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Burnout in the Family

Our family may not be an "occupation," but that doesn't stop us from being burned out.

Frustrated mother with children
Frustrated mother with children

Jane’s mom was “getting up there” in years, but it was still unexpected.  It was kidney failure, and if Jane wanted her mom around it meant two trips a week to the dialysis center.  Her mom had long since stopped driving, so it was up to Jane and her siblings to get their mother there and back.  The problem is that Jane’s siblings weren’t local, so it really fell to Jane.

At first, it was OK.  It meant adjusting her work schedule, which her boss was happy enough to do.  It meant missing some of her son’s baseball games and her daughter’s volleyball games.  It meant that she had to forgo some outings with her girlfriends, and it meant less time for her husband, Jim.

As the weeks and months wore on to years, Jane became burned out.  She loved her mom, but even after the adjustments, it still wasn’t enough.  She felt shame that she sometimes thought of her mom as a burden.  She was burned out and at the edge of collapse.

Family Burnout

Jane’s not a bad person.  By all accounts, she’s a saint.  Yet she struggles with those feelings of shame, because she resents the burden her mom’s illness has placed on her.  She knows she’s experiencing burnout, but she also knows the World Health Organization (WHO) believes it’s an “occupational phenomenon.”  She doesn’t think of her family as an occupation, but she knows she has nothing more to give.

While WHO defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon for the purposes of their International Classification of Disease (ICD), many others recognize that burnout can come from home, family, and social settings just as easily when it feels like there’s no time for self-care and no progress being made.

In the case of a chronic illness with a loved one that will only stop when they die, there isn’t progress to be made.  There’s only being able to continue to spend time with a love one until it’s no longer possible.  While it’s comforting to know that you’re getting more time with the people you love, it doesn’t help you feel effective at managing your life or stresses.

Burnout Resolution

Whether burnout comes from work or home, the resolution is the same.  We recognize the progress we’re making, improve the support we get, do better self-care, and manage our demands better.  In Jane’s case, through a friend of her mom’s at dialysis, she found a facility for her mom that was closer to her and Jim and would do half of the transportation.  Since a friend referred her, she was able to work with their family and agree to trade off on the remaining transportation.  Her mom still needed a lot of help, but the reduction was appreciated.

To get back to normal, she and Jim decided the first Saturday of the month would be their date night.  That meant they went out and had time to reconnect.  The third Saturday was reserved for a girls’ night out.  While she still didn’t have much time through the week for herself, she knew that she’d at least get some time to rejuvenate.

Jane’s solution involved reducing the demands by decreasing the amount of transportation she needed to do, increasing support, and making time for self-care – which, for her, was connecting with her husband and her friends.  While she couldn’t see her mom getting better, at least she knew she could handle the load it was placing on her.

The feelings of shame that she thought her mom was a burden subsided, and she was able to realize the extra time with her was a gift.  It’s not that the demands of being a wife, mom, and child went away, but Jane stopped being burned out and became more peaceful.

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