Parenting: The One Type of Burnout You Can’t Avoid

I like to think of myself as someone who practices balance. I love to work, but I make plenty of time for fun. I enjoy being with my husband, but I require time alone. I prioritize my friends, but I have to be the main character of my life. In everything I do, I am striving to keep things in their proper place so that I never become overwhelmed and burnt out.

But parenting, I’ve learned, is the one type of burnout that I just can’t avoid.

I give it a solid effort. I put boundaries around my time with my kids. I’m teaching them how to be patient, learning the difference between when they really need me and when it can wait (or when they can do it themselves). No matter what, though, my kids are always going to come first.

They’re six and eight. They aren’t really at a “free-range” age yet. They need me for many things, despite how much independence they’ve gained over the years. Unlike my marriage, my family, or my friendships, I can’t just go on Airplane Mode and get back to them when I have the energy. They need me when they need me.

Self-care, then, has been about coming to terms with the reality of burnout in parenting. Most importantly, it’s been a journey of releasing guilt and shame about it.

I’ve always come down pretty hard on myself in those moments when I feel the overwhelming urge to escape my children. Even though I’ve spent years on social media talking about how we need to normalize burnout with our kids and erase the shame and stigma around it, I privately struggle a lot with my own feelings of shame.

I want to be the kind of mom who always wishes to be around my kids, who never tires of them. There is no shortage of those kinds of moms on Instagram, constantly letting the rest of us know how baffled they are that any mom could actually desire to be away from their kids from time to time. And I believe those moms exist . . .

Right?

I don’t know, even that is starting to sound a little absurd to me. Maybe it’s the allure of praise on social media that beckons these moms to be untruthful about their experiences in motherhood. Or, alternatively, perhaps my skepticism is just in my head and these moms really do want to be around their kids at all times. The truth is, we’ll never know.

All I can know for certain is that I’m probably always going to be the kind of mom who needs a break from my kids when I get burnt out. And honestly, that shouldn’t shock me. I need time away from all the things I love dearly — my husband, my family, my friends, my work, my hobbies. Sometimes, I just need to let myself miss something a bit so that I can truly appreciate it when I have it.

Why would my children be any different?

So, I’m learning to just accept that burnout in parenting is going to happen, that it’s unavoidable, and that it’s normal. If not for every parent, then at least for a lot of us. I’m releasing guilt and shame, and instead embracing the reality that I can love my children endlessly and still become overwhelmed, burnt out, touched out, and even irritable or resentful from time to time.

That’s normal. That’s human. And despite what anyone would have us parents (particularly mothers) believe, we remain human beings, even after having children.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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