As a single working mom, I have yet to meet another person in my position who hasn’t a whopper of a tale to tell about the burnout blues. For those who have sought to be the best in everything they do — especially in parenting — this is likely nothing new.
There have been times when I nearly lost it from exhaustion, irritability, worry and fear of failure. These miasmas typically centered upon my unrealistic ideal of parental devotion, sacrifice and financial security to ensure my son’s all-around health, safety and welfare.
But what followed afterward was a paralyzing realization: “I can’t do this anymore!”
So what to do? Here are five tips to help you get there far sooner, I hope, than I ever did.
1.) Track it. Ask yourself what causes you the most stress. In my case, it was the fact that — yes! — I put myself on a pedestal. Nobody could work, cook, clean, teach, nurse, budget, or troubleshoot any crisis like me, right? I had to admit that at the center of my being was poisonous pride.
Yet I wasn’t able to see it without help. My priest (we are Roman Catholics) made the call — and justifiably lit into me with our Lord’s admonition, “Without Me you can do nothing.” At first I thought, “But look what I’ve accomplished by hard work and dedication all my life.” Then I remembered: Every time either I or my child was in dire need, we singly or together got down on our knees in prayer. God consistently came through (not necessarily via our specific requests), but always with what was best for us in the end.
2.) Delegate. It’s ironic that single moms like me understand the benefit of this strategy in business — but lose sight of it in our personal lives. I always made up excuses, such as, “My son is too young,” “He’s a teenager,” “Our friends and family live too far away,” and more.
So don’t do as I did — think. It’s still summertime, and in your circles there are out-of-school and out-of-work teens who need extra cash. Don’t hesitate to approach those adults friends or family in your circles by offering to hire their youngsters for an agreed-upon wage you can afford.
For example, do you really need to do all the laundry, vacuuming, scrubbing, dusting, repairing, recycling/garbage, and general picking up of clutter around the house? And if you object because you’re saving your money for a rainy day — look outside. It’s already here! What good will your hard-earned savings do if unaddressed burnout makes you sick — with a slew of expensive medical bills?
3.) Stick to a reasonable routine. If you were lucky enough to grow up in a family with a mom or dad in the military, as I did, then you already know the value of efficiency by adhering to house rules from which everyone benefits. And despite today’s liberal free-to-be-me and do-what-I-want rallying cries — forget it.
Both single working moms and their kids (from youngest to oldest) need structure to enable a thriving family unit no matter your culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status or faith. So set up scheduled times for sleep, meals, TV/internet, chores, outings, church, sports/exercise, and hobbies. Naturally, there will be protests — but stay firm and exercise discipline by small rewards for compliance: things like money for a movie, music, book, or pizza.
4.) Practice relaxing. It’s astonishing how many single moms remain clueless about their overly stressed body and mind. For instance, my warning signs included migraines, insomnia, digestive ailments, muscle spasms, inability to concentrate, rapid pulse, shallow breathing, self-talk — and repetitive negative thinking. Even a glass of wine or two at the end of the day in the end solved nothing — and led to negative consequences in the long run.
Instead, try this simple test to gauge where you are on the burnout spectrum. Take 15 minutes alone with peace and quiet while sitting comfortably in your favorite chair or sofa, feet to the ground and arms at your sides. Then, after one deep breath, feel your body’s response. My first time doing this, I noticed both hands were clenched into fists, my face felt tight, and my neck and shoulders ached. Even my feet hurt.
I panicked — and ran to the phone and arranged for a physical. Test results, however, were nothing but normal. So I did some digging — and what worked for me may not work for others, but it’s worth a try and can’t hurt.
I started with bi-weekly epsom salt baths for relaxation. Then, before bed, I learned how to do reflexology on my feet followed by gently massaging my own hands. Just these few changes started me on the road to feeling better.
5.) Count your blessings. As my dearly departed Greatest Generation World War II soldier dad said, “All good things come from God.” Whether you realize it or not, you’ve got plenty. Now is the time to tick them off.
Or, if you’re having trouble doing so, watch the TV news for an hour — with its reliable reports of death, poverty, crime, chaos, and terminal illness. If what you see is not among your plights, thank the Good Lord that you’ve been mercifully spared.
Then when your children come home with whatever woes of the day, give ’em a big hug — along with your endless love and as much attention, devotion and companionship as you give.
The author, a retired attorney, is a published poet and columnist in Arizona; she is also a regular contributor to LifeZette.