Sam started by sharing that he, too, is a relatively new parent! In his newness, he has already experienced several things that you may be feeling as well:
-Tiredness (so tired...)
Some common parenting beliefs that we are susceptible to—and that may be exacerbating all of those difficult feelings—include:
-I must give 100% every day, no matter what. You may have a sense that everything needs to be perfect and everything needs to go your way.
-The success or failure of my children depends entirely on me. You may feel that, if things aren’t going your child’s way with sleeping, eating, or anything else, that you are the one who is failing.
-I will be seen by society as a good and honorable person because of the effort I put into being a good parent. We worry about how family and friends view us, and we create an illusion of everything being under control because we don’t want other people to see us in a state of vulnerability.
-My need for rest and recreation should be sacrificed in order to help my children. We may think that we don’t deserve to rest or have fun, and that if we’re taking time for ourselves, we’re not taking care of our children. This makes it harder for us to comprehend how to be calm and manage our emotions.
-I should do everything for my children and not require that they take on the responsibilities that they are old enough to handle. This might go back to how you were raised or feelings of perfectionism—“If I don’t do it, it’s not going to get done right.” Oftentimes we need to focus less on being perfect and more on what we can do to help our children learn different skills. Yes, your child will probably do things that you don’t want them to do, but that’s all part of the process. When you let your child be a part of the team, they will eventually grow into their own self-sufficiency and ability to help.
-I should spend every possible moment with my children, and I should feel guilty if I need a break or want some attention for myself. After a long day with your child, it’s natural to need a moment (or several moments) to focus only on you.
-Other people must see me as a good parent, able to handle everything. You may feel like you have to create a facade of everything being okay and under control, but in reality you may be struggling and reluctant to reach out for help.
-One role in my life can satisfy all my needs and can support all my dreams. Being a parent is not all you are. You may be a parent, a partner, a sibling, and more. Parenting is one role, and it’s a significant role, but it’s not the only one. Be aware of this and try to make time and space for the other roles when you have the ability to.
-My children should appreciate everything I do for them, and my children must like me. It hurts when your child lashes out at you and tells you they hate you, but try to remember that you’ve been where they are, and you’ve likely had those moments yourself as a child or teenager, whether you said it out loud or not. Everyone has moments of friction between themselves and their parents. Yes, your child should appreciate what you do for them, but the reality is that they won’t always express that. Especially with young kids, you may not always get a “thank you.” Instead of focusing on that affirmation, refocus on what you want to do as a parent and how you want to help your kids develop into adults.
Holding on to these negative parental beliefs can contribute to Parental Burnout, defined as a state of intense exhaustion related to one’s parental role, in which one becomes emotionally detached from one’s children and doubtful of one’s capacity to be a good parent. Emotional detachment may make you feel like you’re unable to draw out love from your child and anything they say gets you angry. You may feel like you have no control and that you just need time alone.
Consequences of Parental Burnout include:
-Escapism fantasy. If you’re burnt out at a job, you can cope by looking for a new one, but the same isn’t true for parenting. Instead, you might start thinking about running away or doing things away from your child
-Shame, guilt, self-hate, fear, loneliness. If you’re experiencing escapism fantasies, this may scare you and make you feel guilty and lonely. You may feel like no good parent would be having these kinds of thoughts.
-Sleep disorder. You might not be able to sleep well because you’re stressed and anxious, or you might be sleeping way too much and losing your ability to be attentive.
-Marital conflicts and partner estrangement. You may look at your partner and feel like they’re not doing anything right or that you don’t want to be with them anymore.
-Lack of responsiveness toward children / yelling and responding in an aggressive way. When you’re angry, frustrated, and beginning to withdraw, your child will notice even if they’re very young. When we reach a place where we’re unable to be responsive, that affects our children as much as it affects us.
Shifting Your Perspective
Pictured above is the cognitive triangle, a concept from cognitive behavior therapy. The triangle shows how thoughts, emotions, and behavior are all interconnected.
