I’ve seen parental burnout defined as a “unique and context specific syndrome resulting from enduring exposure to chronic parenting stress.” That’s me I hear you cry. It’s often me too! In fact, I’ve been edging towards it this week but as I recognise the pattern, I’m working on coming out of it. It’s primary symptom is overwhelming exhaustion relating to ones role as a parent.
As a parent, I’ve experienced this but as the parent of a child with SEND, I’ve really experienced it. I have two neurotypical children and one with additional needs and disabilities so I truly get parenting in both scenarios. I’ve been to the brink and back again. Burnout happens repeatedly when I take my eye off the ball in caring for myself. I can feel you nodding along in agreement with me. In fact, I’ve been chatting this week to a number of parents in my inner circle, The Velvets, who are experiencing this overwhelming exhaustion. Burnout is wide spread, especially in our community. The tiredness, the low and weak posture, apathy at times and tears. It all becomes too much.
Coping with Parental Burnout as the parent of a child with SEND can, at times, be totally overwhelming.
Before I head straight into the core of the episode, I want you to just take a moment and have a think about the answer to this question, How do you define your own success? I’ll ask again, How do you define your own success? Is it by being what you perceive the perfect parent to be? What is your perception of that? It’s different for all of us but I’m guessing that some of the following things fit into what you believe your success to look like as a successful parent.
It could be having a tidy house, nutritious home cooked meals, keeping the children clean and tidy, getting their homework done on time, carrying out daily therapy, attending tons of appointments for your child, keeping it together when you go to school and medical meetings, having a healthy private life with your partner (don’t laugh), getting enough sleep (don’t laugh), having time for yourself (again, don’t laugh)…
Trying to do all of these things and more, really well, creates pressure and guilt. It’s exhausting.
The guilt that goes with parenting a child with SEND.
This is a big one! Placing huge pressure on yourself to do enough and be enough. Running yourself ragged trying to do it all. I often meet parents who, like me, perhaps knew before birth that their child would have difficulties and pile the pressure on to do everything in their power, over and above, for their child because they made the decision to bring them into this world. I’ve been there. I am there. Other times, children with SEND are adopted and their adoptive parents feel an overwhelm of responsibility to get it more than right. No matter what the situation, every parent/carer of a child with any needs at all that I come into contact with goes through times when they feel they are not enough.
I just want to tell you before I go on, YOU ARE ENOUGH!
Most often though, what I definitely know to be true, is that the most important thing any child needs is to be loved. They need love, nurture, a loving home, food and to be truly listened to, however they communicate.
In the world of SEND, we as parents also have to fit in meeting the additional needs of our children, medical appointments, therapy, dealing with tough behavioural problems, strained relationships, fear for the future, external pressures, learning life saving techniques, getting the services they need, managing play dates they want to have but often can’t handle, those simple things which for us are never simple like researching if there are adequate facilities to enable us to take our children out for the day and stressful shopping experiences. There are often challenges around having and giving enough time to other children in your family. I certainly have this challenge. I genuinely try my absolute best to divide my attention between my three children, show them all love and spend adequate quality time with them. It’s not easy and although I genuinely feel I’m doing my best, I still hear complaints from them at times. Sometimes I take it very personally and other times, I have the strength to know I truly am doing my best. There is no way in this world that my sweet six year old could comprehend everything I do and everything I have to do. She just knows how she feels. And that’s ok.
Feeling defeated, suffering from physical and mental exhaustion, burnt out, total lack of energy and feeling trapped? Sound familiar?
What can you do about it?
Well, on the whole, its about getting the balance right between increasing resources and reducing the risk factors or stressors.
Some ideas you can look at are:
- Ask for help. You are no doubt a very proud person and no one likes to feel as if they are failing and they certainly don’t like to look like it in front of others. Quite honestly, you have got to get into the mindset of not giving a damn what others think in that respect. No one else is living your life. Take ownership of what you have and what you need. Also, importantly, YOU ARE NOT FAILING! Any parent who is trying their best is not failing. The only failure is not trying at all and I am yet to meet a parent of a child with needs who isn’t trying. If you have friends who could ease the load with a little help here and there, for example, picking up some shopping or doing the post office trip when they go, perhaps collecting your child from school or coming with you to a meeting, that can all really help. Perhaps you have a disability social worker (if you’re in the UK) or could look into getting one for respite or perhaps if you can’t leave your child with anyone, you could pay someone to come clean your house to help you feel calmer. Sometimes the jobs that need doing are sorting or clearing out. You can often find reasonably priced help. I have previously enlisted the help of The Time Fairy to clear out my wardrobes and rubbish in our bedroom. It might seem like a silly job to outsource but it was never my priority and it was getting on top of me and I hated it. My priority is always the downstairs or the children’s rooms and our room just gets left. To be honest, I could do with a clear out again. It doesn’t have to be expensive and sometimes choosing to commit your money to one area over another can have huge benefits. I often think, oh no, I cant afford that or I don’t want to put money towards that when I could do it myself but sometimes paying an external source to carry out these jobs, frees you up to push forward on the things no one else can do – like Advocating for your child. Perhaps the money you might spend on books or magazines or wine or a trip out, could occasionally be better spent helping you.
