Toronto Zoo

Parenting Induced Exhaustion

You may have heard this from a parent before, but sometimes looking after children makes me tired.

I’m not talking about the physical tiredness that comes from children waking up in the middle of the night (which, thankfully, I no longer have to deal with). I’m talking about the emotional tiredness that comes from working through the same issues over and over again – you know, please close the door behind you so that the house doesn’t turn into a refrigerator, again; please eat your lunch so that we don’t have to throw out all your food, again; please stop pestering your brother so that we don’t end up in a screaming match, again; please wipe the toilet seat so that people don’t end up sitting in your pee, again.

You get my drift, and if you have children, I’m sure you have your own list. It might differ in the details, but it will be exactly the same in substance. It’s the list of all the little things that aren’t such a big deal in themselves, but that, when repeated dozens (even hundreds) of times, wear a parent into submission.

And when you get to that point, where you’re worn out and exhausted, it feels like everything is piling on. Normally simple things feel unmanageably difficult. Just getting the kids dressed, fed, lunches packed, and to school seems a herculean task. Even the idea of the bedtime routine raises a sense of dread.

Admit it. You know exactly what I mean. And there’s no shame in it. We all get to that point sometimes. It comes with the territory. The important thing is to remember (or maybe discover for the first time) the things that recharge you, the things that let you relax and regain your equilibrium, even just for a moment.

I find that relaxation through daily meditation, sitting down with a good book when I get a chance, playing basketball weekly, and trying to keep Saturday mornings as a family sleep-in time (when my kids’ sports don’t get in the way). Other people I know do yoga, have a bubble bath, go for a run, garden, knit, build toy boats, go for a walk, or listen to music.

Go ahead and pick the things that work for you, just don’t fool yourself into thinking that surfing social media, or playing video games, or watching television counts as relaxing. These kinds of visually stimulating activities, even if they’re enjoyable, don’t actually allow the brain to rest. They might distract us from our emotional exhaustion, but they don’t do anything to fix it.

The most effective activities tend to be ones that involve simple, regular, bodily tasks. It doesn’t take much higher order brain function or emotional energy to jog or pull weeds, but these kinds of activities occupy our bodies and our minds in a way that lets them put aside our emotional and relational tiredness long enough to recharge the energy and patience that parenting sucks out of you.

So, when your daughter loses her fifth pair of mitts this winter, or your son leaves the milk jug out on the counter for the tenth day running, and you’re not sure whether you have the energy to hack it even one more day, make sure you go for a walk on your lunch break, or pick up a novel for a few minutes after the kids are finally in bed, or (better yet) find someone to babysit while you go for tea with a friend.

Make it happen. You won’t regret it.