British Columbia·Point of View

Feel the burn: What to do when parenting pushes you to the edge?

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. So how can you make sure that raising kids doesn't bring you down?

Take some simple steps to make sure raising little ones doesn't lead to big stress

Parenting is a tough job. How can you handle it without burning out? (Alexander Lyubavin/flickr cc)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

The World Health Organization recently recognized workplace burnout as an occupational phenomenon, so why don't we recognize the burnout from doing the world's hardest and arguably most important job?

In terms of tackling the problem, there are a host of recommended "self care" options to choose from. 

But do tell, what type of yoga will afford me peace of mind that my children will have safe childhoods and productive lives? What scented candle will fool me into thinking I've had a good night's sleep? 

Truth be told, so called "self care" is quite often is just another added duty that can overwhelm an already maxed out parent. So how does a busy parent in this day and age make sure they aren't overextending themselves in the name of their children? 

You are your own worst enemy

One thing you might want to consider? You — not your children — are the biggest cause of stress in your life. Between helicopter parenting and over-scheduling our children, we can be our own worst enemies.

Hillary McBride is a Vancouver area counsellor who sees parents when they're at the end of their rope. While these parents come to her for help, she sees how difficult it can be to convince them they need to help themselves.

"Where I see parents struggling," says McBride, "is them coming in for therapy and saying things like, 'I feel like I'm burning out, but everything has to be done this way,' and the reality is, it can't anymore."

McBride also points out that waiting until you're past the point of burnout to try to put out a fire is about as effective as "choosing a low-salt option when you are in the middle of a heart attack." So try to recognize the signs that you're feeling the burn long before you flame out. 

It's also important to manage your expectations — sure, there might be piles of dirty clothes in every room, but as long as everyone has clean underwear, consider it a win! Eventually someone will want clean pants and throw in a load of laundry — and it doesn't always have to be you. 

Get a Life

As important as children may be — it's also important to realize they are not the centre of the universe. In fact, they can actually benefit from that. Author and parenting advocate Julie Lythcott-Haims puts it bluntly when it comes to focusing all your energy on raising kids. 

"Get a life," says Lythcott-Haims. "Children need to see what adults do, as opposed to all adults do is hover over children ... how are they going to be inspired if we make adulthood look so anxious and unhealthy?"

And one small trick that can help with some big feelings of burnout? Say no. 

Say it a lot. Say it to the teacher who asks you to help at the field trip. Say it to the friend who asks you to watch her kids after school. Say it to your kids whenever they ask you to get something they can darn well get off the couch and get themselves. And say it to yourself when you start to question if you should do more for your children. 

Unless you're a professional juggler — in which case, congrats on your cool job — no one is expecting you to keep all the balls in the air. And if your kids grow up to be parents, hopefully they'll understand that no one will expect them to either. 


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.