Parental Burnout in COVID-19

family, parental burnout, covid

Let me know if any of these sound familiar to you:

  • “My child didn’t really adapt well to virtual learning. Even when sitting with her, she had difficulty with the new learning format- and quite frankly, so did I”
  • “I didn’t realize how much he was struggling until sitting with him during virtual learning and seeing how lost he was”
  • “I was getting so frustrated because she wasn’t doing it right and I didn’t know how to help. I feel so guilty”
  • “Trying to balance my work with their schooling became too much; I feel badly, but I just gave up”
  • “I thought she was doing okay in school, but now I see that she is far behind peers”
  • “Something needs to be done before September comes; I need a plan”

These are just a few of the stories I have heard from parents over the past couple of months. Many feel frustrated, tired, stressed, and desperate for a return to normal. I also noticed that many mom’s groups and provider blogs are quick to relay a long laundry list of ways to help: “Well, if you just do (fill in the blank) it will get better. Put them into a routine. Send them to bed at the same time each day. Don’t show them you are stressed. It will all be fine.”

While I applaud the many infographics shared on Facebook and Instagram suggesting “X technique” or “Y routine” will optimize behavior and turn a little devil into a perfect angel, each family is unique and all children are different. For some, the list of suggestions around routines, eating, exercise, and socialization will do wonders. For others, a more tailored approach is likely the ticket to success.

I am noticing as we settle in to our “new normal” that many parents are worn out and feeling guilty, anxious, and depressed. This is not a situation that even the most skilled supermoms can fix with a bandaid and a smile. The idea that this pandemic is sticking around for quite some time is mood crushing, particularly for those who recognize the negative impact of missing out on in-person socialization, camps, vacations, in-person school, birthday parties, visits to grandparents, and countless life achievements (e.g., graduations, getting a license, promotions to camp counselor from junior counselor, senior prom, weddings, the list goes on…). This, coupled with the uncertainty of school structure in September given the Delta variant and the anxiety around contracting COVID-19 or infecting others is a lot for anyone to handle.

So, what is to be done?  To start, there is a notion in psychology called “radical acceptance,” and it is as straightforward as it sounds. In those tough moments, accept the situation for what it is, and steer clear of the “but if only” and “if I could just” responses that compound the guilt and sadness. Pizza bites for the third time this week? At least there is dinner on the table. Missed bedtime by a half hour? Great that you’re getting them to bed right now. Extra half hour of screen time so you can get your work finished? Excellent job balancing your needs with theirs. Accepting the situation, the moment, with all of its imperfections.

Further, it is hard to pour from an empty cup. Working together with a spouse, neighbor, friend, or family member to identify a time for you to get a little “me time” will make you a better parent and enable you to tackle the stressors ahead. Perhaps you and your neighbor can each pick an afternoon when one watches the other’s child, allowing each of you an afternoon to breathe or get organized. Maybe you bend your rule about watching television on a school night and allow your child to zone into his or her favorite program while you use that time to your benefit. Whatever it is, if it allows you to recharge your batteries a bit, it is well worth it.

I want to applaud all parents for doing their best in these trying times. I hear you, I acknowledge your struggles, and I support you. If you feel like your child may benefit from a comprehensive evaluation as he or she returns to in-school instruction this year, feel free to give me a call and we can discuss. I will share my tailored approach to understanding a child’s specific needs, meeting him or her where they are at, and charting a course forward. But, for now, a high five to parents everywhere: great job getting through another week!