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Surviving parenting, the pandemic, and burnout

October 5, 2021

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My experience

As a working mom in Australia, I’ve been juggling working full time and remote schooling three children for the better part of 18 months — through the global pandemic. To be honest, at first, I thought how hard can this be? I’m an organized person who thrives on being busy, I’ll just be super organized and I’ll be fine. And I was fine for a long time, until one day I wasn’t.

Acceptance

The hardest part was not the burnout itself, but accepting that I had — for the first time ever — reached my limit and burned out. At first, I was heavily in denial. I would tell myself, “I’ve just had a bad night’s sleep, I’ll be better tomorrow”. When that didn’t work, I told myself that I just needed to push harder. If I blocked out the exhaustion and pushed harder I’d get myself through and come out the other side (not one of my smartest ideas). And I did that for a while until one day I woke up and realized, I just couldn’t push anymore.

So, that’s when I reached acceptance, right? Wrong! This is when the inner critic came out (hello self-doubt, self-blame, and self-criticism). I started to question myself. What’s wrong with me? How am I not coping? It shouldn’t be that hard. Why are so many other working moms coping with the extra pressure and stress and I’m not? It took reaching out to my friends and fellow colleagues (who are also moms), to realize that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. They also helped me see that the only ‘pushing’ I needed to do was to push my ego aside, accept where I was emotionally, and let go.

What happened next?

When I finally acknowledged and accepted that I had reached my limit and was in fact suffering from burnout, I spoke to my manager and the head of my department. We had an open conversation about how I was feeling and they went above and beyond to find ways to support me through this difficult period of time. This included;

  • reducing my days down from five to four days a week (at full pay) until my kids return to school;
  • reducing my workload to accommodate;
  • and regular check-ins to see how I am doing.

I’m extremely grateful to WORK180 for their genuine care and support they have provided me during this time.

What can you do as a working parent who has reached burnout?

Be honest with yourself

Firstly, know that this is not your fault; there is nothing you could have done to prevent this from happening and you’re not the only one feeling this way. You’re not alone. Being honest with yourself about how you are feeling will shift your mindset from fighting the burnout to focusing on what you need to put in place in order to get through this challenging period.

Be honest with your family

Tell your family how you are feeling. Chances are if you’ve reached the point of burnout, your family has already noticed. You’re likely to be less tolerant, patient, and not the ‘normal’ version of yourself at home. For example, you might be too tired to play games with the kids and get annoyed by things you normally wouldn’t. By being honest with your family and telling them how you feel, not only are you taking that weight off your shoulders, you are also showing your kids that it is ok not to be ok sometimes. This pandemic is challenging for everyone, even moms. But together, we can help each other through.

Be honest with your employer

Again, there is nothing for you to feel ashamed about. This pandemic is something that we have never had to face before, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and to be honest with your employer about how you are feeling. By being open and honest, you can start to put a plan together with your employer to help reduce your workload and find ways to reduce the stress that comes with juggling work, remote schooling, and a global pandemic. And if your employer isn’t open to such conversations, know that there are plenty of supportive employers who are. That’s exactly why WORK180 is here  — to help you find workplaces that will work for you.

Set boundaries

Have a think about what it is you can do at work and at home to set the boundaries you need to help you during this period of time.

If it means you can’t attend meetings before or after a certain time, let your employer know and block out your calendar.

  • If there is a day that you or your kids are feeling particularly exhausted, don’t ‘push’ to do remote schooling. Give the kids the day off, or choose one or two of the tasks for them to do that day instead of completing the full curriculum.
  • Need a mental health day? Take it.

Remember, it’s temporary (even though it feels like it’s not)

Although it sometimes feels like the pandemic is neverending, this will pass. But try not to spend too much time looking for the end. We all know too well that the goalposts in this pandemic can move and most likely will. Instead, take it one day at a time and focus on what you can put in place today to help you get through in the best way you can.

What can employers do to help parents suffering from burnout?

Listen

Really listen, with an open mind, free of judgment. If you’re not a parent, you can’t understand, so don’t pretend to. And be careful with toxic positivity. We don’t want to hear (as well-meaning as it is) that it’s all going to be ok and that it will get better. Deep down, we know this. Right now, however, in the middle of burnout, we don’t need to hear it. If anything, it makes us feel guilty that we are not able to feel positive at this point in time.

Understand

If a parent comes to you and tells you they’re struggling if you notice that they’re not as present as they normally would be, their work starts to slip and mistakes creep in, understand that these are all signs of burnout. And if you haven’t already, you need to reach out to this employee. They’re not disengaged with their work because of the work, they’re burned out and trying to function at their normal capacity with nothing left in the tank.

Be proactive

Don’t wait for your employees to come to you. The truth is that they may be struggling to ask for help, so be proactive. Have a think about what you can offer your employees that are parents to help them through this time:

  • Can you offer them reduced hours for an agreed period of time?
  • Can you take a look at their workload and offer to take certain tasks off their list?
  • Can you help them to deprioritize work that can be held off till a later date?
  • Can you offer to take notes in a meeting and report any key agenda items to them after the meeting so that they don’t have to attend?

A final note

To any employers out there that have parents as employees, please know that a little can go a long way. Some small adjustments to our working day can make a big difference to how we can manage the juggle and get through the day. Talk to your employees and find a solution that works for them.

To all the parents out there feeling burned out from juggling remote schooling, work, and everything else that comes with surviving a global pandemic, you’re not alone. It’s not easy, it’s not just you, and it’s okay to ask for help.

If you’d ever like more tools, insights, and advice from other women, be sure to take a look at our all-new Careers Hub. It’s full of content to help you get what you want from the workplace. And remember, if you need help beyond what your employer can offer you, there is help out there for you:

Resources for those in the USA: 

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat: If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.

  • SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727): Get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. Speak to a live person, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

  • Better help: Professional Counseling by online chat, video, or phone – available anytime, anywhere.

Resources for those in Australia:

  • Lifeline: 24-hour telephone counseling service. Phone: 13 11 14 or Text: 0477 13 11 14 6pm-midnight AEST

  • Beyond Blue Support Service – Support. Advice. Action: Information and referral to relevant services for depression and anxiety-related matters. Phone: 1300 22 46 36

  • SANE Australia: This is a national charity helping all Australians affected by mental illness lead a better life, through campaigning, education, and research. Phone: 1800 187 263

Resources for those in the UK:

  • Hub of Hope: This easy-to-use service is recommended by the NHS and will help you find the right mental health charity for you. Whether that’s in your local area or an organization that specializes in a specific problem.

  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK: They offer a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (open 24/7).

WORK180 has your back when it comes to finding employers that are committed to helping women to thrive. We’ve asked the hard questions for you to ensure the employers we endorse are proud to support diversity, inclusion, and flexibility — and most importantly, your success. To view and apply for roles with our Endorsed Employers, visit our transparent job board.

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About the Author
As WORK180's Brand Manager for Women, Jane Saddingtons's priority is to ensure that WORK180 is providing information, tips and advice that will help job seekers in their job search, while ensuring they have a seamless experience when searching for a job through WORK180. As a mom of three girls, Jane is passionate about DEI and helping to make the workplace a more diverse, equitable and inclusive place, for our generation and the next to come.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.