Sometimes Fridays are the best times to hold up your hands and say ‘dear readers, I confess: I have been an idiot’. We have just come back from a break in Stratford-Upon-Avon – two lovely days of back-to-back theatre and eating that I will be blogging about tomorrow – and now I can say for certain: I was deep in baby burnout, and should have done something about it sooner.
Paging all parents of small children: life is not supposed to be, does not have to be, sheer self-sacrificing nuttiness. It’s not supposed to be grim or miserable, and you’re not supposed to lose all sense of yourself. If that’s true for you – as it has been, lately, for me – then the pressure of looking after small people is beginning to get to you. And that’s alright, because you’re not superhuman, and your resources are finite. Watch yourself for the signs of baby burnout and you can make a diagnosis quicker than Web MD, prescribe yourself something appropriate, and get back to enjoying your children.
(PS, this also applies, of course, to burnout in general. There are more things than eight-month-olds that wear a body out…though not many that produce as much projectile vomit.)
Here, then, are the top five signs of baby burnout I keep a weather eye on:
‘I can’t move. No, honestly’
Tiredness is par for the course with littles. Exhaustion, too, some days. But in the past month I’ve felt something different: being thoroughly and physically drained of energy much of the time. It didn’t matter how many lie-ins Tim arranged for me to have. Mid-morning I would get shaky and weak, as though I hadn’t had a large breakfast, and then mid-afternoon it would come back. My consumption of sugary and fatty food has sky-rocketed as a result, which has reinforced the feeling of grossness, and on and on we went into a place of sadness and doughnuts. Blah. You too, perhaps? Onto the next thing, then.
‘he’s doing it because he hates me’
I’ve become aware, lately, of this irrational conviction that anything annoying Henry does is done deliberately because he knows I don’t like it. ‘WHY is he being pointlessly destructive when he knows it gets me cross?’ I would rage to myself. ‘He’s not getting dressed on purpose. He means something by it’. Um, no, crazy lady, he doesn’t. Or rather, the only thing he means by it is HELLO MOTHER, I’M TWO AND I HAVE NO SOCIAL CUES. If you’re assigning Richard III motives to your toddler’s random mess, then tick this box and move on to the next point.
‘I can’t be me right now’
I always know I need to make a change when I can’t read. An inability to pursue your normal hobbies or interests, in however limited a fashion, is a big burnout sign. For weeks I’ve started and restarted the same books and got no further than the second page. Even when the boys were quiet, or asleep. Even when they were out. And I struggled to get through a film, or to read the news, and the outings I’ve planned – usually the highlight of our days – have been distinctly lacking in inspiration. I will say to myself what I’ve always said on this blog: you use all of yourself to mother with, including your own passions and enthusiasms. If you can no longer find them, tick this box and carry on.
This is a slightly weird one, but I’ve found it’s true for me: I become clumsy when I’ve used up all my resources. My spatial awareness fizzles to nothing. So I bang myself more on furniture, end up with bruises on my arms and legs and little cuts on my hands from cooking. If you’re wearing more than one plaster at the moment (I’m wearing two, both patterned with monkeys because I could only find Henry’s box), then maybe this applies to you too.
And finally -
‘will you get out of my emotional space, please’
Oh, the thing about small children – lovely and awful in equal measure – is that they’re never out of your head. From the minute they’re awake, you revolve over them constantly.
Is it breakfast time? Is he ok in the bath? Will he get his clothes on today? Oh dear, must be time for his nap. Has he eaten enough today? What needs to happen to get both of them into the car? How much can I carry down the stairs at once? Should I have spent more time reading to him? What’s he crying for now? Can I fix it?
When they’re asleep, I’m trying to cram in as much as possible and listening, listening for the first wake-up cry. When they’re awake, even if they’re not sat on me physically, they’re sat in my emotional space. This is normal, but over the past month, it started to feel like I was being slowly suffocated.
I had all of these boxes ticked with angry red marker. And if that’s the case, well, I need to get on and do something about it. I am the captain of my soul, etc. Here are a few things that help me get back on an even keel. Perhaps they might work for you too:
one, take a mini-break from your little loves. I know this can be difficult – if you have babies breastfeeding on demand, for example – but if at all possible, this is the best remedy. A full day is good, overnight is better. A couple of days is better still. You make enough space in your head to miss and appreciate them, and reset your perspective for when they come back.
two, get a babysitter and take a book or magazine to a coffee shop for an hour. It takes you right out of your own head, plus you get to eat a muffin without having it slobbered on first. Or go to the cinema (if you need to, you can choose a shorter film so you can get back to feed). Getting engrossed in someone else’s story means you can happily return to your own once it’s done.
three, if you really can’t leave them at all, wait till their naptime, go to another room, put music on as loud as you can get away with, and lie down on the floor with your eyes closed. Try to think about nothing but the music and your own breathing. Which leads me on to -
four, before they wake up or during naptime, try some meditation. You might feel stupid if it’s your first time, but it helps. I rather liked this little primer cartoon for beginners.
five, this one’s difficult, but it’s one of the best quick fixes I’ve found: find a patch of sun, and sit in it with your eyes closed. Warmth and light do miraculous things to your mind and body. Try and sit in it when no one is going to sit on you.
Here is a Fridayish thought for your Friday – you will be a better parent, a better person, when you are in proper balance yourself. And you can be. But here’s the thing, this piece of grace I try to bear in mind on my worst days: your babies aren’t wondering when you’ll get your act together. All they see is you, bracketing their days with love, putting order into their universe. In their eyes, you could boost them up to the stars if you wanted.
In a way, of course, you will.
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