I don’t need to tell you that being a single parent can be exhausting. Yes, it's also amazing and rewarding, but it is indeed exhausting. I became a single parent when my daughter was six and spent my entire time rushing, worrying or feeling overwhelmed. I only realised how stressed I was when I was diagnosed with a blood clotting disorder. It was when the consultant told me that it was likely caused by stress, that I knew something had to change.
Stress and burnout amongst single parents is a huge issue. Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed and bone-tired. Covid added to the burden of solo parenting as we had to become teachers as well as chef, cleaner, chief fun provider, mediator between warring siblings, nurse and employee to name but a few!
As a divorce recovery coach I support a lot of stressed and burnt out single parents who are running on empty. One of the first things I tell them is to be aware of the signs of burnout (extreme tiredness, lack of focus, always picking up viruses and bugs, irritability - Google for more symptoms). Then I give them some simple tips on things they can apply to their daily lives to ensure that they don’t reach burnout stage.
Say no more often. If the PTA is hassling you to help at the next school event, tell them you don't have time. Your employer wants you to attend an evening work event and you really don’t want to go? Politely decline. Friend wants to meet you for a coffee but you don’t have the energy? Say no thanks, maybe next week. Having clear boundaries is a game-changer. If you agree to things you really don’t want to do, you'll resent it and feel overwhelmed. And remember there are lots of ways you can say no without actually saying no, here's some examples.
You don't have to do all the things. If the house is a mess, so what? Having a messy house isn’t going to affect your well-being. Trying to help the kids with their homework, cook dinner and clean the bathroom might.
It might seem counterintuitive to create some me time when your to-do list is overflowing but if you want to stay well you need down time. Make sure you block out some time to do something just for you every day. There’s a reason cabin crew tell you to put your life jacket on first. If you don’t, how are you going to get the kids out of the plane safely? Your family needs you to be well. If you’re stressed and burnt out you can’t be the single parent superstar you want to be.
If you’re feeling stressed just looking at your to-do list, think about breaking it down. Can you adopt a traffic light system, red for urgent tasks, green for tasks that need to be completed in the next few days and amber for less urgent tasks. If you have tasks on your list that have been there forever, take them off the list and forget about them.
There is no shame in asking for help. In actual fact, it’s crucial that you do. If you have a good relationship with your ex, ask them to look after the children. Do childcare swaps with friends. If your children are older then childcare swaps can be a win-win as they can entertain themselves and leave you to get on with other things. And remember that other thing might be sitting on the sofa reading. You don’t have to fill your free time with chores!
If you feel like you have already reached burnout please speak to your GP or health professional. Don’t keep going. Listen to your body and get support. You can manage Single parent burnout.
Liked this piece on managing single parent burnout? Read our blog post on dealing with overwhelm here. To connect with local like-minded single parents and the wider Frolo Single Parent community for advice, support and friendship simply download the Frolo app.
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