Have you ever heard of a car running on empty? Of course not. It’s impossible for a vehicle to go any further after the last drop of petrol is gone. Human beings are no different. There is no such thing as a superman or bionic woman. Everyone has limits, and once those limits have been depleted, no matter how strong a person is, he or she cannot go on.
I’m writing in light of recent research at Ohio State University* which found 66% of working parents with live-in children up to 18-years-old suffering from burnout. I suspect working parents in the 30- to 40-year-old age bracket are particularly vulnerable to burnout as this is the period when a person starts climbing the ladder of success at work while raising a family. Plus, there might be elderly, ailing parents to care for, which adds to the daily demands. Feeling tired all the time, losing interest in things that used to excite you, difficulty to focus – these are a few of the symptoms of burnout. So, what can you do?
Start with self-compassion. Being kind to yourself, which might not come naturally to some of us. If you’ve been conditioned to think that kindness and compassion are what you do to others, think again. If you fail to look after yourself, you may hit a point where you simply cannot function, just like the car running on empty. You cannot give when you have nothing to give. Not only you, your loved ones will suffer. So, begone with that inner voice which keeps telling you to keep burning the candle at both ends. Silence it.
Take a sabbatical. Allow yourself time to heal, spiritually, emotionally and physically. If it isn’t possible to take a long leave, do what it takes to reduce your workload. If you worry about what’s going to happen when you’re not around, believe me, nobody is indispensable. Even if you disappear right now, the Earth won’t stop spinning. People at work will find someone to replace you sooner than you think. The only ones who will not be able to replace you are your family members. When you’re gone, your family can’t fill the void you left with anyone else.
Consider options. Your health is your wealth. Aim for balance. Working, raising a family, caring for elders – these are all huge responsibilities, all of them marathons. You don’t complete them within a day or two. If you find it hard to sort it out in your head, consult a trusted person. Not that he or she can offer you a solution, but talking with someone can help clarify your thoughts, help you uncover blind spots, and see possibilities of what might or might not work in the short, mid and long term.
It must be said that the current lifestyle has contributed in no small way to burnout among working parents. Unlike yesteryears, many young parents now lead nuclear lives with no domestic help and no support from the extended family. No matter how exhausted you are, you still need to be in charge of home and kids once you’re back home. The advent of smartphones, making you accessible day and night is both a blessing and a blight. Bosses, family and friends expect you to be reachable any time, any day. Besides, there’s also temptation to scroll media sites so you’re up-to-date with what’s happening, or else you would be at a loss when colleagues talk about current issues. If you’re the type who constantly pushes yourself to see how far you can go, you’re unable to call it a day unless the 100 tasks you’re supposed to do have all been marked “Done”, you’re more susceptible to burnout. Take a good look at how you’ve been leading your life. If necessary, push the reset button. Now.
[*Reference: Kate Gawlik & Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk. (2022). Pandemic Parenting: Examining the Epidemic of Working Parental Burnout and Strategies to Help. The Ohio State University.]
Featured photo by hpgruesen