or freeze modes. 

After: Recuperate with self-care.

Tune in to assess your emotions and give yourself a small moment of compassion every day. What would you say to a friend in your situation? Say that to yourself. Listen for signs of stress and for what your body and mind need: food, exercise, or a moment alone. Give yourself permission, and the time, to stop, identify, and implement what you and your family need to recharge. Rushing back to carpools and hectic weekends may not be the best way to recuperate. If you don't have the internal resources to meet your own needs, you can't be the parent you want to be. Connecting with other people, finding a system of support, and reaching out are key to stemming burnout. Connecting helps your body and mind and may provide you with increased energy.

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