While gathering my thoughts before I wrote this blog, the memories of my late father came flooding. I can’t help but smile when I recall him saying this multiple times with a stern look, “small kids=small worries and big kids =big worries”. He used to say that each time, he felt overwhelmed by the life pressure of raising teenage daughters. I am now a mum of a teenager and an educator with over twenty-five years of experience working with adolescents; I couldn’t agree more with him. The years of parenting older kids can be some of the most stressful.
A research study published in Developmental Psychology found that mothers of middle-school-age children reported the highest levels of emptiness and lowest levels of life satisfaction, and their burnout symptoms are more intense compared to moms of other age groups. In the market research I recently conducted, over 70% of parents stated that raising teenagers significantly contributes to them experiencing some symptoms of parental Burnout at some point. What exactly is Parental Burnout?
Parental Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can occur in parents or carers. It is often caused by the demands of caring for a child and other stressors such as work, financial concerns, and relationship issues. Symptoms of Parental Burnout include feeling overwhelmed, irritable, and constantly tired; difficulty concentrating; and experiencing a decrease in personal accomplishment. The symptoms can be more extreme for parents of teenagers who face unique challenges during this period.
If you want to know more about the burnout that we don’t talk about, read The unspoken epidemic.
Adolescence can be a demanding time for both parents and teenagers. Teenagers are going through significant physical, emotional, and cognitive changes, and also this is when they start testing boundaries and seeking independence. During the teen years, power struggles can abound because parents have the power in the family, and the teens are rising in independence and autonomy, defining their identity and seeking their own power. They want to make their own choices. They have their own thoughts and ideas.
This can create additional demands and stress for parents, who may feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of parenting and the challenges of communicating and connecting with their teenager and letting go.
If you’re parenting or caring for a teenager and experiencing some symptoms related to Burnout, there are things you can do to combat this condition and cope. The good news is that Parental Burnout is temporary if you’re willing to make some changes in your life.
How to manage Parental Burnout if you’re parenting teenagers
Assess and Adjust
Start with a self-assessment of the things that are working for you and those that are not. After all, we can’t be effective in our role as a parent if our life isn’t working for us. Prioritise what is necessary by differentiating between wants and needs. Shift your mindset from “the best” to “what works”. More options are not better; they will lead to burnout and exhaustion. When making decisions, keep in mind your family dynamics, lifestyle and the working hours of both parents,
Stop Power struggles
Power struggles during the teen years can create ruptures in connection and attachment at a time when children need to depend on their parents the most. Your teenager needs you to be their safe space and refuge. Keep your bond strong by avoiding power struggles and opting for power sharing instead.
Power sharing allows teens to learn how to make good choices within the safety of the parent-child relationship. Power sharing involves giving choices or compromising. For example, if they come home from school and don’t want to do their homework, offer taking an activity break, a game outside or play with the dog ( they might need to burn adrenaline) or a snack break ( they might need an energy boost). Each of these choices meets a need they may have, and they will feel they have some control over the situation because they get to make a choice.
Be patient. Remember your teen’s good qualities and what you love about them, and be sure to communicate that.
Have a technology policy in place and be a role model
The best way to help teenagers manage their use of technology and to reduce the chance that technology will be a source of conflict is to set rules for technology use in your house. These rules need to be clear, and you must be consistent to avoid confusion. You cannot expect your teenagers to do otherwise if you regularly check your phone at the dinner table or during the movie. Remember, children are more likely to follow the model than follow the words.
Guard Your Intimate-ship
When you focus on ‘just’ parenting, you can easily lose who you are as an individual and, more specifically, as a couple. When parenting burnout takes place, the romantic relationship suffers as well. So, you must be bold in our attempt to prioritise your “Intimate ship” as parents. Nurturing your relationship with your partner helps you be the best you can be as a parenting team member.
Talk together about your feelings and experiences as the parents of a teenage child, making sure to really listen to what each other is saying. Show affection, admiration and appreciation for each other and prioritise alone time.
Let go of your urge to control everything
For teenagers, developing an independent sense of self is crucial. Therefore, they need to test their capabilities and explore the world on their own. In addition, your teens need to learn how to face and cope with the consequences of their actions.
Controlling and overprotective behaviours limit your teen’s opportunities to build the essential skills that help them flourish as adults. Every time you step in, it’s one less opportunity for your teenager to learn two things: how to handle situations and how to handle their feelings.
In addition, controlling and overprotective behaviours will negatively impact your health, as you will experience constant anxiety about whether your child is safe, making the right choice and getting the best and not forgetting the ongoing arguments.
Let’s be realistic: not everyone can take a kid-free getaway to recover. Tiny breaks like soaking for 10 minutes in a bathtub, locking yourself in your room for 5 minutes to take deep breaths, sitting silently in your car after grocery shopping and listening to a guided meditation before going back home or blasting the car stereo to your favourite songs on your way to pick up your children from school are all mini therapeutic breaks that you can allow yourself to enjoy. Focus on finding “me time” in realistic and manageable ways for you.
Don’t apologise for taking care of yourself. If you are unhealthy and unhappy, how can you expect to care for your teen in the best way possible? You Can’t.
Seek help if necessary
A therapist or a Family coach specialised in Parental Burnout can support and guide you to get your family back on track and restore the relationships. The strategies provided will not only expand your parenting toolbox, it will help you get through the storms healthily and positively. If you wish to know how I can support you as a Certified Parental Burnout Practitioner, contact me here.