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Challenge: Expert Advice

Cures for Mommy Burnout

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The pandemic has us all on edge. We’re overwhelmed, anxious, concerned and burning out. “Burnout” is caused by unmanageable workloads, unreasonable time pressure, unrealistic expectations and lack of support with no psychological buffers.And we're taking on more, more, more: parent, teacher, day care, cook, cleaner and working at home.

TODAY.com parents sent in dozens of questions about ending mommy burn out. I’ll be sharing answers with Hoda and Jenna on the TODAY show this week. Meanwhile, here are a few of your top concerns and ways you can reduce burnout so we can do what really matters: Help our families stay strong and get through these tough time.

QN: “Many parents right now are feeling burnt out because we're trying to do it all. How do we take off our ‘Super Mom’ cape?”

The easiest way to stop burnout is to take off our “Supermom Capes” and rethink our mother role. During this pandemic kids need our calm presence and just us being with them. Who you are is more important than all the things you do. In short, our kids need us to be “nouns,” not "verbs."

So, identify one thing that helps you decompress so you can be emotionally present for your child. Is it reading a magazine, walking, doing yoga, praying?

Set a goal to do that one thing on a regular basis to help reduce your burnout. You might be able to even do it with your kids (read with them, do yoga, with them, walk with them).

If you want to succeed, tell a woman your plan. A study found that when we tell a woman friend our goal, we increase our chances of succeeding because she holds you accountable. Watch, she’ll call and ask, “So, did you do it?” Tell a friend!

QN: “Are parents with younger kids more burned out than middle school or high school aged kids?”

Parenting is always hard, but different kids’ ages create different kinds of burnout.

Younger kids are usually more physically draining. They’re more active, have shorter attention spans, and need more supervision.

Older kids, especially teens, are usually more emotionally draining because they’re worried about their friends, friends, school, financial stability, and health.

Both physical and emotional stress cause burnout, but it’s why we must take care of ourselves so we can take care of our families.

QN: “If you feel like you are about to lose control and just start yelling at your kids- what do you do?”

Stress comes before anger. Create a nonverbal, signal that means that the sender needs space to calm down. It could be as simple as holding your hand straight out like an umpire or touching your nose. Then make sure everyone in your family knows that signal and honors it.

Then before you try using it, identify your stress signs that warn you’re about to lose control--like a pounding heart, rapid breathing, light headedness. As soon as you that stress sign, take a slow deep breath. And then use the signal. It can do wonders to minimize outbursts and keep family harmony. The trick is use it regularly.

You could also appoint your mom, sister or friend as your “rescuer.” If you really need a breather, tell your child, “Grandma wants you give her a call.

QN: “I am studying with my kids Monday through Friday, working weekends and still cook, clean and care about stuff. Who cares about me?"

There’s a reason airlines tell you to put your oxygen mask on before putting on your child’s. You can’t take care of your children unless you can take care of yourself and that’s why Moms must do self-care. Three things help reduce burnout:

Sleep is crucial to keeping stress at bay. Adhering to a regular schedules improves sleep. Turn those screens off at least 30 minutes prior to lights out. Don’t rely on liquor to make that transition.

Exercise restores energy, so add walking, biking, yoga, to your schedule. Better yet, do it with your kids.

Connection builds empathy, increases mental health and reduces stress, so find a tribe of caring women to support each other. Do regular check ins, do coffee zoom breaks, or send supportive text messages. Some moms rotate roles of leading a Facebook kid sing-along or read-aloud which gives other moms a break. And don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Let's be #strongmomstogether.

QN “Is there something we should be doing with our kids now so eventually we don’t look back and say, "Damn, I should've used that time to …”

The single greatest correlation of children who triumph over hardship is the presence of a stable, caring parent who helped them believe “We will get through this together!”

Let that be your family mantra. Say it over and over so kids feel the strength of your family.

