Are you often exhausted as a parent? Do you regularly feel drained, overwhelmed and off-balance when it comes to raising your kids? It’s hard for every parent, but when your children have tough behavioral problems, like ADHD, frequent defiance or other chronic acting-out behaviors, the task of raising them to adulthood can sometimes feel like you’re climbing a mountain without adequate supplies or the right equipment. This week, Erin Schlicher, a mom and Parental Support Line advisor for the Total Transformation Program, gives you some concrete advice on how to juice up your parental batteries and get back on firmer ground.
Whether the calls come in late in the evening, first thing in the morning, or somewhere in between, a common element I hear from parents—and particularly mothers—who are calling the Parental Support Line is that they are feeling utterly worn out. Given that parenting even an average or “easy” child is hard work, parenting a more challenging or acting-out child is enough to run anyone ragged.
The fatigue that can come with mother or fatherhood (or for whom ever is doing the primary amount of parenting) is certainly not glamorous or boast-worthy, but it is a legitimate daily struggle for many of us. It should be said that there is a range of different types of exhaustion. The spectrum includes—but is not limited to—physical exhaustion, feeling burnt out, bored, frustrated, and a feeling of being defeated or fed-up. Of course, it is highly likely that a parent will have some blend of a few or even all of these. Understanding what type of tiredness is plaguing you can in turn lead to picking the approach most likely to help you reconnect with the energy necessary to face the challenges of parenthood. Remember, you must secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others!
From what I have heard from callers, the most taxing form of being tired is one that leaves them feeling disempowered, defeated, and unable to easily see a solution—trapped in that black and white thinking that makes you feel hopeless and alone. Once you find yourself stuck in this tough spot, it’s difficult to conjure up the energy to set the wheels in motion to change it. Luckily, the small steps that parents make to change can quickly add up to a complete overhaul and a renewed sense of hope.
How did I get here?
Think back to the time of B.K. (before kids) and recall the images and dreams that came to mind when contemplating parenthood. Odds are, even if you were not wearing those dangerous rose-colored glasses, you likely did not anticipate the degree to which parenthood would stretch and test your abilities. How could you? Parenthood is an endurance marathon that you cannot train for, and certain moments of the journey will be exhilarating while others will sap your energy. Juggling the demands of a family is an incredible feat that warrants respect and appreciation—though you may not see a whole lot of this from your kids until they are much older. In the meantime, finding ways to refuel and adjust one’s perspective will help maintain sanity and effectiveness, while allowing us to tap in to the joy that children can bring. Whether you have recently found yourself bogged down or it is an accumulation that occurred over the years, here are a handful of tips that might perk you up.
1. Be a “Good Enough” Parent
While not a new story, the modern day mother is under so much pressure to “do it all.” As a culture, we tend to value the image of the parent who pours every ounce of themselves into providing perfect lives for their children. However, James Lehman would say that being a “good enough” parent, who is consistently caring for your kids, is the key. You don’t have to be a flawless Super Mom to raise your children well. In fact, attempting to always provide an extraordinary experience for your children at any cost can lead to burn out. So cut yourself some slack in order to stay the course! Achieving a relative balance between meeting the needs of your family as well as caring for yourself may result in expanded reserves for all.
2. Find Support
When you find that you are running on fumes, utilize supports you already have in place or seek new ones. This can mean calling on grandparents, friends, or babysitters to provide you with a little respite from the kids every so often to recharge. Do your best to use this time to do something restorative for yourself—exercise, relax, have lunch with your spouse, grab coffee with a friend—whatever lifts your spirit. Reconnect with the aspects of yourself that are not exhausted from parenting a difficult child.
Since it is not always a readily available option to have someone else help with childcare, many parents rely on other methods of support. Online communities like Empowering Parents, as well as social networking sites, are a lifeline to a growing number of parents who may otherwise find themselves somewhat isolated. Advising parents who contact the Parental Support Line has been a distinct privilege, as I have been able to lend a kind ear to folks all over the country and beyond. Having supports in place positively impacts the whole family.
3. Expand Your Toolbox
We all have a unique set of parenting tools that we have acquired along the way. Some were learned from our parents, some from parenting resources, education or even media, while others may have been purely intuitive. If you are similar to most people, you likely have some skills that are more effective than others. So, while we are just doing the best we can for our children, experimenting with new approaches to managing behavior may help you discover what will work best in your situation. There are resources online, parenting classes, and counselors who can help. James Lehman’s Total Transformation Program is another effective tool for parents. It’s designed to provide you with concrete tools that they can begin utilizing immediately.
At the same time, it is important to understand that change is a process—certain behaviors may change immediately, while others will require more time. It is frustrating and disempowering not to know how to handle the challenges that arise with raising kids and there is no shame in trying to better equip oneself. Making this step could be exactly what is needed to pick up momentum.
4. Recognize and Focus on the Positive
When someone calls the Parental Support Line and shares an extensive list of problems they are having with their child in rapid-fire style, finding the right moment to inquire about what is going well for them can do wonders to soften their stance. When people are discouraged and tired, it is difficult to see the positive. In those trying times, practice reminding yourself of some of the areas in which your child excels or is making progress. Acknowledging small successes and building off of strengths are the steppingstones to scaling mountains. Do not forget the power of praise and recognition!
I think the following quote from Mother Teresa explains this aspect of parenting beautifully: “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.”
My interpretation of her message is not that we should literally be able to love without experiencing some fatigue from the output of energy, but rather, that it is our personal responsibility to be as balanced as possible in order to consistently offer love. It is inevitable that parents will encounter stress during the process of raising their children, but it is up to each of us to care for ourselves so that we may best care our families.