Becoming a parent is one of the greatest joys in life. From the moment expectant parents hear the baby’s heartbeat in the womb to the delivery in the labor room, there is very little in life that compares to this insurmountable joy. Parents eagerly await some of the milestones and sometimes engage in silly debates over whether the first word will be “Mama” or “Dada.” So much joy abounds in anticipation of the developmental milestones – taking the first step, smiling for the first time, and waving “bye bye” are all greeted with delight.
Raising tiny humans is filled with new adventures every day, sometimes every hour, but there is no denying that parenting isn’t easy. Parenting is tough. Unlike any other job, parenting is definitely a 24/7 job that includes late night feedings, tantrums and meltdowns. Because parents are constantly giving on all levels to their wee ones, especially physically and emotionally, it is understandable that exhaustion can result.
Parenting has always been associated with some level of exhaustion. Feeling tired just comes with the territory and is a common experience for parents. According to Dr. Dan Brennan, “Tiredness can push us to our limits emotionally and mentally.” Exhaustion is when extreme tiredness sets in. When a little one enters the world, many things change. The impact can be caused by disrupted sleep habits, a change in routine or other stressors in life. Getting the shuteye which was so easy before baby came on the scene, changes almost overnight. For decades, new parents have struggled with the tiredness that plagues this role; however, there seems to be a different type of exhaustion being experienced today. What is fueling this exhaustion?
“We’re a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising overscheduled children.”
~ Dr. Brené Brown
Life is busy. Commitments never end. Schedules are jam-packed. Do our children know the feeling of being bored? Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, suggests that we impose this busy lifestyle on our children. The overscheduling leads to some kids looking like “zombies” every morning as Brown describes. Dr. Brown warns against overscheduling and cautions parents to allow children to pick the extracurricular activities they want to do. Furthermore, “free play, a board game in the evening, or just a family stroll can bring more benefits to their future mental health,” Dr. Brown advises.
Every nook and cranny of our lives from how we communicate to how we in turn share our lives with others has been changed by social media. Consequently, parenting has also been affected by social media. We like to stay plugged in evidenced by a study conducted by Edison Research, in which 93% of moms surveyed used some kind of social media in 2022, especially Facebook. Our devices are bombarded with the best of the best about everyone’s children followed by the likes and comments. Some parents report that they use social media to compare their own parenting success with others online. A mentality such as “Everyone else is doing better than I am” creates stress eventually compounding the exhaustion that is already a natural and normal part of parenting.
Social media provides us with a shared experience. The parenting journey is filled with so many new experiences and being able to get an immediate answer or feedback to any parenting question with just a click can provide assurance and support. However, there is also a potential danger posed for parents using social media at increased levels.
A study out of Seaver College at Pepperdine University links using social media parenting groups with higher cortisol levels, an indicator of increased stress. Stress can deplete new parents of the energy needed for the parenting job. The study led by Dr. Lauren Amaro, an associate professor of communication, affirms that parenting social media groups can serve as a great vessel of information. Knowing how to navigate them safely might be the key to lowering the stress that comes from the comparing. Social media can drain parents of valuable time so consequently setting limits on time devoted to social media can help everyone simply enjoy being together.
Humans are creatures of habit. This is heightened when baby enters the world. How often do we hear parents discuss “the schedule.” Is baby sleeping through the night? Is baby eating at regular intervals? Those questions and many more contribute to establishing a routine leading to a predictable pattern of behavior. Schedules help us predict what is up next and provide a sense of security. We like being in control. While we may crave certainty in our lives; undoubtedly, life can be uncertain at times. The pandemic, politics, the economy, personal finances are just some of the triggers that researchers at the American Psychological Association cite as life stressors.
Uncertainty can open the door for more stress to creep in. “Stress is far more than an emotional state of mind. It’s a combination of thoughts, words and physical changes to our brains and bodies – a brain-body connection that influences our emotions and behaviors,” according to Dr. Diane Robinson, a neuropsychologist with the Integrative Medicine Department at Orlando Health.
Parenting may well be one of the most exhausting jobs; and yet, at the same time, one of one of the most rewarding and important jobs in the world. “Parental burnout is the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that one feels from the chronic stress of parenting,” according to Dr. Puja Aggarwal, a board-certified neurologist and a certified life coach. While some days may seem like a page out of the children’s book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” there are things we can do to combat the exhaustion and cope.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Reflect on past successes.
- Limit exposure to news and social media.
- Control what you can and avoid dwelling on things you can’t control.
- Seek support from those you trust.
- Engage in self-care with regular exercise and enough sleep.
- Know where to go for help when needed.
Jane Goodall, a primatologist, offers some advice that has come from her research and our chimpanzee friends. The joy of parenthood is found in appreciating the present rather than obsessing about the uncertainty of the future or shortcomings of the past.
“One thing I had learned from watching chimpanzees with their infants is that having a child should be fun.” ~ Jane Goodall