Think about your priorities for a moment. Where are you on that list? It probably starts out with your kids at the top—naturally—followed by other responsibilities, like your job, taking care of aging parents, helping friends, and then…somewhere at the bottom: you. You might even feel as though this putting-yourself-last approach is a necessary part of single parenting on your own. (And it often is, because you can only do so much.) But it’s also important not to let ignoring your own needs become the norm. That leads to single parent burnout, zapping every ounce of enjoyment out of your life and your relationships. Let’s take a closer look at some warning signs you should never ignore.
Screaming at Your Kids
We all raise our voices from time to time, but screaming to the point of losing your voice is another story. When you find yourself ‘losing it’ in this way, take note of whether you’re ignoring a need of your own that you need to pay more attention to. Perhaps it’s time to call in some reinforcements from your support network or find a babysitter and give yourself an evening off. If those aren’t possible, then take one night a week and push yourself to get the kids to bed earlier than usual—and then use those extra minutes of ‘free time’ to do something that fuels you.
Parenting on Auto-Pilot
Interacting with your kids on auto-pilot all the time is an indication that you need to stop and press the ‘restart’ button. In part, because being on auto-pilot robs you of opportunities to connect in ways that make the hard work you’re doing feel worth it. But also because being constantly preoccupied—to the point where you’re not able to pay attention in the present—is when accidents tend to occur. To end the cycle, force yourself to slow down and really be present with your kids when you’re together. Small things like making eye contact when you’re answering a question or turning off the TV in the background, can help you be more present mentally. Once you begin to remove yourself from the auto-pilot rush, pay attention to what it feels like to be more present with your kids and what changes, if any, you notice in their behavior.
Feeling Overwhelming Resentment
For many single parents, burnout begins with resentment. And, certainly, you may feel at times like you have a lot to feel resentful about. Instead of ignoring that feeling, you need a way to process it—so it’s not constantly simmering in the background, making you ready to boil over at any moment. For starters, try writing in a journal or sharing your feelings with a trusted friend.
Withdrawing From Others
A more serious warning sign of single-parent burnout is withdrawal. This is when you just don’t want to be around anyone, including your kids and the people who love you. This happens to everyone now and then, but if you’re noticing that the urge to withdraw has become constant, or is accompanied by the urge to self-medicate with alcohol or numbing behaviors, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.