Here’s an example of how the triangle might look in action and how you can get stuck in a feedback loop:
When you feel yourself getting trapped in the triangle, it’s time to find ways to shift your perspective. If you can find ways to address your emotions, behavior, and thoughts in a healthy manner, you can break the cycle of negativity.
Strategies for Parental Burnout
-Try not to focus on love, affection, and approval from children as needs rather than bonuses. Yes, your children do love you. But if you are creating a need to gain constant approval from them—even during difficult times, like when you’re disciplining them—you will be let down. Instead, try to focus on the fact that you’re doing what you need to do as a parent and what your children need you to do in order to grow into members of society.
-Boost your own self-confidence. This could be as simple as getting a massage—whatever makes you feel like your most confident self. If you’re partnered, you and your partner can help each other make time for things that will make you feel awesome, because the more confident you are in yourself, the more confident you can be as a parent.
-See the positive side of stress (yes, there are positives!). Stress can be useful when it’s showing you that there’s a problem to be solved or motivating you to get done what needs to happen. Try looking at stress as an indicator of what bothers or scares you. Once you identify where the stress is coming from, you can start to work on solving those problems.
-Understand anger and use it constructively. Control your anger by controlling wishes. Anger is not always a horrible thing; rather, you can redirect it toward a positive goal. If you’re angry that your child is not sleeping well, you can direct that toward figuring out what you need to change and learn about to help them sleep.
-Practice positive thinking daily with affirmations. Write them out and put them around the house. Especially if you are having feelings of anxiety or depression, writing down positive affirmations about yourself, your partner, and your goals can help remind you of the good things in life when you see them around the home. Combine repetition of these affirmations with deep breathing and meditation techniques to help find calm and control in difficult moments.
-Develop a support system by honestly sharing your feelings of frustration, anger, and concern. Parenting is not easy, and it’s hard to really internalize this truth before you see it for yourself. Reach out to family and friends for help when you’re feeling logistically or emotionally overwhelmed or when you just need a little time for yourself.
-Learn to tolerate change, because children change often. You and the children both change moods and feelings. Work on helping your children manage change (in sleeping, eating, moods, and more), and work on accepting that change on your part too.
-You are not perfect, and there is no perfect decision. We all have moments when we’re not at our best, and that’s okay. Your children will inevitably see you anxious and angry at times. We are the models for our children, so it’s also important to show them how you deal with those difficult times and how you apologize when you’re not as level-headed as you would have liked. Particularly with the pandemic, you may be constantly caught between what feels like an overwhelming amount of decisions and problems to solve. Learn to prioritize and triage: Identify the most pressing choices and actions and whittle down to what really needs to happen now.
-Learn to catch yourself when you say negative statements to yourself and challenge them. Rather than letting negative thoughts like “I’m a bad parent” run wild, stop them in their tracks and ask yourself: “Is this actually a true thought? Am I actually a bad parent just because I forgot to clean my child’s bottle before I went to sleep?” Once you begin challenging these thoughts, you may find it easier to manage your emotions and actions.
-Be healthily selfish: Free yourself from needing outside approval. Stop looking toward others to tell you how good of a parent you are. If you are doing what you should do as a parent, doing the best that you can, and actively trying to spend time with your children and take positive steps, you do not need to put undue pressure on yourself to gain approval from others.
-Socialize on Zoom.
-Shift your perspective (therapy, meditation, combat negative and unhelpful thoughts).
-Work out. Don’t feel guilty about taking the time to do so. Cherish it, because when you come back, you will feel more confident in yourself and as a parent.
Find a problem that you know you can solve right now (prioritizing).
Good Enough Parenting
-Excessive norms and undue pressure would undermine many parents’ capacity and self-confidence.
-Winnicott expressed that you can do your best but not everything for your children. It is not humanly possible to be a perfect parent.
-Doing a good enough job means being able to relate positively to your child.
-Enjoy the time spent together with them.
Final Words: Fill your cup
-Identify what makes you feel good and seek it out.
-You’re not alone.
You’re not a bad parent.
We will get through this.
-Seek out more help when you need it.