- Get organised. If your child is like mine, you will have bundles and bundles and bundles of paperwork. I have more folders for Freddie than I do for household management. There is the EHCP, the professionals letters, the therapy paperwork, research, school reviews and information. SO MUCH STUFF. Allocating time to sort through what you have is a dull and extensive task but it’s a task worth doing. Throw out anything you no longer need or if you can’t bare to throw it out then file it in fire/water proof bags or water proof boxes and put it in the shed, loft or garage or under the bed.
- Planning. Planning your week is essential. This really needs a whole separate Podcast session because I have so many tips you can use. I’m also planning on doing a challenge this year (that’s 2019 if you’re listening in the future) on this topic for you to take part in. Even just a couple of adjustments to how you do things can make a world of difference.
- Delegate. This is especially important if you have a partner. Not so easy if you are lone parenting but making decisions about what you could and are willing to delegate out to an external source can help here. You would probably be surprised, if you are the primary care giver, what you take responsibility for. I’ve talked before about the ‘load’ we carry. The load we carry which is often not spoken about. Talking through with your partner about how overwhelming it can be is the start. No one is a mind reader so talking it through and working out what you would be happy to let go of is important. You could draw up a weekly plan. If you’re like me, you wont be keen to let go of the big responsibilities around your child like attending meetings and making the big decisions. You might even feel annoyed that your partner doesn’t feel your pain with the meetings but when it comes to it, would you want to give over responsibility? So, what can you let go of? Perhaps your partner could take responsibility for washing, drying and replacing the towels on a Tuesday and changing, washing and putting away the bedding on a Thursday? Whose job is it to clear out the fridge once a week or take the bins out? Once you have some clearly defined roles it really helps reduce the irritation and spread the load. It might be that your partner is the ‘bread winner’ and works full time and you don’t so you both feel and have felt in the past that the bulk of the load is down to you. ‘This absolutely isn’t the case. Being a carer is more than a full time job, especially if you work outside the home in any capacity too. The relationship is a partnership and should be seen as one, encompassing all responsibilities. Start with something small and build up. My word of warning is that when you talk to your partner about it, you approach it sensitively. If they feel blame or shame, their initial response may well be one of rejection. This isn’t about blame, this is just about changing the dynamic a little to prevent one or both of you going under.
- You Time. Part of planning your week must include booking time in for you. Once its written down, it’s more of a commitment to doing it. Even if you start on just 15 minutes a day or 15 minutes every other day. It’s worth it. Getting out and chatting with people can really lift your spirits. Even if it’s a little out of your comfort zone.
- What’s Best? Decide which parenting recommendations are actually important to you. There is so much advice out there about how to parent, what to feed them and how much television they should watch that it can be exhausting trying to be the perfect parent. Go easy on yourself, you have so much more than the average parent to deal with and so many important things to get done. Some things just wont be as important to your family as they are to others. Our families needs are all individual and your approach just needs to fit your needs and no one else’s.
In conclusion, relaxing your notion of what it means to be a successful parent can reduce the pressure and stress and therefore reduce the guilt we carry around about how successful we are.
It’s ok not to do the dusting (don’t judge but I genuinely don’t think I’ve dusted anything for a couple of months), it’s also ok not to attend all your child’s school meetings. An example of this is that if your SEND child has a parents evening, you know – the 10 minute slot kind, but you have regular team around the child meetings, then its ok not to go. I don’t. Don’t feel you have to be involved in the PTA or tons of play dates. Allow yourself to say no to things. Sometimes I’m just too tired and although I would never let anyone down at the last minute, if I know I’m exhausted, I no longer over commit. In fact, part of my weekly planning is ensuring there is a little down time or I commit to going to bed just after the children do. Whatever it takes. It’s also ok not to accept some hospital appointments if you know you don’t really need them or perhaps you can reschedule them. I received a letter this week giving me a date for Freddie to attend a clinic with a Dr I’ve never heard of? I’ve emailed the hospital to find out who it is and what it’s for. There is no way I’m going unless it’s of real benefit. Will wait and see.
If the topic of burnout resonates with you, I hope there is something in this episode which you can use to start the ball rolling in helping to break the cycle.
I’m building an empowered community of parents and carers and I’m so pleased you are a part of it. My website is undergoing some changes at the moment because I’m creating a place just for us. Visit aimeemannmentoring.com and if you haven’t already, sign up to become a founding member. I love Facebook but at times, due to how busy the platform is, we don’t always get to see the information which is useful or important to us so I’m going renegade and taking us to our own Special Needs Social Network. I’m a parent/carer just like you so it’s not happening overnight but my vision is big and I’d love you to be a part of it.
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Take care and I’ll catch you next week. x