QN: “For so many parents, the challenging thing about this pandemic is that there is so much we don't know. What's the best way to stay positive through this crisis?”

Staying positive isn’t easy, but science tells us that optimism can be learned and do wonders in keeping burnout at bay.

Negative news builds pessimism, so limit your intake of depressing news. Look for uplifting stories in the news of ordinary, compassionate people to inspire your heart and give you hope. Set a google alert for “Good News”: inspiring stories of ordinary people doing good things for others.

Some parents do “Good News” reports with their kids before bedtime or during family meals. In fact, the best way to learn resilience traits like optimism is to practice and model it. You’ll learn it faster, and so will your kids.

QN: “I’m worried about my children’s development? How is the quarantine life affecting them?”

Science has studied children enduring all types of horrific trauma-war, poverty, mass shootings, abuse-and found that three things affect children’s development.

  • Did the child have mental health issues prior to the pandemic? A crisis generally amplifies preexisting mental health problems.
  • Did the child experience financial distress, death of loved one or was a family member’s health affected?
  • Did the child have coping skills prior to the crisis? Resilience is made up of teachable skills like self-regulation, optimism, adaptability, problem solving which help minimize the impact of trauma.

Our children are living in uncertain times and will need skills to help them thrive. We can use these weeks to teach kids ways to triumph over adversity that they need now and later.

QN: "My youngest is suffering the most because as he is a social learner but now he's reduced to looking at a computer screen. Do you have any advice or tips in terms of those social learners?"

Relationships enhance kids’ mental health, so, use the virtual world to help your children maintain positive peer connections.

  • Create learning partners. Find a mom with a child in your kids’ class to become his learning partner. At a set time each day the two kids practice their spelling, math facts or vocabulary words through Skype or Facetime.
  • Learn a hobby. Find an interest your child shares with a few friends like wanting to learn to knitting, do woodwork, or play an instrument. Then find a YouTube link that teaches the skill or parents take turns volunteering to be the children’s online teacher for daily or weekly hobby time.
  • Hold virtual playdates. Younger kids can play blocks, draw or play dress up with a buddy on the other side of the window while hearing their pal’s voice on a phone next to them.

QN: "How do we balance independent play with interactive play when we have to get our work done? I feel like I'm working and he's playing independently I'm just ignoring him. When does independent play become neglect?"

Take a big breath and relieve your guilt. Neglect is completely out of the picture because your intention is to create a safe environment for your son and keep a roof over his head. And guilt creates burnout.

The silver lining is that kids need to learn independence which builds resilience, self-efficacy and creativity. And self-directed play is how young kids learn. So, encourage activities where your son can learn to enjoy his own company like sandbox, block building or playing dress up. Your free time is when you can be present for your child. Quality parenting always trumps quantity.

We’ve been helicoptering our kids. This is time to say, “You can do it!” Instead, “Mommy will help.”

QN: We're pretty bummed that our daughters cannot see family and friends that we're used to seeing each week. What can we do to ensure that they get the bonding experience with family and friends?"

Extended families can be a fabulous support system and burnout reducer. Families are finding creative ways to use shelter in place time to strengthen bonds between kids and relatives and friends and fill you up.

Each night a different family member outside your home (Grandma, Aunt Sally, Uncle Paul) reads a book virtually (like Cat in the Hat or chapter from Harry Potter) while all kids listen and enjoy virtually.

Create a Family Movie Google doc of appropriate, accessible movies for extended family members to see. Choose top picks and then sets a regular movie night (like every Wednesday) when everyone watches at the same time. Tell your child: “Grandpa is watching with us. ”

Viewers can then review the film on Facetime. Or hold family virtual games like Bingo, Pictionary or Charades. All you need in a zoom account. The trick is to set regular family gatherings so you all enjoy each other’s company.

Remember, what every child needs to thrive is feeling safe, accepted, capable and loved. Take care of yourself, so you can take care of your kids.


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