Refilling the cup and tackling family burnout


When a smart remark from our kid leaves us in a mood for rest of the day. When the thought of cooking dinner feels like a marathon not a sprint. When spilt milk leaves us feeling like a failure. When it’s time to clean our teeth and a voice in our head says, “Nah I can’t be bothered.” Uh oh. We might be experiencing burnout. That run-down feeling that weighs on our mood, makes the day feel bleh, and convinces us that feeling worn out is never going to change. The good news is burnout doesn’t last forever. Moods do change. Life changes. Let’s take a deep breath (maybe clean those teeth first) and remind ourselves of this simple fact – moods change, and this isn’t forever.

And it’s okay to burnout. It’s okay to feel exhausted, especially when we’re raising kids. Sometimes we’ll be cranky. Sometimes the small things will weigh on us. Some days we’ll need a break. And kids don’t want perfect parents anyway. What they really need from us as adults are role models who show them what to do after we make mistakes, when we fail, when we’re sad or tired or grumpy. They need to watch and learn from us while we cope with that tricky stuff, so that when challenges come their way, they’ll know how to manage them.

So, how to cope with that burnt out feeling? Especially when it’s getting a bit contagious and wearing out those around us. First thing is to figure out how big the burnout is. Is it something a lazy afternoon can fix? Or has this been going on long enough? When we’re just feeling burnt out for now, then it’s time to make space for rest and recovery. It’s a great opportunity to show the kids how to look after yourself and be kind to yourself. Saying stuff like, “Dads feeling a bit worn out today so he’s going to relax in the sun for a while.” Or, “Mums feeling a bit down lately so she’s going to do her yoga to get those big emotions out.” Showing our kids what we do when our moods are down is a great way to teach them self-care. Let’s show our kids how we refill our cup so they know they have a cup and that it can be refilled.

If our burnout is an ongoing thing, then leaning on our mates is a must until we’re feeling like ourselves again. Asking that mate who’s good at cricket to teach the kids… Taking up a friend’s offer to baby-sit. Asking the aunties or uncles to treat the kids to a day out. Taking turns with another parent to do school pickups (keep it COVID safe, grab that hand sanitiser!). Maybe they don’t even need to do anything practical – just spending time with a mate or another parent having a yarn can help you see you are not alone and things will get easier. It takes a village to raise our kids, so let’s lean on each other.

And hey – if you don’t have a huge network of friends around you, you’re not alone. That stuff takes time to build, especially when we’ve moved towns, have come from overseas, or our social circles have simply changed. So if leaning on mates is not an option, try to find services that help out Queensland families. You can also get in touch with the staff at your kids’ school or service.

In the meantime, it’s good to step back and keep it simple for a while. Aiming for “good enough” rather than perfect is the best motto when we’re feeling run down. Our kids don’t need a fancy dinner to feel full and healthy. We don’t need to take them to the latest and greatest event when they’re happy to entertain themselves for a while (sometimes even happier). And is a crinkly shirt on a Saturday really going to make a huge difference? When we’re burnt out, we need to go gently, and focus on love and rest. Because getting enough rest doesn’t only make us feel better – it makes the whole household feel better too.

Another thing we can do to lessen the load is think of ways our kids can help out and be active family members (if they’re old enough). Maybe the time is ripe for teaching the kids learned how to pack their own lunch. Or are they old enough to be chucking their own clothes on the line now and then? And maybe they’re ready to be choosing whether they keep their room tidy or not, rather than us picking up after them. If the timing is right, our kids love when we give them some extra responsibility. And when our kids are a bit older they respect us more when we set our limit, and show them what they need to do to help out around the house. 

We also have to check-in as parents and make sure we’re not just caring for our kids, but also teaching them to care for us back. Let’s teach our kids to give us a hug, share the TV, surprise their grandparents or teacher with something they’ve made, or to make their mates feel special from time to time. When we teach our kids ways to show they care, they’ll enjoy finding ways to show love. And love from our kids really helps soften those harder days.  

Seek support, lean on our mates, and keep it simple, and before long our zest for life will be back. In the meantime, let’s go gently, be kind on ourselves and get the rest we need so we can parent our kids with love, and have some fun while we’re at it.

Last Updated: 30 September 2020