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There are some things you can do as a parent to keep your house from tumbling down like a house of cards. Your first job as a parent is taking care of your own needs.

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Are you living in a parenting house of cards?

8 Apr 2016 | Trish Burkes, LCSW Marine Corps Base Quantico

It’s easy to see why some parents suffer from burnout or lose their zest in caring for their children. Parenting is one of the most challenging jobs on earth! There really are not many immediate rewards, like getting a raise or a promotion or a paid vacation. It’s a 24/7 job and requires constant diligence, effort, and energy. Just when you might master one challenge, your children offer new challenges.

Parents who suffer from burnout are not very pretty sights for anyone — especially their kids. What does parent “burnout” look like? When you find yourself irritated over small things, resentful toward your children and their needs (even if they are very basic needs), and/or feeling like you want to withdraw emotionally and physically from your children — you may be burned out. Burnout can lead you to feel that no matter what you do, it is never enough.

So, how can a parent avoid burnout? There are some things you can do as a parent to keep your house from tumbling down like a house of cards. Your first job as a parent is taking care of your own needs. Putting your own needs last the majority of the time is never a healthy thing to do. You need to be well rested, ready to meet your own physical, emotional and spiritual needs in order to be an optimal you. Parents who are healthy and well-balanced also have diverse interests, friendships and fun. They make better role models for their children and are much happier parents. What are some other tips for avoiding burnout? Build and maintain a good support network (yes- even if you have to start over at a new base when you PCS). No one can do the job of parenting by themselves. Even if you are a single parent and feel like you bear the burden of responsibility alone, you can align with other single parents to fortify yourself. You need not only friends, but reliable babysitters that you can hire on a regular basis. Just make sure that person is a licensed provider and somebody who comes with good references. If you can’t afford to pay for a sitter, arrange a co-op with friends you trust to swap child care.

Find time for fun activities that bring you joy. Watch a funny movie or try to make a list of hobbies you used to enjoy or have always wanted to pursue. Make a playlist of music that lifts your mood. Get inspiration from Pinterest or magazines about things you want to try with or without your children. It also gives you hope that what you desire can happen. You have to be the one giving yourself permission to care for yourself. You need people you can turn to when you’re on that “parenting ledge” about to jump off and scream. Every parent has been there. Being a parent martyr will make you miserable and your child doesn’t want you to be miserable.

Another tip, try to be more realistic and don’t expect to be perfect. You can’t expect to do everything, so sometimes you just have to say, “no” and decrease some of the demands. Is your schedule too tight or too full already? Maybe you can scale back and go on an “activity diet.” Avoid comparing yourself to other parents because you are unique. Your family is unique and if you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people you’re not going to feel you’re doing a great job.

Allow yourself to go to bed earlier — sleep deprivation is a huge factor when it comes to burnout. Find rest time for yourself. That means taking naps whenever you can sneak one in. When is the last time you took 10 minutes to just sit and do nothing? When you can, after your child falls asleep at night, just sit still and breathe, or call a friend and chat.

It’s your job as a parent to avoid burnout and to avoid becoming a martyr. Like they say “put on your own oxygen mask first,” because if you don’t, how can you care for anyone else? Make a list of how you are going to start putting some enjoyment back into your life. If you’re already burned out, it’s not too late to start recapturing the joy in your life. “Parent” yourself with good self-care so that you can give your child a healthy, happy role model. Remember, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Call New Parent Support, Family Advocacy Program, or Community Counseling for more support at 703-784-2570.