Burnout busters for parents

a mum juggling a lot of different tasks which can lead to burnout - tots to teens

It’s not easy keeping all the balls in the air all the time! Here are seven ways to cope with burnout and make your life a little bit easier, says Eve Douglas.

Does this sound like your typical morning? You wake up way earlier than you would have liked. You prepare the baby’s mashed avocado while chopping banana for the toddler’s porridge and attempting to make the first cup of coffee. Suddenly the phone rings, there’s a knock on the door that indicates the arrival of the courier who’s only going to wait three seconds before shoving the “Nobody home” card under the mat, the toddler announces she needs the toilet and the baby starts wailing. If, at this point, you feel like giving up and crawling back to bed, don’t worry. The latest research shows that multitasking – the very quality so needed by parents worldwide – usually leads to stress and burnout. So, what’s a harassed parent to do?

1. Do the worst task first

If you have a list of things to do, start with the biggest or hardest of the lot, before your energy drains away just thinking about it. You’ll usually find it wasn’t as bad as you imagined, plus all the other tasks you tackle afterwards will seem tiny in comparison.

2. Prioritise

Every task can be classified into these four groups:

  • Urgent and important
  • Urgent but not important
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not urgent and not important.

For example, if you need to help your toddler go to the toilet, that’s both urgent (it has to happen right now) and important (you don’t want an accident, because that will create a setback for your child and more work for you). A courier at the door is urgent (he’ll go away if you don’t respond) but perhaps not that important in the grander scheme of things (you can reschedule or pick up the parcel at the depot). Creating your Family Emergency Plan is certainly important, but not urgent (it can be postponed provided you do get around to it). And every parent can create their own list of tasks that are neither urgent nor important and can therefore be deleted from the chore list forever. Here are a few of mine: Ironing, dusting, watching TV, making time-consuming meals. And here’s one more time-consuming activity that I should give up because it’s neither urgent nor important: Facebook.

3. Schedule

Of course, nothing can be set in stone. Children get sick (often at the most inconvenient times). Plunket appointments need to happen. But as much as possible, create a schedule with a fall-back Plan B, and stick to it. For example, laundry happens on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Vacuuming day is Saturday. Big shopping is best done on Tuesday morning when the toddler’s at kindy and the shop’s not crowded. Bathrooms get cleaned on Thursdays, the pantry the day after Christmas, and the garage never. Oh, and the most important one: Friday night is takeaway night.

4. Plan ahead

Make your jobs easier by being organised and prepared. For example:

  • Place the shopping list on the fridge and update it as soon as you realise you’re running out of something. Furthermore, if you train family members to add to the list during the week, you can’t be blamed if someone runs out of deodorant or toothpaste
  • Have a basket of cleaning products ready to move from room to room as you wipe, dust, and mop.
  • Store all your kindy notices and contact numbers in one file. Store the school ones in another. From time to time (at the end of each term), discard the ones that are no longer needed.
  • Put everything back in its place. That way, you don’t waste time looking for car keys, phone, paracetamol, nail file, scissors. You will still spend a large portion of your day searching for Teddy, dummy, the yellow sippy cup, Barbie’s right shoe, and Bob the Builder’s utility belt.
  • Place your local takeaway menus in clear pockets of a plastic folder for those nights you can’t face cooking. Did I mention that Friday night is takeaway night?

5. Use the “waiting” time

Waiting at the dentist? Boiling the kettle? Waiting for the washing machine to finish so you can hang up the towels? Waiting for the child to wake up from a nap? No, okay, perhaps not that last one – when your kids are all asleep at the same time, I bet you’re grateful to be snoozing too. But our lives are full of those little in-between minutes that can be used to catch up on emails, read a few pages of your book, write a to-do list, make a quick phone call, or simply to sit down and enjoy the silence.

6. Delegate

We are all guilty of not delegating enough. And yet, a three-year-old can pick up the Lego blocks and put them in the box. A four-year-old can (and happily will) water the veggie patch. A six-year-old can put dishes in the dishwasher. A husband can (and unhappily will) do the vacuuming. Most grandparents will babysit if you ask. And, if you can afford it, a once-a-month cleaner will do wonders for your house as well as your emotional wellbeing.

7. Tips for working parents

  • Share drop-offs and lifts to after-school activities with another working parent.
  • Pay part of the petrol and ask another parent to do all the drop-offs.
  • Do your shopping, banking, or gym in your lunch break.
  • Use your commuting time to exercise (walk or bike to work), read or email on the bus, or listen to an audio book in the car.
  • If you can afford it, get a cleaner or/and a gardener.
  • Consider decreasing your hours in exchange for a better life-work balance.

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