This has been a summer like no other. Back in March, seemingly overnight parents were saddled with an abrupt change in lifestyle, bringing with it more responsibilities, struggles and overwhelm. It was lockdown mode, but it was going to be temporary, right? Now reality is: no end to COVID in the foreseeable future.
Do you feel burned out? “Parental burnout” is real. More than fatigue or constant stress, parental burnout is characterized by a combination of these symptoms:
- Exhaustion to the point where you can’t get out of bed in the morning
- Emotionally unavailable for your children
- Pleasure of parenting is absent, which is a definite change of behavior for you
Tips to reduce the burn
Relax standards that can’t be maintained. We live in a world where chaos is the norm. Imposing strict rules on things that are jumbled at the outset will only cause misery. Focus on what you can control and let go of the things you can’t.
Give up perfection for yourself and your family. We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn. Apologize and nurture a do-over mindset.
Concentrate on things you can control at home rather than worrying about your kids falling behind in school. Maintain a less is more approach. Shift emphasis from specific content knowledge to reading and promoting life skills.
Social-emotional learning – self-directed learning, teamwork and collaboration, empathy and perspective taking, interdependence of relationships and more. These soft skills are omitted from many school curriculums
Reading activities – in addition to high-interest independent reading, boost literacy skills with word puzzles, reader’s theater, book trivia or character guessing games, or try a family book club
Add structure to each day so the entire family has similar expectations. Categorize activities into 3 groups (involving older kids in the decision-making):
- Things you want to happen
- Things you would like to happen
For example, a nonnegotiable might be to spend a designated amount of time outdoors every day. Maybe you would like your kids to make their own lunches. With older kids, use sticky notes to write down different activities and then together, determine the category where each activity belongs.
Build self-reliance to prevent becoming your children’s full-time events manager for the summer. Train yourself to let go of the need to keep them engaged, and retrain your children to occupy themselves without the constant need for attention.
The goal is to cultivate skills of self-directed activity, critical thinking and resilience when you step aside and provide opportunities for self-sufficiency. Make space for children to be creative problem-solvers.
The key is to start small, as appropriate for their developmental age. Jennifer Keys Adair, Professor of Early Childhood Education at UT Austin recommends the “15/45 minute rule“: give a child 15 minutes of uninterrupted attention followed by 45 minutes of self-directed activity. Be clear about your expectations and communicate the amount of or specific time for work each day, a quiet space, or whatever allows you to accomplish daily tasks.
Look at the upsides
- New ways of communicating have been learned by the majority, even people who are technically averse. It may be a positive step for our planet if we continue to spend less time in cars and on planes.
- Alternative ways of working have been discovered out of necessity. If we’ve truly learned to simplify our lives we won’t return to pre-pandemic traditions.
- Be grateful for the extra time you have with your kids, a luxury that many working parents usually go without.
Remember to grant a sense of control for yourself. Give yourself a break – literally and figuratively. Take time to be alone, even for a few minutes. Breathe deeply, listen to music, meditate, take a walk and ease into the remainder of the summer!
Caron, Christina. (2020, June 29). As Coronavirus cases surge, families struggle to draw boundaries. The Cornonavirus Outbreak. The New York Times [online newspaper]
Dornfest, Asha & Newman, Catherine. (2020, July 1). Locking-in Life Skills, Caring for Your Community and Other Tips for a Productive Family Summer. Common Sense Media [webinar]
Grose, Jessica. (2020, June 23). School’s Out. Parental Burnout Isn’t Going Away. At Home. The New York Times [online newspaper]
Harford, Tim. (2020, July 7). Episode 10: Embracing the Messiness of Life. Parent Trapped. Common Sense Media [podcast]
Turner, Cory & Kamenetz, Anya. (2020, June 22). Teaching kids to play by themselves. We need to let them do it. NPR’s Life Kit: Parenting [podcast]
Turner, Cory & Kamenetz, Anya. (2020, May 12). When will this be over? Sesame Workshop’s Tips for parenting during a pandemic. NPR’s Life Kit: Parenting [podcast]